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Migration Forum 2007, Lisbon/Portugal, 20 – 22 September

Building bridges or barriers? Exploring the complex dynamics between migration and development

Discussion Paper 7:
Migration - Burden, Threat and Hope for Women
“Beyond financial remittances, social remittances of migrant women (ideas, skills,
attitudes, knowledge, etc.) can also boost socio-economic development and
promote human rights and gender equality. Migrant women who send money
transmit a new definition of what it means to be female. This can affect how
families and communities view women. (…) Women abroad also play a role
when it comes to promoting the rights of their counterparts back home. A good
example of this is the vigorous lobbying undertaken by Afghan expatriate women
to promote greater female participation in the new constitution of their home
country. (…)” 1

Introduction - Facts
Out of 191 million migrants 2 worldwide, around half are women (95 million). According to UN
estimates in 2000 around 49% of migrant workers worldwide are women. 3 For example, in
2003, the Indonesian government and World Bank stated that 76 percent of migrant workers
from Indonesia were women. Similarly, in 2001 women represented 73 percent of newly
hired migrant workers from the Philippines. 4 A significant proportion of all migrants are young
women; aged between 15 and 30.

Main Issues
Female Migration – Economic, social and skills power
The impact that female migration has on the economies of countries of origin and countries
of destination has only recently begun to be recognised by international communities and
governments. In spite of the dangers of the migration journey, migration can clearly improve
the quality of migrant women’s lives financially as well as advancing their personal
development. Migration offers women the hope of escaping poverty and greater access to
opportunities than in their often more patriarchal communities of origin. These motivations
enhance women’s willingness to integrate in their country of destination.

The family members who remain at home can also benefit from the migration of their female
relatives. Data shows that women regularly and consistently send a higher proportion of their
earnings back home, investing in their daily needs for food, education and health care. In
2005 the estimated total amount of migrants’ remittances reached USD 232 billion. USD 167
billion was transferred to so-called “less- developed countries”, which is much more than the
worldwide investment for development cooperation. Experts believe that the real figure is
likely to be much higher due to the use of unrecorded informal money transfer methods. 5

1
A passage to hope, Women and International Migration, State of the World Population 2006, United
Nations Population Fund 2006, p. 29..
2
For Caritas Europa, the term migrants includes regular and irregular Migrants, Asylum Seekers,
Refugees and Trafficked persons.
3
UN Facts Sheet on http://www.un-
instraw.org/en/index.php?option=content&task=blogcategory&id=76&Itemid=110, 28/03/2007.
4
Stephanie Grant: International migration and human rights. A paper prepared for the policy analysis
and research programme of the Global Commission on International Migration, September 2005, p.
33.
5
For discussions on remittances also look at discussion papers 2 and 5.

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Migration Forum 2007, Lisbon/Portugal, 20 – 22 September
Building bridges or barriers? Exploring the complex dynamics between migration and development

However, for the country of origin, the departure of many highly educated women (for
example Ghana) in search of more favourable working conditions, salaries and career
opportunities is a problem. In the health sector in particular, this has led to a heavy loss of
skilled persons. As a consequence much needed improvements to the health systems are
delayed or impeded. 6

Main Risks
Female migration – a journey with high risks
Women leaving their country in search of better working and living conditions or to flee war,
natural or environmental disasters, face high risks during their journey and upon arrival. They
are at high risk of violence; in the case of armed conflicts women are often the last to leave
as they stay to look after their families. This exposes them to sexual violence and the
respective consequences, including pregnancy, injuries and infections such as HIV/ Aids.
These risks appear throughout the migration journey as in most countries there are no
structures and very few rights implemented to protect migrant women.

The following factors all make women easy targets for human trafficking; poverty and the
lack of opportunities in their countries of origin, lack of protection along the migration route,
lack of legal immigration routes, the hope of finding better living conditions and sexual
equality abroad. Traffickers exploit women’s hopes, promising them a richer economic and
social future abroad whilst luring them into forced labour, mostly forced prostitution, sweat-
shops and domestic work. This is even more common among young women and girls.
Although there is no data available on the scale of trafficking, estimations suggest that
around 80% of trafficked persons are women 7 .

The opportunity of working in a private household is the greatest motivation for female
migration. Domestic work worldwide is an unregulated sector of the labour market (laws for
work in private households exist in only 19 countries) 8 women are therefore at high risk of
being exploited and/ or badly treated. As a result migrant women often find themselves
marginalised and in irregular situations in their countries of destination.

