Resources: Migrants in a Global Economy


Migration from a gender perspective
Migration, gender, and international development
Care and reproductive work in a global economy
Migrants and labour in a global economy
Gender, migrant rights, and global governance
Trafficking, violence, and abuse

Migration from a gender perspective

‘The feminisation of migration? A critical overview’ (2017) David Tittensor and Fethi Mansouri, in David Tittensor and Fethi Mansouri (eds.) The Politics of Women and Migration in the Global South, London: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 978-1-137-58798-5, 11–25

In this article the authors seek to explain why talk of the ‘feminisation of migration’ is now commonplace – despite the fact that female migration is not new, and the ratio of women to men migrating globally remains close to parity. For them, this is partly explained by a distinct feminisation of migration in specific regions of the world and within specific sectors – notably domestic and care work. They characterise this as a ‘feminisation of survival’ (p. 13) in countries of origin, prompted by factors such as privatisation of public services and high levels of male unemployment, that combines with demand for ‘feminised’ job types in receiving countries. However, beyond overarching structural explanations, they stress the need for attention to be paid to individual states’ policies and attitudes towards migrants – providing a summary of the situation within South-East Asia. Of particular interest is the authors’ discussion on discourses around women migrants as either victims of exploitation or active agents contributing to economic development at home, and how this has played out in the cases of Indonesia and Mexico.
‘Gender, migration and globalisation: an overview of the debates’ (2018) Sabrina Marchetti, in Anna Triandafyllidou (ed.) Handbook of Migration and Globalisation, Cheltenham and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, ISBN: 978 1 78536 750 2, 444–57

In this overview, the author traces the historical development of the study of gender, migration, and globalisation, highlighting key texts and debates from the scholarship on the subject, and offering suggestions for new directions in research. The author argues that the ‘feminisation of migration’, in effect, the application of a gendered lens, uncovers not just the quantitative, but more importantly, the qualitative dimensions of the gender, migration, and globalisation relationship – in which gender-based differences and inequalities affect, and are affected by, global migrations. The section devoted to the globalisation of domestic and care work highlights this interaction, with gendered notions around caregiving both influencing demand and supply of female migrant workers, and reinforcing the idea of care and domestic work as female. For the future, the author proposes developing research into migrant men and masculinity, and into sexuality, and argues for the breakdown in distinctions between domestic work, care work, and sex work within the study of migration and reproductive work.

Understanding Women and Migration: A Literature Review, KNOMAD Working Paper 8 (2016) Anjali Fleury,  55 pp.

This paper reviews the literature on gender and migration, and draws its conclusions from scholarship across four different areas: the characteristics of female migrants; opportunities and costs created by mobility; constraints that limit opportunities and benefits; and implications for policies and programmes. The paper finds that migration is largely beneficial for women. It can improve the autonomy and self-esteem of women and their standing in families and communities, advance women’s rights and access to resources, and help to foster more gender equitable social norms. However, there are many constraining factors which work to limit possible gains, including: restrictive social norms and laws, gender and racial discrimination, and gender-specific vulnerabilities, such as sexual exploitation, a lack of access to reproductive health care, and the isolation and absence of protection by employment law characteristic of domestic work. The paper lists the various international conventions and laws concerning women and migrants, and the most prominent recommendations from experts in the field, arguing that much more remains to be done at international and national level to protect the rights of women migrants, and in order that the potential of migration to advance gender equality can be fully realised.

Migration, gender, and international development

‘Gender and international migration: globalization, development, and governance’ (2012) Lourdes Benería, Carmen Diana Deere, and Naila Kabeer, Feminist Economics 18(2): 1–33

