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.

7 recommendations to promote the inclusion of migrants in host communities through social and cultural activities.

Categoria: Pacto Mundial sobre Migración
Autor: Carlos Escobar

The promotion of social and cultural activities as a mechanism to encourage interaction between migrants and host communities with the aim of advancing in the construction of more just and peaceful societies, is currently a topic of special interest in studies, policies and programs on migrant inclusion and social cohesion.

Taking Intergroup Contact Theory (IGCT) as a reference, different researches argue that the interaction of people from different places and contexts, under the right circumstances, favors trust and the change of xenophobic or discriminatory perceptions. Thus, intergovernmental agreements such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration have integrated this perspective into their theoretical and conceptual body. In particular, Goal 16 "Empower migrants and societies to achieve full inclusion and social cohesion", calls for the creation of community centres or programs at the local level to facilitate the participation of migrants in the receiving society by engaging migrants, community members, diaspora organizations, migrant associations and local authorities in intercultural dialogue, exchange of experiences, mentoring programs and the creation of business linkages that enhance integration outcomes and foster mutual respect.

Based on the analysis and review of different research, the IOM, in its publication The Power of Contact: Designing, Facilitating and Evaluating Social Mixing Activities to Strengthen Migrant Integration and Social Cohesion Between Migrants and Local Communities – A Review of Lessons Learned, proposes a series of recommendations, based on empirical evidence, to encourage the participation of migrants and receiving communities in social and cultural activities.

1). Fun and goal-oriented

Designing and incorporating fun and exciting activities leads to a lighter and more welcoming environment for people to meet, interact and create social bonds. At the same time, setting common goals, which neither group can achieve without the participation of the other (cooperative interdependence), makes the activities more engaging and participatory.

2). Mutual appreciation

Participants should understand, recognize and appreciate culture, traditions and history as part of the process of bridging differences, maximizing each other's strengths and identifying commonalities. It is important that all individuals are able to identify how their contributions can have a positive impact on the achievement of common goals.

3). Shared ownership

Involving migrants and local communities in all phases of activities will increase their participation. This ownership empowers them, raises their self-esteem and opens up new opportunities for responsibility and commitment.

4). Guided Reflection

Dialogues and activities that allow for a certain degree of reflection help to create an atmosphere that is perceived as trusting, friendly and warm. Processing information and sharing personal and sensitive stories, which can evoke memories, are of utmost importance as long as they are carefully guided and accompanied by facilitators or project members.

5). Supervision and Trust Facilitation

Those responsible for group interactions, such as team leaders, facilitators, project staff or event planners, must play an active role in promoting equality within intergroup relations and creating an inclusive environment for all. This deliberate effort is crucial to overcome the natural tendency of participants to group themselves according to their most salient characteristics and status.

6). Sustained and regular intervention

It goes without saying that the more frequent, prolonged and intensive the participation, the better the attitude of each individual towards others. This means adopting an approach that rethinks the role of the people involved, who in turn will define the needs of their communities and ultimately take part in the design and organization of appropriate interventions.

7). Institutional support and partnership

The support of institutions such as local governments, media, government agencies and intermediary organizations is critical to promoting and facilitating constructive efforts to strengthen intergroup relations. The coordination of these institutions creates a system that can provide resources and incentives to promote and strengthen intergroup relations.

Social and cultural activities, understood as a programmatic intervention strategy to facilitate the inclusion of migrants in receiving communities, are important to the extent that they offer non-institutional spaces for interaction, where through spontaneous human contact, social ties are built based on experiences, stories, emotions and life trajectories of the participants. This facilitates the generation of trust between individuals, greater degrees of social cohesion and, of course, peaceful coexistence in communities, understood not only as the absence of conflict, but also as a positive, dynamic and participatory process in which dialogue is promoted and conflicts are resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, through the acceptance of differences, the ability to listen, recognize, respect and appreciate others. (UN, 2021).