International Women’s Day 2016 Statement

Speak out against xenophobia, racism and violence against women

The Women and Global Migration Working Group denounces violence against women in all its forms.  However, we also strongly condemn the ‘othering’ of perpetrators of gender-based violence, such as happened in the reporting of widespread sexual attacks and harassment of women in central Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve 2015.   In the immediate aftermath we witnessed a frighteningly xenophobic and racist reaction in the media and political commentary that led to physical attacks on migrant and refugee men in the name of ‘protecting women’.

We loudly reject racist tropes about black and Muslim men.  Stereotyping, racial and religious profiling of their sexual behaviour and/or misogyny, with absolutely no evidence to suggest that migrant men are more likely than other men to commit sexually aggressive acts, is both racist and xenophobic.   In Europe, the rush to protect women is being used to feed anti-immigrant and refugee sentiment and a backlash against newcomers desperately seeking refuge from war and oppression.  This has disturbing historical echoes in the use of violence against Black slaves in the US, or colonised peoples in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East in the name of “protecting our women”.

All women should be safe from sexual and gender based violence, regardless of the migratory status of the women or the perpetrators of such acts.  Women are assaulted by people who have access to them—whatever the race, religion, nationality or country of birth of victims or aggressors.   This is borne out by the experiences of migrant women in countries of origin, transit, return and destination.

Migrant and refugee women face particular risks – including as women, as migrants, as precarious workers, due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, religion, dependent migratory status and in many instances as black women, women of colour, indigenous women and women from the global South.  Profiling, prejudice and discrimination restricts their access to social, medical, psychological and legal assistance, compounding the risks they face at every stage of their journeys.

Apart from sexual violence that takes place in countries of origin (frequently one of the reasons for women migrating), this also manifests on the journeys they undertake. Examples from different continents include the constant reports of rape and sexual predation of women travelling through the Meso-American migration corridor in Central America – 80% of women in transit through Mexico suffer some kind of sexual abuse – and the routine sexual violence committed by the Magumaguma smuggler gangs on the Zimbabwe-South Africa border.

In destination countries, migrant women are at high risk of sexual and gender based violence and abuse through the precariousness of their migratory status and of the employment and economic restrictions imposed on them. Domestic workers in the Gulf States and in Europe, sex workers in European and African countries, textile and garment workers in some Mashreq and Asian countries and agriculture workers in Asia-Pacific and North America; women from sub‑Saharan countries and Asia exploited as au‑pairs in Europe; women in USA detention abused by wards; and Maquila workers on the US-Mexico border are among the myriad examples.  According to the ILO, women make up 98% of workers trafficked for sexual exploitation in the private economy and 40% of workers trafficked for labour exploitation.

Migrant women are not only at risk outside their own communities but also within, as they often lack the information, resources and networks in host countries to challenge or change the domestic situation they find themselves in.  Undocumented migrant women fear reporting domestic violence as they might face detention and deportation.  All migrant women face numerous barriers to accessing preventative, remedial and support services due to national laws that exclude or limit use by migrants as well as culturally and linguistically insensitive health, legal and social services.

The Working Group therefore asserts that the rise of violence against women cannot be ‘blamed’ on migration but rather on the rise in patriarchal and nationalistic expressions of culture and identity, stemming from economic and social systems and conditions, in nearly every country and society around the world.  

In addition, a complex intersection between racism, gender based violence and xenophobia is becoming a global patriarchal phenomenon and is playing out in both contemporary homogenous and pluralist societies where different cultures, customs and codes coexist and interact.

The Working Group believes that ‘outsourcing’ violence against women as a problem of others, outsiders from and within the global South, and setting one marginalised group against another is a disingenuous, anti-feminist, anti-migrant/refugee, and dangerous response.  Conversely, building solidarity between oppressed groups points to the answers, as this demands that we all challenge our own prejudices, the inequalities and discrimination in our own contexts, and the global systems of post-colonial power and privilege that create and foster racism, xenophobia and violence against women.

Reflections on UNMN Listening Sessions on Migration, Covid-19 & Gender

On June 11, Women in Migration Network helped to convene, along with UN Women, the United Nations Network on Migration (UNMN) “listening sessions” on the impact of Covid-19 on migration, through a gender lens – part of a series exploring “mobility in the time of Covid-19”. The sessions provided an important venue for civil society participants worldwide to share critical reports on the impact of the global pandemic. These sessions were followed by a UNMN webinar, on June 18, that included participation of states, civil society and other stakeholders.

Following is a “reflection” on the listening sessions by WIMN. It can be downloaded here and can also viewed on the UNMN website.

Reflections on the Listening Sessions on Migration, Covid-19 and Gender

The two sessions were both rich in information and perspective, largely coming from presenters embedded in a variety of regions and countries and with direct experience and exposure. Very troubling was the consistency of the reports from the global regions: migrant women are facing increased risks, abuse and exploitation during this pandemic, with immediate and long term consequences for themselves and for their families. While as a member of the Women in Migration Network (WIMN), which helped to convene these sessions, I am kept fairly well informed of situations on the ground and at policy levels for migrant women, I was really struck by the intensity of the current situation that in just a few months, has dramatically impacted migrant women – and unfortunately, not for the better.

