A Feminist Lens on Migration & Trade

On 9 April, 2021, Women in Migration Network and the Gender and Trade Coalition hosted an international webinar on global migration and trade — with a feminist lens! Thanks to all who participated in this dynamic session.

A video of the webinar can be viewed here.

An overview PDF by Liepollo Pheko can be downloaded here.

A description of the webinar and presenters can be seen below.

Global migration and global trade policies may seem very far from the experiences of migrant women around the globe, yet they directly impact migrant women’s lives. In the era of globalised economies, nations and corporations depend on a mobile labour force to meet labour demands while migration policies increasingly pose barriers to mobility that criminalize migrants. 

States have pushed for free trade of goods, services and capital while excluding dignified mobility for women and their families. Extractive industries and austerity programs push women from their home, while centres of low-wage industry as well as low wage service and agricultural jobs pull women to other countries, often working in hyper-exploitative situations.  Given the role women are often assigned as care givers (both paid and unpaid) in the global economy, migration and migrant women’s work is gendered and racialized.  

At this critical juncture in the COVID pandemic we explore how the pandemic, which made visible deep structural inequalities, offer a the opportunity for a bottom-up, women-centric approach to international trade and labour architecture. 


Lebohang Liepollo Pheko, Moderator, is Senior Research Fellow and political economist with the Trade Collective Think Tank and is currently a Lancet Commissioner on Reparations and Redistributive Justice. She represents the Women in Migration Network in the Gender and Trade Coalition Steering Committee and is a member of the Well Being Economy Alliance. Over the past 12 months she contributed extensively to framing intersectional policy alternatives that centre women in post-COVID economic recovery through various platforms.
Fatimah Kelleher is a Pan African feminist technical adviser/strategist engaged in feminist advocacy, research and advice. Fatimah has worked primarily on African transformational trajectories, with a focus on challenging economic and other development orthodoxies in particular. She is currently associated to Action Aid GB and is also a member of the NAWI collective.
Crecentia Mofokeng is a trade unionist working for the Building and Wood Workers International – BWI, as the Regional Representative for Africa and Middle East Region since 2001. She joined the trade union movement in 1980 and has represented BWI in various International & Regional conferences including ITUC – Africa, ILO, Global Forum on Migration and Development, UN Climate Change Conference, and the BRICS Trade Union Forum. Crecentia is responsible for developing several labour sectors including migration, decent work and women’s development.
Mariama Williams, Ph.D. was the Coordinator of the Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Gender Programme at the South Centre. She is a member of the Caribbean Feminist Action Network (CFAN), and a Director with the Institute of Law and Economics (ILE), Jamaica. Mariama was also a founder of the International Gender and Trade Network and is a steering committee member of DAWN. She is a feminist economist with over 20 years’ experience working on economic development, macroeconomic, trade external debt and finance issues, with a focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment, social equity, sustainable finance and development and climate change issues.

Our Message on International Women’s Day 2021

We call for a new social compact that guarantees social protection, labour rights and women’s human rights for all women in migration

Download a PDF of this statement here

On this International Women’s Day, the Women in Migration Network (WIMN) once more calls on states to take bold, transformative action as worldwide, we seek a safe, equitable and just recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and the social and economic crises it has further fueled. Now is not the time to “return” to an unjust “normal”.

WIMN is a global, intersectional feminist human rights network that promotes women’s human rights at the center of all migration and development policy and migrants’ rights in feminist advocacy. We prioritize the interests of women in all their diversity and those of their families, in their various forms, who are affected by migration around the world.

More than a year into a global pandemic, the vaccine and a post-pandemic future are on the agenda. The crisis has exposed numerous systemic problems—including the informality in our economies, weak health care systems, lack of a social safety net, structural racism, gender discrimination, inhumane migration regimes and gaping inequalities between nations.

For migrant women, the past year’s crisis has exacerbated the trauma, instability and uncertainty in their lives and those of their families—and longterm consequences are yet to be seen.

More than ever, we need inclusive, rights-based and gender-responsive approaches including durable social protections in countries of origin, transit and destination; robust labor protection frameworks; gender sensitive, rights-based immigration systems; emergency responses that contribute to regenerative, sustainable economies, clear checks on corporate power; and stronger democratic institutions. As we begin to also turn our attention to addressing the world’s climate crisis, these commitments are also critical. 

Migrant women are concentrated in both “essential workers” and “disposable workers” groups impacted by the pandemic. While professionals may have moved into their homes and continued to work on-line (with women doing triple duty as workers, care-providers and educators), “essential workers” found themselves in dramatically different circumstances. Jobs in health care, cleaning, elder care, farm labour, transit, shipping warehouses and more may have continued, but often without decent wages, paid sick or medical leave, access to health care or adequate protective gear. As restaurants, markets and retail stores shut down, low wage service workers, many of them migrant women of color, found themselves without jobs and with no safety net. 

In some countries, migrant women work with bi-lateral labor contracts, such as domestic workers in the MENA region. When COVID-19 hit, they were suddenly without jobs, scrambling to return home even as borders were closed. Many were evicted from employers’ homes and left to fend for themselves without support; wage theft has been rampant. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the many systemic problems that have hit especially hard on groups most marginalized by race, ethnicity and migration status. Public health systems have been gutted by years of austerity programmes, privatized health care is rarely accessible to these marginalized populations. The lack of health care, environmental racism, overcrowded housing and work in unhealthy and often dangerous jobs has long put communities of color and migrant communities at higher risk—and higher COVID-19 death rates in some nations give testimony to the effect of these inequities. 

