New Report Calls on World Leaders to Protect Human Rights of Female Migrants
Friday, September 15, 2006 10:52 AM

LONDON/NEW YORK, 6 September 2006 —Today, half of all international migrants—95 million—are women and girls. Yet, despite substantial contributions to both their families at home and communities abroad, the needs of migrant women continue to be overlooked and ignored.

This year’s State of World Population report, A Passage to Hope: Women and International Migration, examines the scope and breadth of female migration, the impact of the funds they send home to support families and communities, and their disproportionate vulnerability to trafficking, exploitation and abuse.  

The report, produced and published every year by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, reveals that although migrant women contribute billions of dollars in cash and services, policymakers continue to disregard both their contributions and their vulnerability—even though female migrants tend to send a much higher proportion of their lower earnings back home than their male counterparts.

“This report calls on governments and individuals to recognize and value the contributions of migrant women, and promote and respect their human rights,” says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director. “There is an urgent need for stronger cooperation between countries to make migration more safe and fair. And there is a dire need for greater action to address the lack of opportunities and human rights violations that lead many women to migrate in the first place.”

The launch of the State of World Population 2006 comes just a week before the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in New York. This meeting, which will take place at the United Nations from 14 to 15 September, is the first of its kind to bring together the world's governments to discuss the many challenges and benefits of migration. The timing could not be more critical, nor the issues explored in A Passage to Hope: Women and International Migration more complex and pressing.

A Passage to Hope shows that although female migration can enhance equality and offer women opportunities simply not available at home, it can also lead to terrible human rights violations—cases of migration gone bad.

The human rights violations of trafficked women are well documented. Restrictive immigration policies that limit opportunities to migrate safely and legally fuel the desperation that drives millions of women and girls to entrust their well-being and, in some cases, their very lives to unscrupulous traffickers who misrepresent themselves as legitimate labour recruiters. Today, human trafficking represents the third largest illicit trade after drugs and gun smuggling. Unlike both however, trafficking victims remain an ongoing source of “revenue” to be exploited over and over again until they are too ill too worn out to continue. Many die as a result of their servitude—either as a direct result of violence or from contracting the many diseases including HIV to which they are susceptible.

“Although awareness and action against trafficking is growing, there is an urgent need to do more to end this terrible crime and the impunity that goes with it,” says Ms. Obaid. “The report calls for greater cooperation between and within countries to bring traffickers to justice and to provide services and human rights protection for trafficking victims.

Today, domestic work remains one of the largest sectors driving international female labour migration. Every year, millions of women migrate from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and increasingly from Africa, to Europe and North America, the Gulf States and the industrializing nations of Asia. However, labour laws rarely protect domestic workers, nor do they permit them to organize. This leaves millions dependent on employers for their continued legal presence in the host country, in addition to housing, food, and wages. The isolated nature of domestic work, coupled with official neglect and a dearth of appropriate labour protections, can relegate domestic workers to virtual slavery.

Another manifestation of female migration is the massive outflow of nurses from the developing world to industrialized countries. Ageing populations, coupled with a shortage of nurses and doctors in host countries, is fueling demand, while crumbling health systems and poverty in developing nations is driving supply. The yearly exodus of 20,000 highly qualified nurses and doctors from Africa is worsening an already grave situation for a region ravaged by HIV/AIDS, malaria and high numbers of maternal and child deaths. “Now is the time for vision and leadership on behalf of women migrants,” says Ms. Obaid. “Labour, human rights protections and sound immigration policies can ensure that migration for women is a passage to hope as the title of this year’s State of World Population report suggests.”

In addition to the main report, UNFPA is launching Moving Young, a special companion volume that explores the topic of migration through the words of migrant youth. It is a report that brings to life, through first-person accounts, the issues raised in The State of World Population. The youth report is a new initiative that will become, henceforth, a joint annual report. As an organization that also specifically focuses on youth, UNFPA wants to give voice to their dreams, aspirations, challenges and hopes.

Published in: New Report Calls on World Leaders to Protect Human Rights of Female Migrants, UN Population Fund, 6 September 2006.