The Double Danger of Being both a Migrant and a Woman
By IOM Director General William Lacy Swing
Geneva – In today’s increasingly mobile and interconnected world, migration has become an integral part of the lives of over 100 million women. At different stages of their lives, a growing proportion of these women leave their familiar surroundings to study, work, marry, reunite with their families or flee a dangerous situation.
For many women and girls, migration is a way to fulfill their potential, to develop and to exercise their human rights. But being both a migrant and female also exposes them to risk – the risk of being subjected to violence.
Women migrants predominantly work in the informal sector – often in unregulated professions such as domestic work, agriculture or services – which makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The majority of victims of human trafficking are also women and girls.
In addition, women tend to be over-represented among the 27.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) globally, and research indicates that in situations of crisis and forced displacement, the break-down of family and social structures exposes them to acute risks of physical and sexual violence.
Men – as family members, co-workers, employers, public authorities or even strangers – are the main perpetrators of violence against women. It is therefore of paramount importance to involve them at the community level for effective prevention of violence against women.
In Moldova, IOM has been actively supporting the establishment and running of Moldova’s first Centre for Assistance and Counseling of Family Aggressors, opened in December of last year.
It is the first institution of its kind to provide rehabilitation services to perpetrators of domestic violence in the country, which experiences very high levels of female migration, and is expected to contribute to family and gender equality policies.
In other countries, such as Viet Nam, IOM supports the formation of self-help groups for migrant men to increase their awareness on issues of gender inequality and violence against women. The groups encourage them to adopt and advocate for alternative non-violent models of masculinity and most participants respond very positively.
Ongoing IOM programmes also work to help victims of violence and abuse linked to human trafficking. In Tanzania, for example, an IOM programme focuses on the reintegration of trafficked young girls and adolescents. The programme aims to reduce the risk that they will be re-trafficked by ensuring that they receive vocational training and life skills programmes to allow them to become self-reliant, once reunified with their families.
Empowering victims to take charge of their healing process has proved a successful approach to avoiding further abuse and helping migrant women to rebuild their lives and an IOM project in Ecuador has provided psychosocial support and family therapy to over 1,500 migrant women who have been affected by violence, including domestic violence.
As most cases of violence against migrant women still go unreported, IOM believes in the need to build community-based prevention mechanisms, to ensure that the migration process becomes safer for both men and women.
These can take diverse forms. In Somalia, for example, IOM has developed an innovative partnership with Panasonic to distribute thousands of solar lanterns in IDP camps to improve the safety of women and girls during the hours of darkness. This scheme, and a similar project in Pakistan, has brought about a marked decrease in gender-based violence in IDP camps at night.
In the Middle East and North Africa, IOM is focusing on building the capacity of governments to better protect migrant workers, especially female domestic workers. It also aims to empower women by helping them to better understand their legal rights and practical steps that they can take to improve their situation.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2013, I take pride in seeing the many and diverse initiatives IOM colleagues are working on worldwide to eradicate violence against women at every stage of the migration process. Through these innovative, gender-sensitive approaches, migration policies and programmes can be powerful tools to advance women’s empowerment for the benefit of all.