The Women in Migration Network, formerly known as the Women and Global Migration Working Group, was established in a pre-meeting at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in April 2012. The Network reflects a history of collaboration on migrant women’s concerns since 2009 at the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights and the Civil Society Days of the Global Forum on Migration & Development (Athens, Mexico City, Geneva) as well as at the UN Commission on the Status of Women where we have hosted a migrant women’s caucus and annual thematic workshops. 

On our inception we released this statement:

A group of migrant women’s organizations, trade unionists and faith-based groups have come together at the AWID Forum to seek alliances with women’s organizations in claiming migrant women’s human rights.  We have been meeting as a women’s caucus in international venues including the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights for several years.  We held a two-day strategy meeting prior to the AWID Forum and a breakout session at the Forum.  We have created a Women and Global Migration Working Group to carry out joint campaigns and make migrant women visible in international policy-making arenas.

The neo-liberal economic model, imposed on many nations through trade, aid, economic and financial policy, has undermined national economies and forced millions to migrate in search of livelihoods.   Global trade regimes have liberalized the movement of capital and goods but not the movement of persons.  GATTS trade in services (Mode IV) would facilitate specific forms of labor mobility as “trade in natural persons.”  Far from a focus on the rights of migrants, this framework seeks to commodify migrant workers as cogs in a globalized workplace.  Their labor and remittances are wanted while their rights are denied.  Climate change is a growing factor in driving internal and cross-border migration.  Thus, migration issues must be addressed through global economic policies that enhance sustainable development and job creation, especially in the global South, and make migration a choice rather than a necessity.

Women are 49% of the total population of international migrants estimated at 214 million [IOM].  As national women’s movements seek to strengthen legal statutes and social protection for women in their countries, the rights and realities of migrant women are excluded unless made explicit, because the basic rights of citizens are not extended to migrants in most countries.  Women migrants face unique challenges.  Many women must leave their children behind in order to find work to support their families.  Others migrate with their families, and bear the burdens of intense work plus care-giving at home.  Women tend to find work in traditional women’s roles—domestic work, child care, cooking, garment, piece work—where they work long hours for low pay and intense exploitation.  Domestic work is a particularly egregious situation, where women are isolated and sometimes abused, with no benefits or recourse.   The ability for some women to enter the workforce and gain more autonomy is often dependent on the care-giving roles that migrant women assume in their homes.

Increasingly migrants are met with hostility, criminalization, detention and deportation.  Elaborate enforcement regimes deny due process and basic human rights.  When migrant women are forced to live in the shadows in irregular status they are more vulnerable to economic and physical abuse by employers, spouses, and government officials.  Xenophobic and racist attitudes are reflected in the media, public discourse and legislation.  This is exacerbated by a “national security” framework for migration policy, within the context of a so-called “war on terror,” leading, in particular, to intensified Islamophobia.  As migrants are utilized as a commodity that is sometimes needed and sometimes expendable, xenophobia intensifies in times of economic crisis when jobs are scarce.

The State has the obligation to protect, promote and fulfill those rights for people within their borders—citizens and non-citizens.   When rights are respected, migrant women can be agents of economic and social change—both in country of origin and destination, including the ability to organize in trade unions.

The full statement, including a full list of recommendation and participants can be found on the AWID page.