Photo: Edna Valdez. Credit: UN Women/Norman Gorecho - Photo: 2016

Why Focus on Women Refugees and Migrants


NEW YORK (IDN) – Ahead of the first-ever high-level summit for refugees on September 19 at the UN Headquarters in New York, UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, has drawn attention to the fact that women represent almost half of the 244 million migrants and half of the 19.6 million refugees worldwide.

The remittances sent by women migrant workers improve the livelihood and health of their families and strengthen economies, says UN Women. In 2015, international migrants sent $432.6 billion in remittances to developing countries – nearly three times the amount of Official Development Assistance, which totalled at $131.6 billion.

Women are often the first responders in a crisis, and whether en route or in camps, in home countries or destination countries, they play a crucial role in caring for, sustaining and rebuilding their communities.

Yet, refugee and migrant women’s needs, priorities and voices are often missing from policies designed to protect and assist them, reports UN Women.

Facts speak for the need to focus on women refugees and migrants:

– Between 2000 and 2015, the number of international migrants has increased by 41 per cent to reach 244 million. Almost half of them are women.

– Migrants, especially migrant women, have higher labour force participation rates (72.7 per cent) than non-migrants (63.9 per cent).

– Almost every sixth domestic worker in the world is an international migrant, and women make up 73.4 per cent of international migrant domestic workers. – Yet, only 22 countries have ratified the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers, which recognizes the additional vulnerabilities of women domestic workers and protects the rights and dignity of all domestic workers.

– Today, 50 per cent of the world’s refugees are women and girls. Yet, only 4 per cent of projects in UN inter-agency appeals were targeted at women and girls in 2014, and just 0.4 per cent of all funding to fragile states went to women’s groups or women’s ministries from 2012 to 2013.

– According to UN reports, 60 per cent of preventable maternal deaths take place in humanitarian settings and at least 1 in 5 refugees or displaced women are estimated to have experienced sexual violence.

– The number of internally displaced persons stood at almost 40 million at the end of 2014. Current data suggests that women living in protracted displacement slightly outnumber men and their hardships get worse over time. Placing women in decision-making roles and including their needs and realities in policies and solutions designed to address global migration and the refugee crisis make them more sustainable and responsive, declares UN Women.

The day-long summit is expected to generate global commitments to address the root causes of large movements of refugees and migrants; to ensure at all stages, the human rights, safety and dignity of refugees and migrants; to provide protection from violence; and to prevent discrimination and xenophobia.

World leaders are also expected to discuss a more predictable and equitable way of responding to large movements of refugees through responsibility-sharing and a comprehensive response plan for refugees.

“With refugee and migrant women playing a pivotal role around the world to sustain communities and economies, the global commitments must include achieving gender equality, the empowerment of all women and girls and their human rights as underlying principles, address the unique needs of women and girls, include their voices, and be accountable to them,” says UN Women.

“The main challenge for women migrant workers is that they don’t know what rights they have,” writes Edna Valdez. Even when there are laws and services in place, they don’t know how to claim their rights or access support.

“That’s why we continuously lobby the local government to set up Migrant Desks at each municipal office, in compliance with the national law, where migrants and their families can access information and support,” she adds.

Valdez was elected as the President of Bannuar Ti La Union, an organization that works for migrant women’s rights in the La Union province of Philippines, shortly after she joined as a member in 2000.

Bannuar works closely with UN Women’s partner, Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), as part of a European Union-funded migration project, active in Philippines, Mexico and Moldova.

Note: This article is based on UN Women’s editorial package on ‘Women refugees and migrants’. IDN-InDepthNews is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact, an alliance of media organizations committed to playing an active role in advancing gender issues within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 September 2016]

Photo: Edna Valdez. Credit: UN Women/Norman Gorecho

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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