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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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


WIMN Launches Global Mapping Project on Gender & Migration

Women in Migration Network (WIMN) is partnering with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) to map organizations and experts addressing the intersection of gender and migration through research, advocacy and mobilization. 

At this critical time for migration — especially in the throes of the global pandemic, this initiative will help to identify key organizations and leaders addressing the rights of women in migration at the local, national, regional and global levels. Importantly, the survey will also help to name allies within other sectors — such as labor, climate change, women’s rights, LGTBIQ rights — with whom to build cross-sectoral alliances. The survey aims to assess how these organizations are responding to the current Covid-19, and how the lives of women in migration are impacted by the pandemic.

The project will map organizations and experts by region (divided into the Americas; Europe; Africa- MENA, Asia and the Pacific), laying the basis for future regional and global organizing within the context of migration governance, women’s rights movement, labor organizing and in other relevant sites of intervention. 

The survey, available in English and in Spanish, will also assess organizations’ practical and strategic needs and priorities. Finally, drawing from the results of the survey and a series of in-depth interviews with key regional stakeholders, the project will produce a report on regional trends and actors on gender and migration.

No Borders to Equality

Sin fronteras para la igualdad

Sans frontières pour l’égalité

Join the Women in Migration Network and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung for the launch of a new report mapping organizations working on gender and migration around the world

Súmate al lanzamiento del nuevo informe mundial sobre organizaciones trabajando en género y migración

Participez au lancement du nouveau rapport mondial sur les organisations travaillant sur le genre et la migration 

To accommodate global time zones, the launch event will take place at two different times. You can register for either event

1 March 2021

(Asia Focus) 5pm PHST/10am CET
Register at: http://bit.ly/WIMNFESwebinar1
– will be in English

(Global Focus) 10am EST/4pm CET

Register at: http://bit.ly/WIMNFESwebinar2
– traducción al español
– interprétation en français

To register, you may also visit our website at 

If you have any further questions about this project, please contact project coordinator Paola Cyment pcyment@womeninmigration.org