This introductory article to a special issue of the journal Feminist Economics – on gender and international migration – explores the relationship between gender and international migration as it relates to three key areas: globalisation, national economic development, and governance. The authors locate the ‘feminisation of migration’ within the context of a globalisation that sees the free movement of capital across international borders contrasting with restrictive policies regarding the movement of labour. This has resulted in ever-more insecure and precarious employment for many, including migrant women, who are concentrated in gender-segregated, badly paid sectors of employment, notably care work. The authors consider migration’s contribution (or otherwise) to economic development in countries of origin, focusing particularly on debates over gender and remittances. In their discussion on governance, the authors highlight two contrasting trends at the international level – the regulation and management of migration flows, on one hand, and support for the rights of migrant workers, on the other, via UN bodies such as the International Labour Organization and international and local NGOs. They argue that policies in the wealthier, destination countries generally seek to encourage the immigration of highly educated workers to fill employment gaps in the knowledge economy, while the same policies impose strict controls to keep out ‘the others’, or only allow them entry on short-term contracts that underline their status as temporary workers, dependent on the goodwill of employers to remain in the country. In a context where notions of citizenship are nation-based, this, in effect, creates a category of people less worthy of protection, i.e. migrants. With many migrant women working in isolated jobs with little or no regulation – domestic and sex work, for example – they are at the sharp end of policy failures in addressing the rights violations experienced by temporary migrant workers on a daily basis.

Gender on the Move: Working on the Migration–Development Nexus from a Gender Perspective (2013) Allison J. Petrozziello, Santo Domingo: UN Women, 228 pp. (Also available in Spanish.)

While designed as a training manual primarily for those working in the field of migration and development – incorporating activities and suggestions for workshop facilitators – this is a valuable resource for anyone seeking a thorough introduction to key issues relating to gender, migration, and development. The manual argues that many of the initiatives taking place within the current, dominant paradigm in the migration and development world – the ‘remittances for development’ model (which sees development actors such as UN agencies, governments, and NGOs seeking to harness the potential of money sent home by migrants to reduce poverty and foster development) are gender blind. Seeking to help those working in the field to apply a gender perspective to their work, the manual first provides an introduction to the topic of gender, migration, and development, including a helpful discussion of the feminisation of migration in the context of globalisation. It moves on to discuss the impact of remittances on local economies in origin countries from a gender perspective, global care chains, migration policies, and migrant women’s rights.

Gender, Age and Migration: An Extended Briefing (2016) Jenny Birchall, Brighton: BRIDGE/Institute of Development Studies, 72 pp.

Opening with the observation that in many parts of the world, migration has replaced fertility and mortality as the leading agent of demographic change (p. 9), this report argues that within the complex mixture of social, economic, and political pressures gender and age are key dimensions influencing the decision to migrate, and the experiences of migration itself. Migration policies based on a male breadwinner model mean that the needs of women, girls and boys, and older people are often ignored. Incorporating consideration of both South–North and South–South migration, and refugee as well as economic migrant experience, the report outlines the role gender and age play in determining who migrates, and how and where, and uses gender and age lenses to look at sexual and gender-based violence, labour exploitation, human trafficking, family reunification, asylum and citizenship, and changing social norms and relations. It goes on to explore gendered and age-related effects of migration on destination countries and countries of origin, and surveys international rights frameworks, national and regional policies and strategies, and gives examples of gender- and age-sensitive civil society initiatives to protect and promote the rights of migrants. One section of this briefing (Section 6.2, ‘Global Goals with direct references to migration’), provides a helpful listing of all the Sustainable
Development Goals making direct reference to migration, plus a list of other Goals of relevance.

Women on the Move: Migration, Gender Equality and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, ODI Briefing (2016) Tam O’Neil, Anjali Fleury, and Marta Foresti, London: Overseas Development Institute and Bern: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, 16 pp.

‘Leaving no-one behind’ is a central tenet of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This paper argues that in terms of those who migrate, women, rather than men, are the most likely to be ‘left behind’ in progress towards achieving the SDGs by 2030. The first section of the paper draws attention to the gender-blind nature of some of the migration-related targets of the SDGs, and provides examples for the migration-related challenges for some of the targets for Goal Five (Gender Equality) and Goal Eight (Economic Growth and Decent Work). The main body of the paper first highlights the role of gender norms – particularly the gendered division of labour – in migration, examining the experiences of unskilled and skilled female migrants in a range of ‘care’ professions, ranging from domestic workers to doctors. Main findings are that while migration can improve women’s economic situation and their autonomy, it can also expose them (disproportionately in relation to men) to new or increased risks including exploitation and abuse. The second and final section of the paper sets out policy recommendations, with the relevant SDG targets, in relation to a set of three concluding points: first, that migration polices must be gender-sensitive and data sex-disaggregated; second; female migrants are less visible than male migrants, but are exposed to greater risk of exploitation and violence; and third, women migrant workers are less likely to benefit than men from migration.

