A Working Group for Women in Migration
By Christie R. House
International migrants face many difficulties crossing borders, which they do generally to find work and as a means of sustaining their families. Women in migration, those who travel to find work and those who stay home while their family members attempt to find work, are vulnerable to trafficking, swindling, rape, starvation, and other devastating consequences. Faith, advocacy, and human rights groups have been telling the stories of women in migration for decades, but there are always more migrants and more stories to tell. Yet, at the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development, and Human Rights in October 2013, taking place the week of the United Nations High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in New York City, the faith and advocacy groups were less focused on telling stories and more focused on how to make such women less vulnerable, protected by international laws.
A conversation among women about the unique circumstances that women in migration encounter has been developing over a number of years. According to Catherine Tactaquin, who directs the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in the United States: “We’ve recognized that through the process of holding women’s caucuses over the years, particularly around the People’s Global Action venues where we provide workshops, we’ve begun to develop a body of shared understandings—critical viewpoints. We’ve developed a level of trust and confidence in each other. We understood how important it was to take more deliberate action, collectively, to bring questions of gender and migration to the table.”
Formation of a Working Group
A group of migrant women’s organizations, trade unionists and faith-based groups came together for a two-day strategy session just before the meeting of the Association of Women in Development (AWID) Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, in April 2012. They were seeking alliances with women’s organizations around the issue of migrant women’s human rights. Tactaquin explains, “We had been meeting as a women’s caucus in international venues, including the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights for several years. We created a Women and Global Migration Working Group to carry out joint campaigns and make migrant women visible in international policy-making arenas.”
This original working group had about 20 to 25 participants from a very broad range of countries, races, and cultures, reflecting a community of people from grassroots-level migrant associations, trade unions, faith groups, and academia. At that time, they decided to support a few concrete steps and to stick to a simple agenda. They agreed upon support for the ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention at the United Nations, bringing attention to the question of migrant women in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, and a focus on the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.
In preparation for the High Level Dialogue, the working group solicited ideas and suggestions from across their combined networks on what should be considered in a just proposal about the rights of women in migration. They then compiled the answers and circulated them around the organizations that make up the working group, and they, in turn, sent it out for review across their networks. The 12-page document was distilled down to a 10-point platform with the key priorities that they wished governments and member-states to consider through a gender-based lens, in their deliberations about migration and development. Ending discrimination and gender-based violence against migrant women, keeping families together, access to services such as health care and education are some of the points of focus of the platform.
People’s Global Action
Carol Barton, who works with United Methodist Women at the Church Center for the United Nations, said the platform was being debuted at the People’s Global Action forum. She asked, “How do we take a platform that has been built by women all over the world and operationalize it over the next five years? Civil society is bringing a 5-year platform to the governments, and we are bringing a platform specifically around women’s concerns that echoes the concerns of civil society.” The assembled participants at the workshops identified a number of venues around which they could organize. International Women’s Day (March 8), International Migrants Day (December 18), and events such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development (May 2014 in Stockholm, Switzerland), and the World Social Forum on Migrants (October 2013, South Africa) were suggested. The working group will ultimately decide on a few key events for concentration of advocacy efforts.
What Does it Mean for You?
Those interested in advocating for the rights of women in migration can become part of the network of organizations and individuals working on these issues. Global actions gain strength only if they are known in local and regional settings. Find ways to get involved through the Women and Global Migration Working Group’s website and Facebook page.
A few members of the Women and Global Migration Working Group who attended the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development, and Human Rights in New York. Catherine Tactaquin, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is first in the first row on the left, and Carol Barton, United Methodist Women, is 4th in the first row.
Members of United Methodist Women and United Methodist delegates to the PGA Migration march across the Brooklyn Bridge to raise awareness around migrant’s rights. Miran Kim, Rita Smith, and Judith Pierre-Okerson lead the UMW section of the marchers, October 2, 2013. Photos: Christie R. House