Women and Migration in a globalised world: Integration, Security and Opportunities

Rome, Italy, 17-18 January 2003


For an increasing number of women globalisation has led to migration: more and more women are involved in internal, regional and international migration to find jobs and most of them are employed to do agricultural and domestic work.

Women migrate to find refuge from natural and ecological disasters, from wars, from political oppression, from gender-related discrimination, and violation of their human rights. Some women are forced by traffickers to migrate.

Trafficking in women for prostitution purposes is a gender-specific crime. Globally, most, but not all, victims of trafficking are female and the overwhelming majority of the perpetrators are male.Trafficking must be fought at both ends of the chain. All markets depend on customers for their operation.

Trafficking can also take place for other purposes. Girls and boys, women and men are sold and bought for exploitative labour in sweatshops, on construction sites or plantations. Children are abducted for use in armed forces, women and children are sold into domestic servitude.

Restrictive immigration policies risk giving migrants no choice but to buy the services of smugglers, which enables traffickers to use the same profitable trails. It is essential that state actions against trafficking in human beings do not inhibit immigration, the freedom of travel, and legal mobility, especially not the ability of women to migrate.

Although the overall number of adult migrants reveals that there are more male migrants than female, the number of women migrants is increasing at a higher rate than that of males.

As long as people can hope to improve their lives by moving to another country, there will be migration. The best way to support these people is to struggle for a more equal world.

There is a conflict in highly developed countries. Their societies need both male and female migrants. But some of the citizens of these countries feel threatened by the presence of these migrants. They might be afraid of increased competition on the labour market, or feel insecure about the changes brought by cultural and religious diversity. So while the economy and further prosperity is dependent on inmigration, society often fears its consequences. The economy needs immigrants, while society fears them. This conflict must be overcome.

The movement of people cannot be stopped, yet rules regulating migration are necessary: being able to count on population flows helps the host countries to set up integration policies to assist immigrants and reassure citizens.

The number of illegal workers is likely to rise as a result of the increasing restrictions on international mobility. However, officially authorised female migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, as they are usually employed in underpaid and non-specialised jobs without, or with poor, legal protection.

Furthermore, women who follow their families and spouses often live in an isolated environment where their traditional role is kept alive, and this strengthens the conservative family model. They are invisible, their voices are not heard, they are often abused and their basic rights denied. Often they are exploited by traffickers and become victims of this new form of slavery, victims of a combination of discriminatory factors which reinforce each other.

Today, integration policies are addressed to men rather than women, as the former are more visible. Therefore, an approach that brings women out of the shadow must be adopted, a policy highlighting their schooling, professional skills and experience. They must participate in, and be active protagonists of, social integration policies.

Promotion of integration processes in the countries the migrants enter has to be flanked by international co-operation to reduce the need for emigration for economic reasons. Discrimination of women is a main cause of poverty worldwide. Granting women the right to own land and to have access to credit, for instance through micro-credit schemes, is necessary in order to efficiently promote poverty reduction.

Women as well as male migrants contribute to the development of their countries of origin by sending home part of their earnings. Remittances of this kind are already larger than the flows of official development assistance. It is important to make sure that these funds can be used productively, for instance by making sure that migrants (in particular women) and their families have access to banking services.

Socialist International Women, therefore, urges governments to:

  • guarantee policies of Equal Opportunities for women migrants; policies not aimed at protective measures but at rights of citizenship;
  • promote policies which empower and protect immigrant women, enabling them to be heard and to defend themselves against racism, discrimination and exploitation;
  • develop a Charter of women immigrants' rights of citizenship that embraces the right to health services, guidance and training, recognition of educational qualifications given by their country of origin and the right to work in decent conditions;
  • create policies to defend women's human rights in the fight against trafficking in women and against transnational organised crime, especially highlighting the sexual exploitation and increasing number of women used for that purpose and;
  • put in place such measures as:
    • the collection, analysis and exchange of mutually compatible data by the various actors involved, including NGOs;
    • the organisation of information and prevention campaigns targeted at potential victims and government officials in countries of origin and transit;
    • the development of a global early warning system monitoring possible flows of refugees and emigrants, in order to halt the traffic in women and children at source.

Finally, Socialist International Women believes that destination countries should grant victims of the traffic in human beings, irrespective of their willingness to testify, temporary permission to remain for the period of the judicial proceedings that should be held in the case of every victim of trafficking.



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The First Hundred Years

A Short History of Socialist International Women

By Irmtraut Karlsson

This book tells the history of the first one hundred years of the Socialist International Women