‘Not without them: realising the sustainable development goals for women migrant workers’ (2018) Jenna Hennebry, Hari KC and Nicola Piper, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, DOI:10.1080/1369183X.2018.1456775

This paper stresses the importance of the role of civil society in advocating for women migrant workers in order that they are not ignored in the drive to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This is in the context of what the authors argue is the gender-blind approach within the field of migration and development, as exemplified by the state-led UN Global Forum on Migration and Development. This approach prioritises national-level economic growth within migration processes, with a key focus on remittances, disregarding the actual, and gendered, experiences of migrants themselves. While acknowledging that although the SDGs do include some important provisions for women migrant workers, the authors contend that it is only with changes to the structural realities affecting the lives of migrant women workers – which would include, for example, a re-envisioning of the care economy, so that it valued the economic contributions of women’s reproductive work – that the lived experience of women migrant workers can be positively transformed. The authors argue that it will take the critical engagement of civil society, in the form of networked activism, at the grassroots and beyond to achieve this.

Gender, Migration and Remittances (n.d.) International Organization for Migration (IOM), 6 pp.

This factsheet, produced by the inter-governmental organisation, the IOM, outlines some of the current areas of focus in debates around gender, migration, and remittances. Discussed are gendered patterns of sending, receiving, and spending remittances, the challenges faced by women in investing remittances, and the question of how, and indeed if, remittances promote gender equality. Case studies are included, with one, in particular, providing a perfect example of the ‘remittances for development’ model. In this, the Italian government-supported Migrant Women for Development in Africa project aims for women’s greater ‘financial inclusion’ in banking services, and promotes the investment of remittances of West African migrant women’s associations into small and medium enterprises in their countries of origin.

Women, Gender, Remittances and Development in the Global South (2015) Ton van Naerssen, Lothar Smith Tine Davids and Marianne H. Marchand (eds.) Abingdon, Oxon New York: Routledge, ISBN: 9781472446206

This valuable edited collection helps deepen understanding of the intersection of gender, migration, and remittances. The editors make clear from the outset that the aim is to provide a platform for different interpretations of the gender and remittance ‘nexus’, and what it means for development, in what the book’s preface calls a ‘contentious policy arena’ (p. vii) in which a variety of ideologies, gender stereotypes and understandings of development are at play. These dynamics are all illustrated in the book’s contributions. Case studies from the Philippines, Ghana, Bolivia, and the Bangladesh–Malaysia connection explore the gendered impacts of migration/remittances on daily life, a second set of contributions examines the impact of policy on migration choices and patterns, and a final set, the ways in which gender relations have been interpreted in relation to remittances. Framed by thoughtful and insightful introductory and concluding chapters from the editors, the collection as a whole underlines the complicated reality and, importantly, the context-specific nature of gender, migration, and remittances, and as a result, the limits to all-encompassing policymaking. 

Care and reproductive work in a global economy

Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy (2003) Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Hochschild (eds.), New York: Henry Holt & Co., ISBN: 978-0805075090

This classic work, published in 2003, provides an excellent introduction to the ‘feminisation of migration’ and to global care chains, in a global economy which sees millions of women every year leave behind their homes and children in the global South, to work as nannies, cleaners, carers, maids, and sex workers in richer economies. Their absence creates a ‘care deficit’ in their own countries, even while they are easing the ‘care deficit’ in the North. The collection includes essays on: domestic workers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the USA, the effects of female emigration from Sri Lanka and from the Philippines on familial relationships, and sexual slavery in Thailand. While including rigorous research and analysis, all the essays are accessibly written, and the voices and experiences of individual women, which appear throughout, bring a human face to the global trends the authors are describing, and powerfully convey the emotional costs involved in engaging in such work.

