Migrant Women’s Rights are Human Rights!

Migrant Women need Allies in Women’s Movements Worldwide

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.

We salute AWID for making spaces for women who have been at the margins of feminist movements and for putting the rights of migrant women and many other marginalized women on the agenda.  We have found that building these alliances is still very hard and we have much work to do.  We urge AWID to continue to prioritize economic justice as a central aspect of the women’s human rights agenda and to make migrant women’s rights a significant concern.

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.

While the particular concerns of migrant women are lifted up in the Beijing+5 outcome document; subsequent Agreed Conclusions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women; and CEDAW; their concerns are often obscured in policy debates regarding global migration, sustainable development, and women’s equality.  We urge the universal ratification of the UN Convention on the Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and its linkage to CEDAW and CERD.  The Migrant Rights Convention affirms inherent and transportable rights which do not stop at the border.  We also lift up ILO conventions 97 concerning Migration for Employment and 143 concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers, which are legally binding instruments affirming equal treatment between migrant and local workers and recognizing the rights of irregular migrant workers.  We urge ratification of the new ILO Convention on Domestic Workers.

We call on the global women’s human rights community to:

  • Work with us to build a gender analysis of women and migrationthat addresses their unique positioning in global economic systems and build alliances to claim migrant women’s human rights.
  • Affirm the voices of migrant women.  Join with us in all national and international policy-making spaces to make sure that the economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights of migrant women are made explicit.  Address the realities of migrant women in  migration, economic, social, environmental and gender policy;
  • Call for an end to the criminalization of migrants and migration enforcement schemes that deny due process and basic human rights.  Work with us to challenge growing racism and xenophobia.  Advocate for national policy that enables migrant women to access public services, join unions, and seek legal recourse.  Build rights and equality for migrant women into our own practices as women.
  • Join the 12 x 12 campaign in 2012 to push for ratification of the new ILO convention on domestic workers [see http://www.ituc-csi.org]
  • Join with us to lift up the realities of violence against migrant women in the home, the workplace, in transit, in detention and in the community. Affirm migrant women’s right to move freely without being bound to their spouse or employer, which keeps women in violent situations.  Raise these concerns in 2013 on V-Day; International Women’s Day; in the UN-CSW in March (on violence); 16 Days of Violence; and December 18, International Migrants’ Day.
  • Join us in bringing migrant women’s voices and demands to the UN General Assembly High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in Fall 2013 in New York.

Women and Global Migration Working Group participants at AWID Forum

  • Espacio Sin Fronteras, (Brasil)
  • Global Coalition on Migration
  • International Trade Union Confederation  (Geneva/Global)
  • Migrant Forum Asia (Philippines/Asia)
  • Migrant Rights International (Geneva/Global)
  • National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (US)
  • Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – PICUM (Brussels/Europe)
  • Pan-African Network in Defense of Migrants Rights (PANiDMR),(Africa)
  • Public Services International (Geneva/Global)
  • United Methodist Women (US/Global)
  • WIDE plus
  • World YWCA

For further information and to join the Listserve, contact Cathi Tactaquin, NNIRR,  ctactaquin@nnirr.org, or Carol Barton, United Methodist Women, cbarton@unitedmethodistwomen.org.