Executive Director remarks at the event Promoting Gender-Responsive Migration Governance through the Global Compact for Migration

Remarks by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the high-level event on Promoting Gender-Responsive Migration Governance through the Global Compact for Migration, New York, 28 September 2018

Date: Friday, September 28, 2018

[As delivered]

The Global Compact for Migration is a milestone for the United Nations. It is the first internationally agreed set of commitments to ensure that migration can be safe, orderly and regular for all. It enables us to call out unacceptable practices such as the detention of migrants and the separation of children from their families, and to look at what this costs families. We can see why it is important to establish these standards.

Women represent half of the estimated 258 million international migrants. Addressing effectively the rights and needs of women migrants, therefore, is a positive contribution to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5. That is why we must ensure that women and girls, with their distinct needs and priorities, are addressed through the development of gender-responsive migration policies, laws, and programmes.

We have learnt much from the work done in Mexico, which was discussed today. Similarly, from our work in Moldova, in the Philippines and in the Pacific, it has become very clear to us that we have to work in a targeted way. We need to measure our interventions so that we are able to see the difference that we make and collate good practices that can be shared in different parts of the world.

Migration governance must take into account the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that migrant women face. Not only as women and as migrants, but also based on aspects such as their income, age, race, ethnicity, geographic location and whether living with disability.

Women’s movement must not be restricted on the basis of their gender. Often however, this is done under the pretext of protection and rooted in deeply entrenched gender inequalities. But without access to regular migration pathways or legal employment options abroad, many women have no choice but to use irregular migration channels or the services of unscrupulous recruitment agents. And we know what that leads to. It leaves women at a heightened risk of exploitation, abuse, and sexual and gender-based violence. We must eliminate these human rights violations as part of the implementation of the Global Compact.

There are some key recommendations that we can implement to support safe and orderly migration for women. For instance, we need non-discriminatory visa and permit options to end gender-based discrimination in migration governance. States must also provide migrant women, particularly those with irregular migration status, with access to essential services, including support for women with disabilities. States have a duty to respect, protect and fulfill their human rights obligations to all women and girls, irrespective of migration status. We must ensure that this includes access to sexual and reproductive health services. And all women must have the right to autonomous movement, without requiring permission from a male spouse or relative. This will ensure that women and men have equal opportunities to migrate and it will enable women to freely leave situations of vulnerability.

We know that finding work is a key reason why women migrate across borders, but because of persistent gender inequalities, including lack of decent work and education, and limited access to land and productive resources, women migrant workers are often concentrated in informal, low-paid and unregulated sectors. This leaves them at a heightened risk of exploitation, servitude, and sexual and gender-based violence.

Some of the most vulnerable women migrants are domestic workers. Some 73 per cent of international migrant domestic workers are women. Addressing their needs is critical to ensuring that our migration governance leaves no one behind. UN Women and ILO are actively involved in getting as many Member States as possible to ratify the Convention 189 on Domestic Workers, and I urge those who are here who have not ratified the Convention to please do so, because this provides much-needed protection to women employed as domestic workers. These are the women who in many cases send remittances back home and support many relatives that are left behind. And these also are the women who provide services in their host countries that others there may not want to provide.

We are pleased that the Global Compact for Migration sets a new precedent by outlining specific safeguards. These ensure safe access to effective reporting and redress mechanisms in case of exploitation, abuse and violation of migrants’ rights in the workplace. We must also tackle sexual harassment against women migrant workers, as intended.

UN Women stands ready to support and collaborate with governments and relevant stakeholders to ensure that the implementation of the Global Compact is truly gender-responsive. We highly appreciate the fact that when we started, before the New York Declaration, there were few references to women and girls, which grew to 30. And in the Compact, we have 29 mentions of gender, which enables us to have specific activities that address the situation of women and girls. We know that Louise Arbour, Special Representative for International Migration, also spent a lot of time ensuring that this result was achieved, and we truly appreciate that.

Those of us together at this podium, and many in this room, want to make sure that we address the specific needs, challenges and situations of all migrant women in all their diversity. But at the same time we recognize the leadership and agency that women bring with them. Because women are not only vulnerable, they also are leaders in their own right with significant contributions to make.