‘Global care chains: reshaping the hidden foundations of an unsustainable development model’ (2016) Amaia Orozco, in Zahra Meghani (ed.) Women Migrant Workers: Ethical, Political and Legal Problems, New York and Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, ISBN: 9781138546332, 101-29

This book chapter opens with a description of the contrasting views of global care chains. The first stresses family disintegration and related social harms caused by women migrating to undertake domestic and care work, which can see women ‘blamed’ for abandoning their roles as mothers and wives, and a second which emphasises individual agency and the ability of families to reconstruct caring relationships across boundaries. For the author, these views exist within the context of a capitalist model that ignores the need for the care that sustains people’s lives, and that is based on the idea of the ‘mushroom worker’ – who springs up fully formed, without any need for nurture and without any family ties. While care has always been ‘outsourced’, and commodified, usually on the basis of inequality, with poor women disproportionately undertaking this kind of labour, what is new is the movement of workers across international borders to fill care gaps in receiving countries. The author examines the care chains that exist between Spain, and Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, where the three defining dimensions of the unfair, and ultimately unsustainable development model of which global care chains are a part, are apparent. These are ‘privatising’, where societal responsibility for care is in retreat and more and more left to the individual; ‘feminising’, where care is understood as a female responsibility; and ‘invisibilising’, where the human need for care is unacknowledged, and only addressed by societies in the case of a crisis in provision, when the voices of the often over-worked and under-paid performing the labour are disregarded.

‘Global care chains: a state-of-the-art review and future directions in care transnationalization research’ (2012) Nicola Yeates, Global Networks 12(2): 135–54

This scholarly article traces the development of global care chain (GCC) analysis, from its origins in Arlie Hochschild’s original conceptualisation, published in 2000, through its subsequent evolution as it has drawn more deeply on global commodity chains and network methodology. The author – who has made a major contribution to the development of GCC analysis herself – argues that the GCC framework has led to a much more sophisticated understanding of globalisation processes, the multiple forms of care provision worldwide, and political and policy responses, with this theoretical approach uncovering what she calls the ‘grounded, textured and embodied nature’ (p. 135) of the transnationalisation of care. In this, the complex and diverse reality is revealed. Suggestions for what directions future GCC research might take include adopting a stronger focus on South–
South GCC, and paying greater attention to intersectionality. The author also draws attention to the way in which GCC analysis has served to reinforce care work as women’s work.

‘Transnational families in the era of global mobility’ (2018) Loretta Baldassar, Majella Kilkey, Laura Merla and Raelene Wilding, in Anna Triandafyllidou (ed.) Handbook of Migration and Globalisation, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, ISBN: 978 1 78536 750 2, 431–43

This book chapter argues that having previously been relegated to the margins, there is growing recognition of the centrality of family life to the dynamics of migration and globalisation. For the authors, households as well as states and markets are involved in globalisation processes, with care – ‘the “glue” of kinship’ (p. 431) – emerging as a lens through which to view the relationship between families, migration, and globalisation. Uneven development and economic crises prompt people to migrate to secure resources to support and care for their families, but at the same time, physical absence can lead to a disruption in care. Incorporating ideas of mobility and immobility (which are affected by increasingly restrictive migration policies), the chapter uses case studies of the experiences of four families to illustrate responses to the so-called ‘crisis of care’ in home countries, which is produced by austerity measures and reduced social spending, and the salience of recent developments in communications technologies to maintaining family relationships across borders.

Children of Global Migration: Transnational Families and Gendered Woes (2005) Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, ISBN: 9780804749459

Drawing on in-depth interviews, this influential study looks at the social impact of labour migration from the perspective of the sending country; in this case, the Philippines. The author finds that the migration of women to better-paying jobs overseas has not resulted in changing the way the men back home view their place in the family, and that what is needed is for those parents left behind to give up traditional gender roles and find more creative ways to run a working household. The author also argues for Filipina and Filipino migrant workers to come together themselves, and translate their financial capital, in the form of remittances, into political clout, to lobby for better treatment for migrants and their families, both at home and in their host countries.

Staying Behind: The Effects of Migration on Older People and Children in Moldova (2010) HelpAge International and UNICEF, Chisinau: HelpAge International, 44 pp.

