Introduction Introduction Chapter 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Notes for Indicators Notes
Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Noties for quotations Notes for quotations
Chapter 3 Chapter 3 Notes for boxes Notes for boxes
Chapter 4 Chapter 4 Indicators Indicators
CHAPTER 5 Printer Friendly printer friendly version
Chapter 1 Safeguarding Human Rights,
Embracing Cultural Diversity

Protecting the Human Rights of Migrants

Engendering the Management of Migration

Embracing Diversity, And Easing Cultural Differences

Engendering the Management of Migration

The social and financial remittances of migrant women make significant contributions to families and communities back home, and their labour provides socio-economic benefits to their host and origin countries. Yet migration policies rarely take gender into account. This is partially owing to a lack of analysis regarding the divergent opportunities, risks, contributions and experiences of women and men, and can result in a lost opportunity to leverage the economic and social rewards of migration. Better data collection and increased research would enable a greater understanding of, for example, how female migration and remittances contribute to poverty reduction and development.(19) National poverty reduction strategies in countries of origin, and the donor countries that support them, can only gain from increased attention to the growing phenomenon of the international migration of women.(20)

Some countries are taking steps to respond to the feminization of migration. Improved policymaking requires data collection that is disaggregated by age and sex, along the lines of UNFPA-supported efforts now under way in some regions. In order to accomplish this, countries can take advantage of existing data collection exercises-such as censuses, demographic, health and household surveys. Countries receiving large numbers of immigrants can also launch surveys specifically aimed at examining the socio-economic status of migrants. Policy responses are more likely to succeed if based on strong and accurate data and analysis.

Norway is one of the few countries that is seeking to address a dismal lack of sex-disaggregated statistics: It collects detailed demographic, education, labour and economic data on first- and second-generation migrants-including refugees.(21) Canada is another exception: It was the first nation to undertake a comprehensive gender analysis of immigration policies. This resulted in changes to its entry requirements that led to increased numbers of skilled foreign women entering the country-from 24.5 per cent of migrants in this category in 2001 to 34 per cent in 2002.(22) On a regional level, the Statistical Information System on Central American Migration compiles sex-disaggregated information and is one of the most advanced data sets.(23) In Nepal, a major breakthrough was achieved when the Government incorporated the concerns of women migrant workers into the country's 2002-2007 Tenth National Plan. Authorities have also recently initiated efforts to develop a sex-disaggregated national migration database.(24)

Policymakers can help provide alternatives to migration by putting in place policies and programmes explicitly aimed at reducing poverty, ending gender discrimination and expanding opportunities for women in their countries of origin. Removing discriminatory provisions and ensuring that women have opportunities to migrate legally can help lower irregular migration, reduce smuggling and trafficking, and enable women to support their families without undue risks.(25) Some immigrant-receiving countries continue to practice a "principal applicant" approach, which in practice favours male breadwinners. This limits the opportunity for female migrants to be admitted as independents and to enjoy regular status.(26) Host countries will benefit from policy reforms that eliminate discriminatory barriers-through the tax, pension and other economic contributions of migrant women. It will also foster the more humane and orderly management of migration.(27)

Experts have put forth various recommendations to protect the human rights of women throughout the migration cycle. As reviewed in earlier chapters, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) have developed standards, guidelines and good practices in collaboration with governments and NGOs. Governments can ensure that women migrants are provided with pre-departure orientation and information concerning their rights, risks and who to contact in the event of an emergency or abuse. Bilateral agreements between sending and receiving countries can help to protect migrant women, assist in seeking judicial redress and facilitate repatriation. These types of agreements exist between Thailand and the sending countries of Laos and Cambodia,(28) as they do between Jordan and other key sending countries (Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka).(29)

Countries can also support women migrants by regulating recruitment and job placement agencies, including requiring written contracts and establishing consular relations in destination countries as various South Asian countries have done.(30) Reinforcing the role of embassies in protecting migrant women's rights requires increased resources, staff and training.(31) A critical area in need of review is the issue of policies and practices barring women from changing employers once in their destination country. This is not only a major reason why some migrant women find themselves trapped in abusive and exploitative conditions, but it also prevents them from moving up the occupational ladder.

Governments can also facilitate the reintegration of migrant women when they return to countries of origin, and ease socio-economic problems for those without employment or who have experienced abuses or have been trafficked.(32) Again, such measures are mutually beneficial: Countries stand to gain by supporting returnee access to investment, credit, property ownership and related services, an area where women often face discrimination and obstacles. This, in turn, helps harness savings from remittances for entrepreneurial and development initiatives, and enables governments to explore ways to capitalize on the potential "female brain gain" of skilled migrant workers.

