“The movement of women…should be a right and it should be an opportunity”—Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri

Remarks by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the side event, “Integrating a gender perspective into the development of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration” at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), Bangladesh


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I would like to begin by thanking Begum Shamsun Nahar, Secretary of the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment from the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for agreeing to co-host today’s side event and, indeed, to the Government for hosting such a successful and important Summit. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the European Union and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for their support to UN Women’s project work. 

Ladies, gentlemen, representatives of government and civil society, 

Thank you for attending today’s important side event. We are here to highlight and discuss the importance of a rights-based and gender-responsive approach to contemporary migration governance. Specifically, to discuss collaborative approaches that we can all take to promote the incorporation of a gender perspective into the development of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. 

This is crucial work—and I don’t need to tell you—it is a crucial time. 

There are approximately 120 million women migrants worldwide. Women make up half of the people on the move. Yet, still many of the policies that govern migration and seek to protect migrants, fail to address the specific experiences and needs of women. 

This needs to change. Gender influences the specific experiences of women and men at all stages of migration and policies need to reflect that. For example, women migrants are commonly recruited into specifically feminized sectors of work, including domestic work. The opportunities available to them are often dictated by the structural challenges they face in their countries of origin—including their education, financial literacy and family duties—which limit them to migrating irregularly and working in informal sectors. 

Yet the experiences of migrant women can inform and change social, cultural, political and gender norms and can influence positive social change across households and communities in sending and destination countries. For instance, when a woman’s new earning capacity has the effect of elevating her status in her family and/or community, she may have more influence on how that money is spent, as well as on other significant decisions that she might previously have been excluded from influencing. 

Migrant women are responsible for half of the world’s estimated USD 601 billion in global remittances. Yet remittances are not gender neutral either. Evidence shows that women migrant workers tend to send home a higher proportion of their wages on a more regular basis, and that their remittances are more likely to be spent on health, education, family and community development. Although not desirable, the reality is that these remittances are providing substitutes for poor social security in countries of origin. 

Despite the contributions that migrant women make and the agency that they demonstrate, migrant women are commonly subject to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Such gender-based discrimination may limit migrant women’s decision-making and agency in the household and labour market, as well as their mobility within and outside their countries of origin. 

Women migrants can be subject to restrictive gendered immigration and emigration policies, which can lead them to pursue migration through irregular, unregulated and un-protected channels. Lack of reliable information can leave women vulnerable to physical, emotional and sexual violence. Having an irregular status can result in detention, which can expose women to violence and separation from their families. 

Women migrants also face gendered vulnerabilities that are specific to their sector of labour market insertion. In particular, women in care and domestic work are typically not protected by labour laws leaving women vulnerable to labour or human rights violations, including poor working conditions, with no limitations on working hours, limited freedom of movement and poor wages. 

Ladies, gentlemen, distinguished guests, 

The movement of women should not be a negative phenomenon. It should be a right and it should be an opportunity. Growing numbers of women globally are achieving economic independence through gainful employment and, in most cases, women on the move display strength, endurance and resourcefulness, and can offer positive contributions to countries of origin, destination and return. 

However, the positive contributions of women migrant workers can only be fully harnessed if their labour and human rights are fully protected. Such protection must come from gender-responsive policies—at the national and international levels—that build on the provisions of the existing international framework; in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)—specifically General Recommendation 26—the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the ILO Convention 189 concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers. 

UN Women is committed to working to ensure that a gender perspective is incorporated in global migration governance. In the context of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, UN Women is providing technical assistance to the development of a gender-responsive, human rights-based Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. To this end, UN Women together with experts from the Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), OHCHR, ILO, UNHCR, IOM and civil society, have drafted key elements for addressing women’s human rights in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. 

These key elements address the need to improve migrant women’s access to migration pathways that promote empowerment and protect their rights. They seek to address the human rights of women through all stages of migration. They address the importance of migrant women and girls’ access to human-rights based and gender-responsive services. And they address migrant women’s labour rights and access to decent work and social protection. 

As a final, yet overriding point, I want to stress the importance of promoting women’s and girls’ leadership and their full and equal participation in the development, implementation and monitoring of migration governance. We should all live by the mantra, “Nothing about us, without us”. 

Thank you again for your participation in today’s side event. I look forward to a dynamic and fruitful discussion with you all.