A significant proportion of Moldova’s adult population migrates to find work in other countries. This report looks at the impact of both remittances and parental absence on households where children and grandparents are left behind. Highlighting the extremely important role of older people in caring for children when one or both parent migrates for work, the report looks at the areas of income and expenditure/child care and education; health care; interpersonal relations; and cultural life. It finds that although remittances did sometimes have a positive impact – for example, on children’s entry into post-secondary education and for access to medical services – older carers were still dependent on the state pension for their main source of income, and households generally regarded themselves as being poor. In spite of positive assessments in the literature on the effect of migration on children’s psychological well-being, the research in this case found that parental absence did have a detrimental effect on children’s behaviour, with lack of support with education and health and hygiene issues a particular area of concern. Arguing that older people and the children left in their care are a vulnerable group exposed to social exclusion, one of the report’s recommendations is that special programmes are set up to provide psychological, social, legal and educational assistance, and counselling to cushion the negative effects on the education of children left without direct parental care due to migration.

Women on the Move: Migration, Care Work and Health (2017) Geneva: World Health Organization, 102 pp.

The central argument of this major report from the World Health Organization is that there now exists a global paradox in which often poorly paid female migrant workers effectively subsidise under-resourced and failing health and care systems in many countries while facing substantial obstacles in accessing care, and enjoying few labour and social protections themselves. The report uses research from across the fields of health, employment social protection, immigration, and citizenship to explore the impact – in terms of benefits and drawbacks – of transnational care on receiving countries and in the countries migrant care workers leave behind. Chapter 2 outlines the barriers faced by migrant care workers in maintaining their own health and well-being. A central problem is the consigning of much care work to the informal sector and being carried out in home settings, covered by neither labour legislation nor social insurance. Access to health care or insurance is thus not guaranteed, but rather granted at the whim of the employer, and unexpected and expensive health-care expenses can leave already poorly paid employees vulnerable to debt and/or ill-health. The report moves on to look at possible policies to address these barriers, in the shape of, for example, portable pension systems, cross-border arrangements, and universal access to social protection regardless of national origin. It ends with a call for transnational care work, and those involved in performing it, to be recognised as a global public good.

Migration and Domestic Work: The Collective Organisation of Women and their Voices from the City (2017) Gaye Yilmaz and Sue Ledwith, London: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 978 3-31951648-6

Central to this book are the voices and lives of 120 women – who share 28 national identities and 10 different religious affiliations between them – and all of whom undertake domestic care and cleaning work, having migrated to either London, Berlin or Istanbul. The book is built around three broad areas: women’s motivations to migrate, their identities and roles in relation to family, religion, and culture, and political and gender consciousness; women’s material position as migrants, and the barriers and constraints they face in their work; and women’s collectivism and forms of organising, as members of communities or as members of trade unions.

International Domestic Workers Federation

IDWF is a global organisation that advocates for the protection and expansion of the rights of domestic and household workers. Membership is made up of trade unions, workers’ cooperatives, associations, and networks, which together represent over half a million individual workers. Having previously existed as the International Domestic Workers Network, the work of which helped bring about the landmark International Labour Organization Domestic Workers Convention in 2011, the Federation itself came into being in 2013. The Federation runs international campaigns, holds Congresses, and its publications include manuals and handbooks, including Planning for Success: A Manual for Domestic Workers and their Organizations.

Migration and labour in a global economy

Decent Work for Migrants and Refugees (2016) International Labour Organization, 5 pp.

The International Labour Organization is the body that sets labour standards and develops policies at an international level. The concept of Decent Work – which includes a fair wage and a safe and secure working environment – is central to its agenda. Arguing that although migration can bring significant benefits for both migrants and countries, this short briefing paper contends that many migrant workers – who tend to be clustered in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and domestic work – suffer labour rights abuses, such as discrimination in wages, poor working conditions, lack of access to social protection, and abusive recruitment practices. In the case of refugees, access to work may be prohibited. The paper pays special attention to migrant labour recruitment. While some recruitment is undertaken by public employment services, sometimes in international, bilateral agreements regarding temporary migrant worker programmes, there is growing concern over the unscrupulous or illegal activities of private recruitment agents, with the paper highlighting its Fair Recruitment for Decent Work Initiative.

The Vulnerability to Exploitation of Women Migrant Workers in the Agriculture in the EU: The Need for a Human Rights and Gender-based Approach (2018) Letizia Palumbo and Alessandra Sciurba, Brussels: European Union, 84 pp.