In spite of the fact that half of the global refugee population is female only a minority of
women are granted refugee status. This is primarily because gender-related causes of
persecution are rarely accepted as valid grounds for refugee status and because women lack
the education (literacy) and administration skills to complete the bureaucratic application
process. 9

Women are at high risk of becoming traumatised during or after their migration journey,
ending up in irregular work and thus being subject to exploitation. These threats can be
attributed to the lack of implemented rights and measures for women and the non-existence
of appropriate migration policies. In spite of the dangers of the migration journey, remaining
in their country of origin is not a viable alternative for many women. Women’s rightful search
for greater economic, political and social equality can therefore only be achieved through
policies which take into account not only the challenges faced by women, but more
importantly, women’s potential. This implies a challenge for migration policies as well as a

6
For discussions on brain drain also look at discussion papers 1 and 5.
7
A passage to hope, p. 44.
8
A passage to hope, p. 52.
9
Jennifer Harris, Refugee Women: Failing to Implement Solutions, Human Rights Brief 7, Issue 3,
2000, on: http://www.wcl.american.edu/hrbrief/v7i3/refugee.htm.

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Migration Forum 2007, Lisbon/Portugal, 20 – 22 September
Building bridges or barriers? Exploring the complex dynamics between migration and development

challenge for development policies as it necessitates a sharp reshaping of perceptions of


female migrants.

Main Challenges
Migrant women as agents of change?
“Although all migrants can be agents of change, migrant women are more likely to see their
personal development thwarted” 10 . Although women contribute to the personal development
of those who remain behind (thus contributing to the development of their country of origin)
and often make the first steps towards integration in their destination country, their rights are
limited both in their countries of origin and destination. “Measures to improve the outcomes
of migration for women include providing them with independent legal status and permission
to work when admitted for family reunification and safeguarding their rights as workers when
they become economically active”. 11

Policies and measures both in the field of migration and development should take into
account the needs and concerns of women. 12 They should ideally aim at empowerment and
development for women while supporting women’s potential for development within their own
networks. Ideally development means not only the eradication of poverty but also the
development of women’s rights, their legal protection and the elimination of structural
discrimination faced by women. This could be achieved through education, awareness
raising and empowering women and policies which maximise women’s participation and
potential for change (such as the networks many women effectively maintain across many
borders). Until existing development processes are amended migrant women are prevented
from engaging in the development of their country of origin as well as their country of
destination.

Challenges for those left behind?


Overcoming poverty is clearly a challenge and opportunity for women not only in their
country of origin. 13 According to Caritas Europa poverty means not only material poverty, but
also a lack of opportunities and participation.

As well as the hope for better living conditions, the hope for equality is also a factor driving
women’s decisions to migrate. However there is a risk that this hope will not be fulfilled due
to the difficulties and tensions arising during the migration process and the exploitation of this
hope by traffickers.

The financial benefits gained abroad provide remaining family members with the opportunity
to improve their children’s education. However, migration can have a “devastating” impact on
children left behind with grandparents’ or other relatives’ who are often overstretched.

The social questions of international migration and the difficulties that arise for those who
stay at home are rarely covered in studies and policies. These questions concern the
difficulties of maintaining stable relationships within the family structure or of adapting to new
situations which may transform traditional role models. 14 Thus the social outcomes affect
women and men equally. These structural difficulties affecting women result in greater

10
International migration and development, Report of the Secretary-General, May 2006, p. 15, on:
http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/353/54/PDF/N0635354.pdf?OpenElement.
11
International migration and development, Report of the Secretary-General, p. 15.
12
If the term “policies” is used without specification it refers to migration and development policies.
13
See Caritas Europa Poverty Report, Migration, a journey into poverty? p 10, on: http://www.caritas-
europa.org/module/FileLib/Poverty2006ENWeb.pdf.
14
A passage to hope, p. 30.

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Migration Forum 2007, Lisbon/Portugal, 20 – 22 September
Building bridges or barriers? Exploring the complex dynamics between migration and development

hardships for women who, unlike men, rarely manage to bring their families to join them in
their destination country.

Guiding Questions
• How can poverty alleviation for women be enhanced?
• How can the risks women face when migrating be reduced or eradicated?
• How can a rights-based and gender sensitive approach for women on the move be
implemented successfully in countries of origin, transit and destination?
• How can Caritas empower migrant women effectively?

References
Stephanie Grant, International migration and human rights. A paper prepared for the policy
analysis and research programme of the Global Commission on International Migration,
September 2005.

Jennifer Harris, Refugee Women: Failing to Implement Solutions, Human Rights Brief 7,
Issue 3, 2000, on:
http://www.wcl.american.edu/hrbrief/v7i3/refugee.htm.

Caritas Europa, Migration, a journey into poverty? Caritas Europa Poverty Report, 2006, p
10, on: http://www.caritas-europa.org/module/FileLib/Poverty2006ENWeb.pdf.

United Nations:
A passage to hope, Women and International Migration State of the World Population, United
Nations Population Fund 2006.

Peter Sutherland, International migration and development, Report of the Secretary-General,


May 2006, on:
http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/353/54/PDF/N0635354.pdf?OpenElement.

UN Facts Sheet on http://www.un-


instraw.org/en/index.php?option=content&task=blogcategory&id=76&Itemid=110,
28/03/2007.