On a global level, the gaping North/South divide and unequal global financial rules have left poorer nations scrambling to meet needs with limited external support.  An early call for debt forgiveness to low-income countries was met with debt postponement, merely delaying a deeper crisis. This has meant little fiscal space for poor nations to offer stimulus packages and provide much-needed assistance—and too often, such assistance is out of reach for migrants, especially the undocumented.

While the roll-out of vaccines is opening a window to the decline of the coronavirus pandemic, the production, distribution and access issues have starkly highlighted existing inequalities within and between nations. As of mid-February, there were 4.2 billion doses of vaccine for 16% of the world population and only 2.5 billion doses for 84% of the world population. And within developed nations, race, class and migration-status disparities are gravely apparent. In New York City, for example, some white neighborhoods reportedly had up to 8 times the vaccination rate of predominantly Black neighborhoods in early 2021.

WIMN supports the United Nations Network on Migration call for States to “guarantee rapid, fair, and equitable access to vaccines for all and the inclusion of migrants, regardless of their status in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes and other public health interventions”.  

On International Women’s Day and beyond, we need permanent solutions that provide support and services to all, regardless of migration status, and that will close the gaps in protections that continue to exclude millions of migrants and undocumented migrants in particular.

Specifically, we call for a new social compact that guarantees social protection, labour rights and women’s human rights for all women in migration, regardless of status. 

  • Vaccines must be made available for all, regardless of status or ability to pay. Women, in particular, need permanent access to healthcare regardless of status or ability to pay, with strong investments in quality public health systems.
  • Labour rights and protections including decent pay, sick pay, and long-term medical leave must be assured for all, regardless of status, and particularly for so-called “essential” workers. Work that is disproportionately performed by migrant women requires robust labour and health protections.
  • Government at all levels must address racism and xenophobia, including social exclusion, violence against migrants and stigmatization of returned migrants, which has increased during the pandemic. This must go beyond “messaging” campaigns to include police training, legal accountability for hate crimes and investing in jobs, social protection and infrastructure. This includes addressing the digital divide experienced by migrant women and their families, as well as online digital harassment and violence.
  • The intersecting realities of migrant women—who experience racism, exclusion as a migrant, religious intolerance, rejection due to sexual orientation or identity—must be addressed in policies and practice to ensure that rights can be claimed by ALL women in migration.
  • We want programs and policies to address gender-based violence in all areas of migrant women’s lives, including institutional violence.
  • The pandemic border closures that have stranded migrants or forced returns must be ended just as we urge the regularization of status of migrants working in destination countries and increased pathways for regular migration. We oppose “vaccine passports” that will further institutionalize inequalities across nation, gender, race and migratory status.
  • Migrants must urgently be released from detention in the context of the pandemic, and states must end policies of criminalization, detention and deportation of migrants, securitization and barring of asylum and refugees.
  • Migrant women are vital change agents and we can learn from and financially support the models of mutual aid and solidarity they have built during the pandemic.
  • Women must be at the center of decision-making—with their diverse roles as providers, care givers, home keepers, and essential workers in both the formal and informal economy, women, including LGBTQI women, understand how the crisis impacts their diverse families, community and workplace and must be heard.

As the world enters the second year of the global health crisis and we begin to see glimpses of an end to the pandemic, we can draw on lessons learned, on the many acts of solidarity and goodwill, to defeat the scourge of hate, fear and divisiveness and commit to a better, more inclusive and transformed world.

Graphic courtesy of Alianza Americas and Presente.  Artwork by Favianna Rodriguez courtesy of Presente.

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Website: www.womeninmigration.org

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No Borders to Equality: Global Mapping of Organizations Working on Gender and Migration

Rising inequalities around the world, now exacerbated by the global coronavirus pandemic, heighten the need for strong, independent civil society–driven efforts to ensure rights-based and gender-responsive national and regional migration policies. To begin to address this challenge, the Women in Migration Network (WIMN) partnered with the Friedrich-Ebert- Stiftung (FES) to globally map organizations addressing the intersection of gender and migration.

During 2020, we were able to identify hundreds of organizations that work on the front-lines accompanying women in migration in these challenging times of the pandemic. We conducted an online mapping survey of more than three hundred organizations and networks and interviewed nineteen key movement leaders and organizations addressing the rights of women in migration at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

The result of this process is the report No Borders to Equality: Global Mapping of Organizations Working on Gender and Migration. It provides an analysis of the realities of women in migration and of those organizations working with them in different regions (Africa and the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and the Americas). It also identifies common challenges faced by civil society organizations and proposes recommendations for strategy and organizing.

Beyond the valuable information revealed in this study, we expect this process to provide the foundations for strengthening connections among organizations working for migrant rights with a gender perspective and bringing a migrant rights perspective to those groups working in other sectors, including women’s rights, labor rights, climate justice, development, and democratization.

The report was formally launched on March 1, 2021, during two interactive online events, one focused on Asia to accommodate time zones, and a second session with a global focus. If you missed the launch, you can learn more about the project by downloading a PDF of the powerpoint shown during the launch event.

In addition to the report, an interactive website has been set up that features a data visualization tool and a global map of organizations working on gender and migration.

Download the report, No Borders to Equality (full color version) (black and white version)

Download the Executive Summary: (English) (Spanish – Resumen Ejectivo) (French – Resume Operationnel)

Visit the No Borders to Equality website: www.womeninmigration.org/map