What makes migrants vulnerable to gender-based violence?

An increasing number of women are migrating independently from Central America and the Caribbean. Women represent 58.9 per cent of migrants from Caribbean countries and 50.3 percent from Central America. Moving abroad offers a range of potential opportunities and challenges, which are impacted by a person’s gender in complex and multifaceted ways.

Gender and migration are intersecting factors that mutually affect each other. Migration can have positive and negative effects on migrants depending on their individual characteristics and conditions. Likewise, an individual’s gender influences their experience of migration, including the risks and vulnerabilities involved in their journey.

Migration has the potential to create positive outcomes and contribute to women’s empowerment. It can open opportunities for: higher income, asset ownership, self-esteem, decision-making power and new autonomy. On the other hand, gender and migration can intersect to produce negative outcomes, such as multiple forms of discrimination, exploitation, and stigmatization. Migration may also offer women and girls an opportunity to escape situations of gender-based violence in their countries of origin.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females. It may be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial and/or psychological. It can occur in public or in private and individuals of all genders can be victims. It disproportionately affects women, girls, and those of diverse gender identity or diverse sexual orientation (LGBTQI) persons because of underlying gender inequalities. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

GBV can be a factor that drives migration from countries of origin. According to a report by Support Kind (2018), GBV perpetrated by family members, gangs and drug traffickers forces many women, girls, and LGBTQI individuals to leave El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. GBV, particularly sexual violence, is used to maintain control over territories and populations, as gang members punish women, girls and their families for not complying with their demands. An average of less than 10 percent of GBV cases in the region result in convictions. As they are unable to gain protection in their countries, many women, girls and LGBTQI individuals migrate in search of safer living conditions.

Migration does not cause GBV. However, during their journey, some migrants face situations where they are more vulnerable to violence. Numerous factors influence a person’s risks and vulnerabilities throughout their migration journey. Alongside gender, a key factor is whether the migration route is safe and regular.

Unsafe or irregular migration routes increase the risks of GBV, including human trafficking. Migrant women, girls and LGBTQI individuals are disproportionately targeted by human traffickers. According to the 2019 Trafficking In Persons Report, traffickers in the Caribbean target migrant women, particularly from Jamaica, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic. In Costa Rica, LGBTQI persons, particularly transgender Costa Ricans, are vulnerable to sex traffickers. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude.

At their destination and for those who return to their countries of origin, other intersecting factors, including a migrants’ financial insecurity, awareness of their legal rights, and language abilities influence their vulnerability to GBV.

Gender norms and unequal power relationships are the root causes of GBV against women and girls as well as men and boys and those of diverse gender identities. Perpetrators seek to exploit inequalities in order to exert power, coerce and deceive their victims. Recognizing these causes is central to developing effective interventions.

One of the strategies put forward by the Global Compact on Migration (GCM) addresses both gender inequalities and GBV through national labour laws, employment policies and programmes. This approach recognizes the independence, agency and leadership of women and seeks to reduce their vulnerability by increasing their access to labour markets.

According to the GCM, countries must ensure that the human rights of women, men, girls and boys are respected at all stages of migration, that their specific needs are properly understood and addressed and that they are empowered as agents of change.

These initiatives should be complemented by measures that support victims and ensure the effective prosecution of crimes.

A human rights-based and gender-responsive to migration governance is crucial for reducing GBV. Ensuring that the lives of all migrants are protected, and they have access to justice reduces their vulnerabilities and alters the culture of impunity in which perpetrators believe they will not face punishment.

GBV can cause short, medium and long-term physical and mental health consequences for survivors. Understanding how gender intersects with migration and addressing the root causes of GBV will create greater equality and human dignity throughout the region.


Turn on the microphones! Five keys to giving youth a voice on migration issues

Turn on the microphones! Five keys to giving youth a voice on migration issues
Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Guest Contributor

Radio is still a medium that, especially in rural areas where access to the Internet is difficult, is still very much alive and shows itself to be an accessible alternative for the population. Whether in the car, in an app on the phone or in a device that only works with batteries in the most remote areas, the radio is there a few steps away and almost effortlessly. Entertaining us, informing us and accompanying our daily activities. From the largest cities to the most sparsely populated municipalities, radio is an industry that generates jobs and is vital for the dissemination of mass messages to a wide variety of audiences.

How can radio be harnessed as an avenue to empower young people about migration?

After seeing the high impact that this media has on the culture of our communities, these are some actions to be taken that will allow us to bring the message of regular, orderly and safe migration to a youth who may be victims of crimes associated with irregular migration:

  • Find out about community radio or radio stations in your city: This will help you to know all the spaces that exist within the community and to identify the audiences they are aimed at in order to choose the right channel that connects with young people.
  • Identify young leaders in their communities with communication skills: There is no better way to communicate with youth than through voices they can empathize with and identify with.
  • Create content that connects: Talking about migration does not require a serious or monotonous tone. Try to create short but effective messages with easy to understand language and prioritizing the use of storytelling instead of communicating concepts.
  • Create your own online radio station: The radio has undergone a significant evolution in recent years and proof of this is that the number of Internet radio stations has been increasing, which has led to the democratization of radio. You no longer need big budgets to have your own radio station and broadcast different contents 24 hours a day, this is a good alternative if there are not or do not have access to have space on traditional radio stations.
  • Develop empowering initiatives: Young people possess many talents: dynamism, fast learning and, of course, a lot of creativity. Therefore generating training spaces on radio production issues will help to discover hidden talents and form new opinion leaders, without leaving behind the importance of also empowering them on migration issues, this will allow them to transmit better messages that promote a safe, orderly and regular human mobility and will help them themselves to make better decisions regarding migration.

A success story of such activities is 'Youth on the Airwaves', a workshop on radio and migration that harnesses the energy of young people who are leaders in their communities and shows them the potential of the radio industry as a method of generating livelihoods and making their voices heard.

As a product of this initiative, the young people created their own radio spots to promote a better informed migration, from the ideation of the creative concept, script development, voice-over practice, recording and editing, in all these processes they received the support of both IOM staff and a team of experts in radio production.

A few years ago, former United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon stressed that "radio is very important to make the voice of youth heard, it stimulates the imagination and shortens the distances between people". One more reason to bring the media closer and generate spaces for youth in order to disseminate messages aimed at providing the population with sufficient and verified information that will allow them to make better decisions before embarking on a migratory route.