Empowering Caribbean women through migration


To fully understand the Caribbean region, one must look at migration and its effects. This region has experienced - and is still experiencing - several migratory movements which have contributed to the configuration of Caribbean societies. The feminization of migration, the emigration of skilled professionals to developed countries and intra-regional migration are some of the current trends in the region.

A recent research conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and IOM, the UN Migration Agency on “Women’s empowerment and migration in the Caribbean” indicates that "migration represents an opportunity to empower women and boost their autonomy." Their individual conditions or situations will shape their lives in the countries of origin, transit and destination and determine the nature of the migration process.

This is an important point to emphasize when major Caribbean populations reside in Canada (365,000), the Dominican Republic (334,000), and Spain (280,000), and when approximately 55 per cent of the 4 million Caribbean migrants residing in the United States were female in 2013. Additionally, in Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, women account for more than 50 per cent of migrants, and in Barbados the number is as high as 60 per cent.

Empowerment is a difficult concept to define, and so is the assessment of its impact on migration. The United Nations developed five components to better explain women’s empowerment: women’s sense of self-worth; their right to have and to determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.

Empowerment will only take place if women are given the chance to migrate through regular channels, access decent jobs, develop professional skills, benefit from the provisions of immigration admission policies and the socio-economic environment of the host country. However, if Caribbean women migrate irregularly they could be subject to further vulnerabilities, abuse and violation of their human rights, and their fear of being arrested, detained or deported will prevent them from seeking health or social services.

Data on labour force participation rates in the Caribbean shows that gender disparity in the labour market remains a matter of deep concern, showing that males were more active in the labour force than females: many women perform domestic jobs, often without access to social protection, and mostly as providers of low-paid caregiving work. In other professions such as nurses, doctors or teachers overseas, Caribbean women tend to migrate due to the high demand for these professions and better-paid opportunities in developed countries.

Migration and women’s empowerment are linked at every stage of the migration process. There is clear evidence that migration not only brings major benefits to women in financial independence, but also in terms of household tasks. As ECLAC and IOM research shows: “When men migrated first and resided abroad for years before their wives joined them, the men learned household tasks and were more willing to assist their spouses when the two were reunited.”

Women, regardless of their migratory status, are rights holders and States are responsible for ensuring those rights. Current migration in the Caribbean region raises many questions, reveals opportunities and challenges, but still lacks gender equality policies and agreements. This study has developed an array of specific recommendations for countries of transit and destination, including those in the Caribbean, for the private sector and the international community.

If you are interested in learning more about the proposed recommendations of the research on Women’s empowerment and migration in the Caribbean, you will find them here: https://www.cepal.org/es/node/44891


About the author:

Gustavo Segura is currently supporting the IOM Regional Communications Unit for Central America, North America and the Caribbean as an intern. He has a Master’s Degree in International Relations with emphasis in International Cooperation from the University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, and a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Political Science from the University Lumière Lyon 2.


Hidden in the Ashes: Migrant Farmworkers Are Invisible During California Wildfires

Migrant farmworkers in Santa Maria, California, need to wear masks at work to protect themselves from the smoke of the fires. Photo credit: Yahir Mena, MICOP-Mixteco-Indigena Organizing Project, Oxnard- Ventura County
Categoria: Humanitarian Action
Autor: Guest Contributor


This blog entry was originally published here.

Migrant farmworkers in California contribute to an economically profitable agricultural system. Yet they are among the most vulnerable communities. Most migrant farmworkers are members of the working poor with limited to no access to health care. Anti-immigrant sentiment partnered with racism make life for migrants in the State difficult at best. Migrant vulnerabilities are amplified during times of disasters and their risk of experiencing negative consequences are disproportionately higher.

When the wildfires broke out throughout the state of California, I immediately thought about migrant workers and their families and how they are faring through the emergency.

My experience during the 2007 wildfires taught me that crises like these usually affect the migrant community disproportionately as they tend to not have access to information, resources or support in times of disaster.

