Five reasons why gender matters for migrants' rights

Women hold placards at an anti-detention centre demonstration in the UK

Gender affects all aspects of the migration experience for the 200 million people around the world are living outside their country of origin, as well as the significant amount of people migrated within national borders.

It has an impact on reasons for migrating, the decision of who will migrate, the type of migration, social networks, experiences of integration and potential work at the migrants' destination.

International Migrants Day (18 December) is a day of solidarity with those navigating these difficult challenges across the world. Here are five reasons why gender can't be ignored when it comes to migrants' rights. 

1. Gender discrimination

Gendered expectations, relationships and power dynamics associated with being a man, woman, boy or girl or identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex (LGBTI), can significantly affect all aspects of the migration process

LGBTI people may migrate to places where they can be more anonymous, or to countries with more progressive legislation and greater social acceptance. However, they can face further persecution in their country of arrival, including when making asylum claims based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

There are other potential gender differences, for example women may migrate to escape varied restrictions on their freedom, or men may leave a country to escape being forced to become soldiers.

2. Gender norms

Household and societal gender norms push particular groups of people to migrate in particular ways, and push others to stay put. Ongoing gender relations and hierarchies within households can affect decisions on migration, for example about who migrates, for how long, and to what countries. Women may have little influence on these decisions. Once a person leaves their country of origin there is also a gendered international migration process, with government immigration policies playing a key role.

Migration may also challenge traditional gender roles; the absence of one partner may leave the other with greater decision-making power, economic independence or freedom.;

3. Gender-based violence

Gendered forms of persecution, such as the threat of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, or sexual violence during war could be among reasons for migration. Political authorities and international organisations may fail to provide adequate information to women on their rights to claim asylum. Furthermore, even those women who do manage to make an asylum claim based on gender-related persecution face major obstacles when proving the credibility of their claim.

On the migration journey women may suffer specific risks such as sexual or physical violence from transporters, fellow male travellers, or border guards. Women are also particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in displacement or refugee camps, as well as from hostile local populations.

4. Families on the move 

There is evidence that, once they have entered a country as 'dependent spouses', women can have difficulty finding work which matches their qualifications. Men also move for associational reasons, partly related to availability of family reunification in countries that draw especially on female migrants, such as domestic workers.

Women can also receive fewer entitlements in the country they move to, such as health, education and access to language training, due to their different entry status. If women are viewed as 'dependants' their rights may be legally based on the migration and residency status of their husband, keeping some women in abusive relationships.

5. Economic power

A person’s economic power and labour opportunities in the country they are leaving influence their incentive and capacity to migrate. 

Gender-segregated labour markets in the destination country offer different opportunities and rewards to women and men. Jobs more often done by men are classified as skilled and jobs more frequently done by women as unskilled, with greater rights awarded to skilled workers.

Women may feel empowered by taking on paid work in a new country, gain new and respect due to the remittances they are able to send back but it depends on the conditions and remuneration of the work people receive.

Find out more

How does migration advance or impede gender equality? How can policy-makers and practitioners promote gender equality in work on migration? Read the BRIDGE Gender and Migration Cutting Edge Pack. The pack’s information is being updated for a briefing note on gender, age and migration, taking into account the current refugee crisis in Europe, due in March 2016. 

Human Rights Day: What about displaced and refugee children’s rights?’ BRIDGE’s Jenny Birchall blogs for the Institute of Development Studies about the challenges faced by children who are forced to migrate, including in relation to gender and education.

Photo: Women at a protest against the Yarl's Wood  migrant dentention centre in the UK. By Wasi Daniju, under a CC License.