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Women’s voices essential to success of global migration compact

Dec 17. 2018
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By Anna-Karin Jatfors 

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On December 10-11, UN member states gathered in Morocco adopted the Global Compact for Migration. The GCM is the first intergovernmental agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration. It promises to improve the lives of the world’s 258 million migrants, their families and communities. 

Almost half of the world’s migrants are women, yet some countries place bans and restrictions on migration based on gender, marital or maternity status, or require the permission of a male relative. Women may also lack access to the information on migration and recruitment that they need to make empowered decisions and manage the risks. 

Women are too often pushed into low-paid, undervalued work, whether on assembly lines in manufacturing or as domestic workers in private homes, often based on their gender. Domestic workers, isolated in employers’ homes, may face physical and sexual abuse, food and sleep deprivation, low wages and excessive working hours. 

The GCM addresses these and other challenges. But its provisions only open the door for change. To make those changes a reality on the ground, we must ensure the implementation of the GCM is gender-responsive.  

Gender-responsiveness is one of the explicit guiding principles of the GCM. This includes promoting gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls – and moving away from addressing migrant women primarily through a lens of victimhood. 

As countries across the region prepare to implement the GCM, the voices of the women affected must be front-and-centre of processes to develop and review the next generation of labour migration policies. 

Transforming migration so it works for all requires full participation across society, including women migrant workers, their employers and recruitment agencies. 

When policy reviews don’t include women, they too often get it wrong. For example, in some countries, restrictions and bans on women’s migration are in place. These were introduced to protect women from exploitation, violence and abuse. But when we talked to women, we found this didn’t stop migration at all – it just meant that more were using unlicensed brokers and irregular channels to migrate instead. This places women at even greater risk of high debts, trafficking, forced labour and exploitation. Worse still, it meant that when things went wrong, women couldn’t seek justice. 

Early movers 

Policies that include women work better for women. Consulting social partners, civil society organisations, women migrants and their representatives does more than just ensure women migrants’ experience is reflected in policies. It also brings the community of stakeholders onboard from the start. This makes for effective implementation and subsequent monitoring. 

UN Women has been working with our partners across society and government to put the gender-responsive principles of the GCM into practice from the earliest stages. In the Philippines, we brought together five government agencies, 23 civil society organisations and experts from international organisations and academia in early November to draw up national-level priorities to realise a gender-responsive GCM. The actions identified are a real opportunity to invest meaningfully in the participation of women migrant workers in decisions that affect their lives. 

The GCM is an essential starting point for the next chapter in international cooperation on migration, and an historic opportunity. If it is seized, it will allow us to harness the potential of migration to bring lasting benefits to individuals and communities around the world. 

Anna-Karin Jatfors is Asia-Pacific regional director of UN Women.

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