Ventura County on fire. Wildfires broke out throughout the State of California since early October 2017  

I can almost predict how news media will cover a disaster like wildfires in California ahead of time. First, reports will focus on what houses are burning and how much they are worth, how resilient evacuees are, and how close the community has become in the face of adversity. Human interest stories gathered at local evacuation shelters will be followed by a huge interest in the fate of pets and horses in the wake of disaster.

Coverage of the recent Lilac Fire that began here in San Diego California is of no exception. The abrupt evacuation and unfortunate death of several thoroughbred horses from a local ranch received ample news coverage nationally. The news was devastating, but I find the way media overlooks groups of humans, like migrants, in times of disaster very disheartening and frustrating.

Most of the information I have about issues faced by migrant farmworkers during wildfires across the State of California over the past three months have been provided via the social media channels of community based organizations and activists within local communities. These reports are similar to those that I heard 10 years ago: migrant farmworkers continue to work in evacuated zones, often without access to face masks, because they are afraid to lose pay and employment. Migrants only receive evacuation information in English and don’t know where the nearest shelter is. Many migrants choose not to evacuate for fear of being deported by Immigration Services. Police presence near and inside shelters can also intimidate migrants, who fear police cooperation with immigration services. After the flames dwindle, migrants often lose work, possibly their home, and struggle to make ends meet. Already strained financially, this community finds themselves even more disenfranchised.

Santa Maria, California. Despite the smoke, migrant farmworkers continue with their work in the fields. © Yahir Mena, MICOP-Mixteco-Indigena Organizing Project, Oxnard-Ventura County.

For the past 10 years, our coalition, the Farmworker CARE Coalition (FWCC) has been working to establish a system by which we can respond to wildfires more effectively while being able to partner productively with first responders, the local office of emergency services and the American Red Cross. When the Lilac fire in San Diego started two weeks ago, our coalition leadership were quick to act, organize and reach out to our contacts at the American Red Cross and the Office of Emergency Services. The coalition also worked to communicate with the community leaders from the migrant farmworker networks we have been collaborating with for close to 15 years. Volunteers from the coalition and other networks of activists immediately jumped into action, helping to evacuate migrants without vehicles, gathering masks to distribute at farm work sites, and volunteering at the local shelter to help with Spanish-English interpretation and to monitor civil rights of migrant evacuees.

Community based organizations that work with migrants are the groups that get involved to make sure that the community receives attention and information so direly needed during a wild fire.

While the fire here in San Diego County is now fully contained, the Thomas fire continues to burn north of Los Angeles in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. The fire has burned 272,000 acres. The Mixteco-Indígena Organizing Project (MICOP) based in Oxnard California have mobilized to assist local migrant families. The organization is currently passing out masks to migrant farmworkers that continue to work amid the smoke and dangerous air caused by the fire. Children in local schools are currently home, a challenge for working families. Loss of work means that migrants are challenged financially to meet rent obligations and feeding their families.

As the fires in California have demonstrated, it is vitally important that local governments, relief agencies and first responders recognize that organizations and activists which work with migrants on a day-to-day basis can be vital allies in times of disaster. In order to partner with these groups, however, it is important to start before disaster strikes so that the relationships and efficient systems are in place.

The California wildfires have once again reminded the disaster preparedness and recovery community that it is of vital importance to involve community based organizations who are best able to assist migrant farmworkers in times of disaster.

In San Diego, our coalition has been successful in ensuring that migrants are on the radar of first responders and local emergency and relief agencies.

This awareness only comes with the creation of collaborative partnerships between these agencies and the community based organizations that work directly with migrants daily. Of critical importance to our work is maintaining an up-to-date plan and maintain the relationship with the disaster preparedness agencies we have partnered with. It is of utmost importance that these disaster agencies institutionalize and make formal their partnerships with community based organizations, or attempts to cooperate during disasters will be largely ineffective.


Sobre la autora:

Konane M. Martínez has 18 years of experience working with Latino migrant farmworker communities. Her areas of expertise include immigrant health-care access and use, disaster preparedness, cultural competency in health care and transnational migration. Dr Martínez was the founding chair of the Farmworker CARE Coalition and author of the first disaster preparedness plan for migrant farmworkers in the United States.  She is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chair, Anthropology Department, California State University San Marcos.

Contact: kmartine@csusm.edu