The additional risks of COVID-19 for migrant women, and how to address them

The impacts and implications of the COVID-19 coronavirus are different for men and women and may create greater inequalities for people who are in vulnerable positions, such as migrants, according to UN Women.

Organizations around the world are aware of this inequality and have warned about the urgent need to look at existing realities from gender and intersectional perspectives that allow for the identification of these inequalities and, at the same time, incorporate greater protection and assistance to more vulnerable populations in response plans.

Among the specific risks that the pandemic has entailed for the migrant population, particularly for women, are:

Job insecurity, exploitation, and socio-economic impacts: According to the IOM's World Migration Report 2020, migrant women represent around 74% of the service industry, which includes domestic work, and in many cases experience job insecurity. A significant portion of their income goes towards supporting their families in their countries of origin. During the COVID-19 outbreak, mobility and travel restrictions are jeopardizing the income of migrant women, particularly domestic workers. Furthermore, the impact of the employment crisis under COVID-19 may disproportionately affect less protected population groups, such as women and migrants.

In "Gender Proposal for Latin America and the Caribbean for a Response and Recovery with Gender Equality", UNDP indicated that during a health crisis with implications for the mobility of people, such as COVID-19, migrant women who are domestic workers, and especially those that are irregular, become more dependent on their employers and are further removed from social protection services. Even when the isolation from the health crisis ends, the economic consequences can expose women to sexual exploitation, which occurred in the Ebola outbreak 2013-2016.

Xenophobic rejection: The stigmatizing idea that migrants have COVID-19 just because they are migrants, makes them the target of threats. In the specific case of migrant women, this discrimination can have consequences such as the lack of adequate care in a medical centre and other healthcare settings that are directly related to being women (such as pregnancy care, or legal and psychosocial support due to gender based violence).

Greater insecurity against the virus: The limited ability of some migrant women to access protection materials such as face masks and hand sanitizer, as well as the greater tendency to live in overcrowded conditions, leaves this population less prepared to face the virus, indicates UNDP in the text mentioned above.

Overload of care work: Around the world, women do around twice as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. The workload resulting from the closure of schools and the care required for people who fall ill is often assumed by and imposed on women. In the case of some migrant women, such as refugees and migrants from Venezuela, when their livelihoods are affected, especially for informal and domestic workers, caring for other people is disproportionately falls on women, according to the Response for Venezuelans initiative (R4V).

Increased gender-based violence: Mobility and quarantine restrictions force many women to isolate themselves with their abusers or potential abusers. Existing gender-based violence is exacerbated by labour and migration uncertainty, as well as social distancing. For many migrant women who do not have sufficient support networks in transit and destination countries, isolation with their aggressor is a potential danger.

How can migrant women be included in the management of the crisis?

The COVID-19 does not discriminate who it affects, and the health, legal and psychosocial response to the virus should not either. These are the recommendations of the different organizations that have contributed to ensure that no one is left behind in the response to COVID-19, including migrant women:

  • Ensuring access to safe facilities: UNDP indicates that safe facilities, especially at borders, can help reduce “the risk of contagion and situations of sexual and gender-based violence,” and that this must be provided to the migrant population even those with irregular statuses.
  • Provide bonuses an extraordinary payments: This with the intention of guaranteeing that migrants, and especially women in vulnerable situations, have access to economic benefits regardless of their immigration status.
  • Provide protection equipment against COVID19 in migrant assistance centres: As these are places with a high influx of people, it is important that migrants have the necessary supplies to protect their health, such as face masks and hand sanitizer. For pregnant women, although "there is no evidence that they are at higher risk of severe illness than the general population," the WHO calls for greater caution because of the general risk of respiratory illness during pregnancy.
  • Facilitate access to multisectoral services: The R4V initiative indicates that it is necessary to seek the appropriate channels to provide information on care and assistance centres to the migrant population and women, such as hotlines, health institutions, etc.
  • Ensure access to care services without discrimination: Migrant women often suffer double discrimination: for being women and for being migrants. It is necessary to monitor the provision of non-discriminatory care in the different assistance centres, and in the health centres particularly, confidentiality must be protected in cases of sexual violence, notes R4V.
  • Facilitate the remote operation of services: R4V highlights that virtual mechanisms and telephone assistance can be generated when possible to meet the needs of migrant women. This does not mean dismissing face-to-face options for those who do not have access to other means.

Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'

Interviewing Rubén Sánchez, Director of 'Zanmi'
Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Laura Manzi

‘Zamni' (2018) is one of the films that participated in the 2020 edition of the Global Migration Film Festival. The short film, which was selected to be screened at regional level by the Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, narrates the experiences and daily lives of four Haitian migrants in Chile and their integration process in the South American country.

In this interview, the young director Rubén Sánchez, tells what objectives and motivations guided him towards the creation of the short film.

Why did you choose young Haitian migrants as the protagonists of your work? Is there something in their profile that makes them different from other migrant communities in Chile?

What struck us is that the Haitian population here in Chile is the one that finds it most difficult to integrate into society. One of the main reasons is that they speak another language, the Creole language, and that is an even bigger barrier considering that Chilean Spanish has many idioms and tends to be spoken very quickly. Another obstacle to integration is the racism and rejection of some sectors of society towards the Haitian population: whether because of ethnicity, nationality, language or other prejudices. This leads to more segregation and not integration.

In the short film, there are many scenes that portray different landscapes: the sea, the forest, the city. What is the role of nature in the integration process of migrants?

Climatic conditions and landscapes can be a challenge for integration. For example, Haiti is very flat, there are no mountains and the climate is tropical. Here in Chile, nature and microclimates are quite diverse (the north has higher temperatures, the south is more humid and rainy, while the central zone is a mixture of these).
Nature, however, has also a symbolic purpose in the documentary. The mountain range, which characterizes the Chilean landscape, is the great frontier that any person faces to reach Chile. This justifies the scene that opens and closes the film and represents one of the protagonists in the Embalse del Yeso, which is a place here in Santiago, in the middle of the mountain range. We wanted to film those scenes there as a more oneiric way of representing this enormous wall that is like a border to cross in order to reach Chile, and that at the same time symbolizes the great wall that is in the cultural shock that the Haitian population faces.

‘Life is a circle. A perfect circle of which we are not a part': the protagonists in the film have jobs, go to school, learn Spanish. Then, what are the elements that continue to prevent their integration into the host community, this 'circle' from which they are excluded?

The cultural shock is big. If the host society lives this 'fear of the unknown', the Haitian migrant population in turn reacts and this generates a fear of the community where they live. The lack of integration is made difficult by prejudice and because initiatives that value cultural richness are not promoted. I think this is what we lack as a society: to be more educated. If there is no good education, there will be no people who cannot integrate; we still need to be educated and 'humanized'. I feel that in some way we are also 'dehumanized'. This is what the documentary wants to capture: to reflect on the humanity that we need, the humanity that we need to integrate others, to show that we are all really the same, we are all human beings and we all have dreams.

How much is the director visible in his work? How come are you interested in the subject of migration?

The issue of Haitian migration was, for me, a personal concern, because I live in one of the cities in Chile with the largest Haitian population. I used to witness daily this rejection of the Haitian population in the eyes of the people, in comments that were exchanged by whispering in the bus when I went to the university. I was worried about that.
Also, before I enrolled in audiovisual communication, I studied social work, and had many courses on the migration issue and related social policies. I did a lot of research on Haitian migration, which allowed me to capture the central idea of the short film. During the shooting process, I had the opportunity to meet these young people (Haitian migrants), to live their culture, to taste their food. I was filled with a culture that I didn't know, I was filled with knowledge, with a new experience. I wish this documentary could reach more people, change who we are and cultivate our humanity.