IOM Director General’s Message on International Women's Day 2015

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By William Lacy Swing

More women are on the move than ever before. They represent approximately half of the world’s one billion migrants and are approximately half of the estimated 51 million displaced persons.

On this year’s International Women’s Day, IOM calls on the international community to ensure the empowerment of migrant and displaced women through the full realization of their human rights.

As we commemorate the historic twenty-year anniversary and review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we must acknowledge that, while there have been many significant achievements in realizing women’s rights, serious gaps remain in making gender equality a reality. This is particularly true for migrant women.

Migration can empower women in search of new opportunities and a better life for themselves and their families. The income-generating opportunities, access to education and economic independence found through migration all serve to empower women.

Yet, migration can also be fraught with challenges such as discrimination, exclusion and even violence. Those who feel driven to move irregularly or flee due to disaster or conflicts face additional risks of trafficking, exploitation and marginalization.

To correct this, we must continue to engage and learn from migrant women as we review the accomplishments of the last twenty years and chart a course for the next twenty.

Recalling the commitments in the Beijing Platform, the international community must continue to introduce measures that protect migrant and displaced women from violence and exploitation, facilitate productive employment in all sectors of the labour force, and recognize the skills, credentials and education of migrant women—including the displaced.

Women are leaders and pillars of their communities and they must be recognized for their diverse skills and capacities. From the woman who migrates to Italy to earn an accounting degree and returns to Peru to build a successful business, to the woman in the Philippines who breaks down gender stereotypes as she builds new and safer houses following Typhoon Haiyan, women around the world show their strength, capacities and resilience, often in the face of great adversity.

There is much we can learn from them. Through active collaboration, we not only empower women; we empower humanity.

While there has been much success, this has been a challenging year. More and more women have fled violence and disaster using dangerous migration methods. These women face the terrible dangers of being trafficked, kidnapped and sold into slavery — dangers that do not end on arrival in the city or country they hoped would be a haven.

In these difficult times, we must ensure we not only recognize the challenges women face, but we uphold their achievements, and focus greater attention on women’s rights and gender equality.

In Lebanon and Iraq, for example, IOM provides training that helps displaced women show their resilience through new livelihood skills, and in raising awareness among fellow migrants of trafficking and safe migration.

It is now up to us all to listen, engage and act to ensure that IOM’s policies and programming contribute to the empowerment of these brave women and their communities — regardless of category or legal status.

As we look to the future, we have many opportunities to advocate for the rights of migrant women. In the post-2015 development agenda, we must continue to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of migration for all women and ensure that no migrant is left behind.

At next year’s World Humanitarian Summit, we must ensure equal access to humanitarian assistance and rights and continue to work to prevent gender-based violence.

Finally, as we see the increasing trend of migration and displacement to cities, we must develop strong gender-sensitive policies to deal with the challenges of rapid urbanization, including the profound implications it has for family structures and unequal consequences for women and men.

Our objective is clear: as an organization we must continue to engage, involve and partner with migrant women as an integral part of our work. We must be accountable to our beneficiaries and ensure that our programming is delivered in a responsive and equal manner.

Even in the most challenging circumstances, this is how we empower migrant women to have a positive migration experience, to empower communities and empower humanity.

For more information please contact Theodora Suter at IOM HQ. Email: tsuter@iom.int, Tel. +41.22.717.9478.