The Philippines is reputed to have one of the more developed initiatives for overseas workers, including a mandatory pre-departure programme that covers rights and health issues.(33) Migrant women are even learning self-defense tips and how to access support services while abroad. In collaboration with the IOM, the Government has developed a video entitled "The Power to Choose: Self-Defense for Women Migrant Workers", which shows w ould-be émigrés how to avoid and deal with potential abuse.(34) In Ethiopia, a woman who had previously resided in Lebanon set up an officially registered employment agency for migrants called Meskerem. Its mission is to assist and protect women from trafficking and abuse while abroad. Working with its local branch in Lebanon, the agency issues ID cards with 24-hour emergency contact information and pick-up, shelter and repatriation services should the need arise. The agency will also pay salaries should the employer be in default, and follows-up with legal action.(35) Other countries are also working to support migrant women. Mexico, for example, launched a campaign to raise awareness of the human rights of migrant women and the conditions under which they live while residing in the United States.(36)

Parliamentarians can play a key role. In December 2005, the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly issued a report on The Integration of Immigrant Women in Europe.(37) Acknowledging that women face two-fold discrimination both as women and as immigrants, the report calls on EU Member States to strengthen human rights protections for this group. These include: combating racism and gender stereotypes; raising awareness in the media and in schools of the contributions of female migrants to host societies; and breaking down obstacles to employment. Other measures include: granting independent legal status to women who enter for family reunification; criminalizing the withholding of resident permits or passports; providing vocational training that will enable migrant women to move beyond traditional sectors (i.e., domestic services, health); providing support such as childcare; and encouraging greater male involvement in family responsibilities. In recognition of the need to involve men, receiving countries are also being called on to provide education to new immigrants, both male and female, on the equal rights of men and women and the necessity of ending gender-based violence.

Working with communities in countries of origin that have large numbers of emigrants is also critical. In addition to reducing the risks of trafficking or exploitation through awareness-raising, would-be migrants can also gain access to information about what to expect from their experience, the opportunities and challenges involved, as well as relevant laws and policies. For example, in Tarija, Bolivia, an "Orientation for Young Women" programme run by the NGO, PROMUTAR (Promoción de la Mujer Tarija), counsels young female would-be émigrés of the risks inherent in undocumented migration.(38) Participatory approaches are also relevant in informing and developing effective migration and development policies. The engagement of women's migrant organizations, coupled with strengthened collaboration among policymakers, employers, trade unions and other NGOs, can s erve to further the search for improved, sustainable and equitable policy responses for managing international migration.


Many NGOs have been at the forefront of the battle for migrant rights, especially on specific issues such as trafficking or refugees. Their participation in formulating migration policy has been more recent, but is gaining momentum and becoming more forceful.(39) Several organizations make gender equality and the rights of women either a partial or an exclusive focus of their missions.

Migrants Rights International was founded at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) to promote the human rights of migrants. It counts among its members, organizations and experts from all regions of the world.(40) In the United States, there are now more than 3,000 organizations assisting immigrants, up from only about 50 in 1993.(41) In 1999, at least 300 organizations were estimated to be working for the rights of migrants in Asia.(42) Several networks in Latin America, as well as in Europe (some funded by the European Commission), are working for migrants' rights and against racism.(43) The Platform of International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), for example, is an association of European NGOs working for the rights to shelter, education, health, legal aid and to assemble and advocate for improved working conditions.(44) According to FIVOL (the Italian Foundation for Voluntary Service), there are about 1,000 associations that work in the field of immigration, 50 per cent of which are run by migrants themselves.(45)

A major factor contributing to labour exploitation and abuse is that immigrants often lack representation in organizations that will fight for their rights. NGOs, often established by migrant workers themselves, have stepped in to fill the void. Trade unions are a critical forum through which the rights of workers can be defended, and in several-mostly developed countries-they have embraced migrant worker concerns.(46) The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, for example, with its membership of 125 million workers worldwide, has promoted migrant worker rights both globally and nationally through its affiliates. Among their activities, they have launched a "No to Racism and Xenophobia" action plan.(47) While laws tend to bar migrants from joining trade unions, there are some exceptions. In Switzerland, trade unions offer membership cards that provide basic protections for undocumented migrant workers, most of whom are domestic workers.(48)

In Asia, several organizations defending the rights of women migrants have been formed. Immigrant women successfully registered the Asian Domestic Workers Union in Hong Kong (SAR) as a trade union in 1989. It now provides support to members from countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.(49) Filipino women have also established various other NGOs linked to transnational networks, including the NGO coalition United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL). It monitors the living and working conditions of foreign domestic workers and has helped workers from India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka to establish their own unions.(50) In 2004, in the Republic of Korea, human rights, women's and faith-based NGOs have gained legal protections for low-skilled migrants with the introduction of the Employment Permit System. This offers migrant workers the same rights as local workers-including the right to join unions, to strike, to collective bargaining, and to national health, casualty and industrial accident insurance, as well as to a national pension.(51) In New Delhi, India, the South Asian Study Center provides an estimated 200,000 migrants from Nepal with information about education, health, labour rights, financial management and remittances.(52)