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.

Migration and disability in 2020

Migration and disability in 2020
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Laura Manzi

Although calculating the number of people with disabilities in the world is a complicated task, since there are no official records, and also because of other challenges, such as having to distinguish between physical, mental, intellectual or sensory disabilities, according to the WHO estimates, 15% of the world's population lives with disabilities. However, in the discourses related to disability, mentioning the numbers is not so functional, since it should be noted, first, that many people may not recognise or do not consider their condition as a disability, and second, that each person experiences their disability differently.

This is due not only to the other elements that make up their identity, such as gender, age, sexual identity, ethnicity, nationality, which also define the way in which the disability manifests itself and which lessen or aggravate its consequences, but also to the factors that characterize their social position, such as their economic situation, educational level and migratory status (regular or irregular), among others. These factors can affect and limit the capabilities and opportunities of the person with a disability. In this sense, the severity of the disability is partly related to the living conditions and the environment in which the person lives. Migrants living with disabilities face numerous obstacles and suffer greater vulnerability, as they often lack opportunities and adequate attention to their needs and find it more difficult to access health and social security services.

Can the migration process be the cause of disability?

Due to the lack of studies focused on the subject of disability, the literature on the quality of life of migrants living with such a condition is scarce. However, some studies refer to how the migration process itself can also be the cause of disability.

According to a COAMEX report, which is based specifically on the migratory route from Mexico to the United States, during their journey, migrants have to deal with difficult and risky situations that can expose them to the risk of acquiring conditions of disability, especially physical or psychosocial, such as:

  • Getting on or off a moving train (often to flee, avoid arrest, or move more quickly through some sections), which can cause mutilations.
  • Having accidents or suffer the damages of a collision of vehicles in which groups of migrants are in unsafe conditions, or be the victim of violent acts that leave physical contusions.
  • As a result of an experience that can be stressful and traumatic, some migrants suffer from anxiety, panic disorders and post-traumatic stress, which in turn can lead to the development of psychosocial disabilities.

Through a statement, the United Nations also emphasized the vulnerability of migrants to the risk of disability. For example, migrant workers who have lower educational levels or who suffer from labour exclusion in many sectors, often have to deal with dangerous manual work, which expose people to high risk of accidents and consequently to conditions of physical disability.

What does it mean to be a migrant and live with a disability in times of a pandemic?

Reiterating the data and information disseminated by the World Health Organization, the IOM indicates that the risks suffered by people with disabilities (of course, depending on their disability) are due to:

  • Difficulties in complying with some preventive and protective hygiene measures, such as frequent hand washing (in particular, in cases where sinks are physically inaccessible or a person has physical difficulties to properly rub their hands); or putting on masks.
  • Obstacles to access information or maintain social distancing and isolation, since people with disabilities may need daily support from health personnel or family members and acquaintances.
  • People with disabilities can also suffer from more serious COVID-19 infections, due to pre-existing conditions, inability or difficulty in accessing health care services, and ultimately abrupt disruptions in the support systems from which they often benefit.

Migrant with disabilities present greater vulnerabilities to COVID-19, as these situations can be even more harmful when coexisting with other unfavourable conditions, such as lack of social protection, low economic levels, discrimination and social exclusion.

From the outside, it is easy to be able to identify physical disabilities and to make an effort to understand the struggles that the person faces. Less visible, however, are other types of challenges with which these people live, such as social and labour exclusion, stigma, discrimination or the obstacles they encounter when accessing education. These obstacles are doubly harmful for migrants living with disabilities.

For this reason, it is necessary to stimulate a broader and more active conversation about the subject, especially due to a still lacking literature on disability. Institutions, agencies and organizations should be invited to carry out more studies to make the issue visible and lead initiatives. Furthermore, the legislative framework that protects people with disabilities must be strengthened, more innovative solutions have to be discussed and provided, and above all, access to health must be guaranteed to migrants with disabilities.

Social, economic and political inclusion of people with disabilities, although not directly listed as a Sustainable Development Goal, is transversal to many of the goals of the 2030 Agenda and its purpose of ‘leaving no one behind '. From health (SDG 3) to quality education (SDG 4), decent work (SDG 8) and reduction of inequality (SDG 10) among others: the 2030 Agenda sanctions our commitments to achieve the empowerment and full inclusion of people -including migrants- with disabilities.