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Statement, side event panel discussion: Human rights of migrant women

Publishing Date: 03-12-2013
Speaker: Ms. Laura Thompson, Deputy Director General, International Organization for Migration
Location: New York

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Excellencies, Representatives from the Diplomatic Missions, UN and CSO Representatives, Colleagues, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is an honour for me to speak today on behalf of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at this side event convened on the margins of the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women under the theme, Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Let me start off by welcoming you all and extending my sincere appreciation to the mission of Mexico who has sponsored the event and to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' colleagues for co-organising the event together with IOM. The discussion we will have today will not only be of relevance to the proceedings of the CSW and contribute to ensuring that the concerns of migrant women are fully included in the agreed conclusions; but they will also give us the opportunity to explore how we can collectively take advantage of the UN High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD), to be held on 3 and 4 October of this year, to better promote respect for and protection of the human rights of all migrants, in particular migrant women.

Despite the fact that violence against women has been plaguing our societies as far as any of us can remember, it seems that the world has been rediscovering it recently with the unspeakable and revolting rapes that have taken place in India and South Africa. Despite the horrendous nature of these stories and our sorrow for the innocent victims, one cannot help but think that it is about time that these stories get worldwide attention. However, today, I would like to tell you about the other stories, the stories that rarely make the news, the stories of migrant women victims of violence.

I would like to tell you about this internal migrant woman in South East Asia who told us how her husband used to physically abuse her; or this African domestic worker in Western Asia raped by her employer and then aggressed by his wife when she found out; or this victim of trafficking who told us how she felt like they had taken her smile and she will never be able to have it back.

What do these stories tell us?

Well, first, and that is a point that I would like all of us to take home, the areas in which migrant women face violence are multiple, particularly in the world of today, where migrant women account for almost half of all migrants and are increasingly migrating in search of more opportunities to fulfil their personal and professional aspirations. Of course, we continue to have a steady flow of women migrating as accompanying dependents but this is no longer the only way women migrate and it has not been for a long time. In the face of these profound changes in global dynamics of migration, we need to expand our understanding of how violence impact migrant women. Violence against migrant women occurs throughout all the stages of the migration cycle and may be compounded by others factors such as – but not limited to – legal status, age, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

  • violence can be experienced within the private sphere – for example spousal abuse and/or domestic violence, which may take the form of physical, sexual and psychological abuse perpetrated by one or more family members. This also includes harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM)  or honour crimes;
  • violence can occur at the place of work – for example exploitative working conditions such as long working hours, non-payment of wages, forced confinement, starvation, beatings, rape, or sexual abuse using the threat of incarceration and/or deportation to ensure compliance;
  • Finally, violence against migrant women can take place in the public sphere – for example by police or border officials but also through xenophobic violence linked to negative public opinions, attitudes and behaviours towards migrants.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) migrants - both those who have fled their countries of origin due to LGBTI-related persecution, and those who migrated for other reasons also often face violence and discrimination in their countries.

So, how to react to this new reality.

First, policies and normative frameworks must be examined.  The adaption of legislation and the promotion of multi-faceted and evidence-based responses to gender based violence against migrant women needs to go beyond merely addressing the symptoms. The underlying factors, links and correlations need to be addressed – including engaging men and boys.

Linked to this is the need to strengthen the knowledge base on all forms of violence against women through data collection, research and dissemination of good practices to inform policy and strategy development. The formulation and implementation of comprehensive responses to human trafficking should draw on action-orientated and policy-driven research in order to eliminate and prevent human trafficking, ensure prosecution of offenders and uphold protection of victims. IOM maintains extensive programming in this area, in which women make up the overwhelming majority (80%) of the victims.

Furthermore, IOM encourages the inclusion of the issue of violence against women as a key issue in international migration policy discussions and the promotion of measures to create an enabling and engendered environment for migrant women, including through the recommendations of the CSW and the 2013 HLD.

Second, we must look at protective practices and interventions through the provision of comprehensive and multi-sectoral services and direct assistance to victims of violence, including trafficking victims. The advancement of capacity development, training and support programmes for policymakers, the police, prosecutors, judges, health and social services providers, labour attaches, to name a few, is needed to ensure that policies do not perpetuate or exacerbate violence against women, that migrant women have access to justice, redress and assistance; that perpetrators of violence against women do not enjoy impunity; and as a means of actively promoting the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against migrant women.

IOM also encourages that there is greater regulation of the labour sectors in which women migrant workers are employed, including through ethical recruitment, monitoring of conditions of employment and assistance mechanisms geared towards migrant women as well as providing an enabling environment to ensure their well-being and healthcare.          

Third, we must increase the number of initiatives to empower women. Through the provision of community human rights education and empowerment programmes migrant women better know their rights and are empowered to demand and exercise them. This will ensure community leadership in combatting violence against women. To enhance women empowerment it is also essential that we promote the engagement of migrant women in policy discussions and in initiatives on issues that affect them, and that we support platforms for women migrants to access support and assistance, including through migrant resource centres (MRCs).      

In our endeavours to be successful in these three key areas, effective dialogue, cooperation and partnership are critical elements. It is important that governments, UN agencies and international organizations, CSOs and other stakeholders maximise synergies, experiences, resources and capacities in taking collective action to eliminate and prevent all forms of violence against women.

These issues need to be factored into the CSW agreed conclusions but also in the deliberations of the HLD and the post-2015 development agenda, in their totality. A piecemeal approach to violence against women will just not do.

Let me conclude by saying that IOM, as the lead agency on migration, stands ready to play its part together with partners at the local, national, regional and global levels. In advancing the agenda on the human rights of migrant women, it is important that we do not lose sight of the individual women that comprise the heterogeneous group of women who are firstly human beings and secondly migrants. Their needs and aspirations should lie at the heart of what we do, their fundamental human rights should be given effect to and their voices should be heard in any discussions on, around and about them.

Thank you.