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.


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.