View from UN Women: Protecting Women Migrant Workers’ Rights
Guest author Inkeri von Hase, Programme Analyst at UN Women, managed the UN Women programme ‘Promoting and protecting women migrant workers' labour and human rights' funded with the support of the EU. It combined research, capacity building and advocacy to protect women migrants from exclusion and exploitation.
It is critical that we put an end to gender-blind migration governance. One of the weaknesses of most current migration policies – whether at the local, national or international level – is that migrants are viewed as being one homogenous group void of gender and sexual identity, disability and race. However, with women making up approximately half of the 244 million international migrants, it is imperative that their specific contributions, needs and vulnerabilities are addressed to ensure that migration policies respond to their realities and promote their human rights.
Women migrant workers account for half of the estimated $601 billion in global remittances, and yet their contributions often go unrecognised. In addition, they are often subject to discriminatory working practices, low pay, lack of social protection, and poor working conditions.
UN Women, with €1.7 million in support from the European Commission, recently concluded a global project to promote and protect the labour and human rights of women migrant workers. Implemented in Mexico, Moldova and the Philippines, as well as at a global level through collaboration with treaty bodies and international advocacy, the project engaged with governments and national and international human rights mechanisms to enhance their accountability to women migrant workers. At the same time, it worked to develop women migrant workers’ and their organisations’ capacity to advocate for their rights.
The programme showed that the engagement of all stakeholders – including governments, human rights mechanisms, UN agencies, civil society and importantly women migrants themselves – is critical to ensure that migration policies work for women, and achieved a number of significant results.
What were the key results?
Working with treaty bodies and governments
Firstly, the programme worked closely with key UN human rights treaty bodies on addressing the linkages between gender and migration, including the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). Supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), these Committees of independent experts are tasked to monitor the implementation of human rights mechanisms.
In Mexico, for example, the project hosted a dialogue with representatives from CMW, CEDAW, the Mexican government and civil society organisations which helped strengthen the capacity of the government and civil society organisations in their reporting on issues relating to women migrant workers, ahead of Mexico’s reviews by CMW and CEDAW. This dialogue helped to make sure that, for the first time, the rights of women migrant workers were addressed in the Mexican government’s reporting to CMW in 2016. The programme also provided technical support on the revision of CMW’s reporting templates to ensure that attention is paid to the specific situation of migrant women.
Secondly, technical support to national governments provided under the programme led to the CEDAW-compliant amendment of four laws in Moldova relating to migration, labour and trafficking; and the adoption of the landmark Philippines Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act (OWWA) in 2016 which is compliant to the provisions of CEDAW. Concretely, these reforms ensure that distinct needs of migrant women are reflected and addressed as part of the response by governments. The Act states that ‘Welfare assistance, services, and programs provided by the OWWA shall be gender-responsive, taking into consideration the different impacts of labour migration to men and women’.
Changing perceptions, empowering women
Thirdly, the programme worked to change the rhetoric surrounding migrant women at both local and national level. In Moldova, a powerful multi-media campaign was launched on national television, radio, billboards and online, to combat the negative stereotyping of migrant women spurning their responsibilities towards their children, or the belief that they are causing families’ dissolution. This campaign was seen by almost 1.9 million people, approximately 75% of the Moldovan population.
Fourthly, further to media campaigns, the programme helped to empower women migrant workers and their organisations to advocate for the protection of their rights. In Moldova, the project supported the formation of the first movement of migrant women, Mișcarea Femeilor Migrante din Moldova. The organisation now has around sixty active members who advocate directly with the government for policies that promote and protect the rights of women migrants. Globally the programme also ensured that key intergovernmental processes, such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) address the rights of women migrant workers. Thanks to the programme, leading experts from treaty bodies, governments and civil society underscored the importance of developing and implementing gender-responsive migration policies at these global events.
Experiences from the programme also fed into the historic UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016. The programme supported the drafting of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants to ensure that the rights of migrant women and girls are addressed. The global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, which Members States agreed to develop, presents a unique opportunity to ensure that migrant women’s human rights are promoted and protected at all stages of migration. To this end, the programme developed recommendations on addressing women’s human rights in the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration during an expert meeting. Serving as a one-stop shop for gender-responsive migration governance, these recommendations highlight specific areas that need to be strengthened to reduce the risks that women migrants face, whilst simultaneously recognising women’s agency throughout the migration journey. The recommendations have been endorsed by CMW, and other treaty bodies indicated their intention to follow suit shortly.
Thanks to the programme, the rights of women migrant workers are now firmly on the table, but the work is not yet done. We must continue strengthening partnerships and engaging with all stakeholders, working to ensure that the development and implementation of the global compact for migration is truly gender-responsive and human-rights based to ensure that no one is left behind.
UN Women is resolved to work towards a global compact for migration that empowers migrant women and contributes to achieving gender equality in the context of the 2030 Agenda. We count on you to join us in this journey!
The programme also produced a broad range of global and national knowledge products. These products focus on several key areas including a national situational analysis of women migrant workers in the three pilot countries, CEDAW-based legal reviews, national guides on mainstreaming gender and migration into development planning, and six global policy briefs. The knowledge products have been disseminated across UN Women’s website, the EmpowerWomen.org platform, media outlets, national/international fora, and partner organisations, to ensure that the knowledge and best practices from this project are shared with a global audience. These knowledge products not only fill a much-needed gap in the literature on migration and gender but also help secure the legacy of the valuable work under the programme.
Image credits: Banner image - UN Women/Eduardo García; Article images: UN Women/Norman Gorecho