A few of the themes lifted from these sessions:

  • The problems experienced during this global pandemic by migrant and refugee women, including those internally displaced, predate the pandemic, but have been intensified by the nature of the health crisis, lockdowns, and government policies.
  • Lack of immigration documentation – being irregular – has compounded these problems in ways that go well beyond the “normal” if also critical, experiences of other population sectors, especially for those in vulnerable economic situations. The marginalization of irregular migrants has deepened, with little or no governmental action for remedies or even humanitarian aid.
  • Serving in “essential” roles during the pandemic has exacerbated health risks and rights for migrant women. Perhaps ironically, migrant women have shown that they are “essential” workers in many populations – providing medical care, working in home care, especially with children and the elderly, working throughout the food supply chain, cleaning industries, and more – all areas strongly affected by the virus and/or by the consequences of population lockdowns and mobility limits. Yet, those engaged in such work have traditionally been undervalued, underpaid and exploited and this has not changed, by and large, during this pandemic.
  • The danger of rising racism and xenophobia, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, migrants and refugees – particularly from Asia – have been targets of racist abuse and attacks, accused of spreading the virus. The spread of Covid-19 has also been cited as the basis for stricter border controls, despite health experts’ admonishments that this has little impact on containing the pandemic.

We heard how the pandemic has worsened – dramatically, in many instances – access to labor rights and social protections for migrant women with even more dire conditions for health and safety, especially for those working on temporary visas or who are undocumented. Country lockdowns have severely limited the ability to work and earn wages — and even when there is work, it comes with health risks and labor exploitation. In some countries, domestic workers have been locked in with families, may not be paid, are caring for people with Covid, have no masks or protective gear, nor access to cell phones to report abuses or seek assistance. Others have been forced to work, for example, in the garment and other industries during the lockdown, risking travel to and from work and in the workplace, and spreading contagion to their households.

Still others were released from their jobs – sometimes without pay – but have been stranded, unable to home countries due to lack of transportation and resources, and without status, unable to access relief supports, even if available at all.

Similarly, women farmworkers may have lost their jobs – or if they had work, given the “essential” agricultural production, they work at risk to exposure and are in positions of even greater exploitation.

School closures have affected migrant women workers with school-age children, while young girls risk dropping out of school altogether to help their families.

Many migrant women have been the primary breadwinners for their families, whether their families are with them, or whether they would send remittances to their home countries. These incomes have been lost with an immediate impact. In many families these lost remittances were a lifeline — income that saved families from impoverishment. That support has been removed and may not be re-established for some time.

Across the regions, we also heard that domestic and workplace violence has increased as women have been trapped in more stressful situations. In one area, calls to hotlines on domestic abuse increased by 162%! Increased child abuse has also been reported.

Not surprising, irregular status continues to undermine access to protection, services and rights. Migrant women not getting tested for Covid-19 for fear of detection and deportation, a fear not unfounded in some countries as migration status is registered for testing. Even beyond access to Covid-related testing and health care, the breakdown in health care access also includes support for mental health, for reproductive and maternal health care; in some areas migrant women are even risking home deliveries to avoid contact with public health institutions and risk detention and deportation.

And of course, the global pandemic has occurred in an environment where we have experienced increased racism and xenophobia, the expansion of repressive immigration measures, and now, more border closures. In the U.S., this has a wholesale lockdown against asylum seekers, all the while deporting migrants, including many who are Covid-positive.

The situation has not been without resilience, by migrant and refugee women and allies. We did hear that some countries, there is a growing recognition of the vital roles that migrants, and women in particular, have played in societies – roles that have sometimes been demeaned and often exploited. Care givers, house cleaners, gardeners, farmworkers, health care workers. Foreign-born nurses – over 15% of nurses in the US – work on the frontlines caring for Covid-positive patients in hospitals and in nursing homes. Relief funds, sometimes supported by foundations but more often tapping individual donations, have sprung up to provide much-needed financial support. Food kitchens and free meals have been offered where public sentiment acknowledges that “we are all in this together.” There has been talk of a public “narrative shift” – towards a more positive view of migrants and their roles in the workforce and as members of communities.

In a handful of countries, work permits have been extended, or specific funds have been extended to support irregular migrants as well, during the pandemic. But as the pandemic continues to take hold around the world, disrupting economies, stretching public support systems – where they even exist – a long term economic crisis looms, including national and regional food crises (and we already have food insecurity for many), supply chain upheavals, a severe decline in remittances, and of course, a global climate emergency that has also affected by the pandemic and its consequences. (And no, the temporary clearing of the air with lower carbon emissions hasn’t fixed our climate crisis.)

Despite the troubling and consistent reports during these valuable listening sessions, our knowledge of Covid-19’s impact, with a migration and gender lens, may only be known down the road, and if we now also ramp up reporting access and data collection. This is something that UN Women and many other institutions are urging.

These valuable listening sessions reaffirmed for me the recommendations that have emerged not just now, but over the past years, especially in the process towards the Global Compact for Migration. It will not be enough to include a gender lens in addressing the complex issues of global migration. With the challenge to find and make widely available a vaccine against Covid-19, and continued limits to mobility and a long economic recovery, we are all fearful of the devastating impacts on women in migration. All the more motivation to ramp up our attention to both immediate remedies and long-term solutions.

Migrant and refugee women, including LBTQ women, must be included as stakeholders and change agents. Their experience, vital roles in broad societies and in migrant communities, are critical to ensuring that “recovery” drives us to create a better world without the structural inequalities and injustices that only became more glaring in this global crisis.

  • Catherine Tactaquin, Women in Migration Network

 

Meeting in the Middle: Shaping Public Narratives on Migration, 21 January, Quito

A side event to the Global Forum on Migration and Development

21 January 2020 at 9:00 to 10:30 hrs

Panecillo 4 – Centro de Convenciones Metropolitano in Quito

With Felipe Gonzalez, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants.

Co-sponsored by Oxfam International, UN Women and Women in Migration Network.

Program:  Spanish English