There is a large demand for migrant labour, most of which comes from Eastern Europe, in the agricultural sector within the European Union. While most migrants are men, women also migrate to undertake this kind of work. Drawing on case studies of Romanian women migrants working in the agriculture sector in Italy and Spain, this study argues that while until recently it was mainly irregular/undocumented migrants who were subject to exploitation and abuse, today many of those subject to exploitation include migrants with a legal right to residence. Often living and working in isolated rural areas and on farms in substandard and exploitative conditions, the study argues that the employment of poor, migrant workers in sectors such as agriculture amounts to a socioeconomic system that fosters and relies on workers’ vulnerability, which in the case of women is exacerbated by gendered dynamics and power relations, and that can result in sexual exploitation. It calls for the development of more sex-disaggregated data and tools of analysis for studying the specific conditions of migrant women in sectors such as agriculture, pointing out that what disaggregated data exist tend to focus on feminised areas such as sex or care and domestic work. Also, it argues for a gendered, human rights-based framework to address the structural factors that generate the vulnerability experienced by migrant labour.

Labour Without Liberty: Female Garment Workers in Bangalore’s Garment Industry (2018) Pramita Ray and Marijn Peepercamp, Amsterdam: Indian Garment Labour Union, The India Committee of the Netherlands and Clean Clothes Campaign, 47 pp.

The garment industry has traditionally been an employer of women in many countries of the world. Much of the workforce is made up of women migrants, many of whom move from rural to urban areas to take up jobs in garment factories. This report focuses on the experience of female rural-to-urban migrants working in Bangalore, India’s largest garment-producing centre. The factories in which these women migrants are employed supply major international clothing brands, including Benetton, GAP, and Levi’s. The research found exploitative labour conditions in operation, identifying practices that amounted to five of the eleven International Labour Organization’s indicators for forced labour. It highlighted particularly the targeting of young, often under-age women from tribal communities in northern India by recruitment agents, who often made false  promises regarding the level of wages. Lack of knowledge of the local language contributed to the vulnerability and isolation of these workers.

Harnessing Knowledge on the Migration of Highly-skilled Women (2014) Geneva: International Organization for Migration 160 pp.

This is a summary report of an expert meeting held to stimulate further research into issues around the migration of highly skilled women. The number of tertiary-level educated women migrants is, according to the report, a growing phenomenon. For example, the number of tertiary-educated migrant women in OECD countries between 2000 and 2011 rose by 80 per cent, and, in Africa, the average emigration rates of tertiary-educated women are considerably higher than those of tertiary-educated men, at nearly 28 per cent for women compared with just over 17 per cent for men. The report argues that highly skilled migrant women remain under-represented among economic migrants, and while some of these women migrate independently, most are pushed to do so by a combination of economic, institutional, and personal factors, including reasons related to marriage, family reunification or accompaniment, and international protection. Areas of concern highlighted in the report include the persistent unemployment (and therefore general deskilling) of highly skilled women migrants, despite the increased emphasis on educational attainment in the migration selection policies of many states. Here, gender-blind migration policies admission programmes targeting the highly skilled, for example, are often biased towards occupations that are traditionally held by men. 

Gender, migrant rights, and global governance

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)

At the time of writing (November 2018), the UN Global Compact on Migration was on the verge of being signed by UN member states (December 2018), bringing into effect an agreement that recognises the major significance of the issues of migration and refugee crises in the international agenda, and placing them within a human rights framework. The signing of the GCM follows the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants by the 193 UN member states in 2016, which committed to ‘protecting the safety, dignity, and human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status, and at all times’.

Implementing a Gender-responsive Global Compact for Migration (2018) Expert Working Group

This is the fifth in a series of guidance notes from the Expert Working Group for Addressing Women’s Human Rights in the Global Compact for Migration. Comprising individual specialists from UN bodies, academia, and civil society organisations, the Expert Group has been advocating for a gender-sensitive Global Compact, to ensure that the human rights of migrant women and girls are observed and protected. This guidance note, aimed at governments and other agencies concerned with migration, outlines key actions that should be taken to ensure that the implementation of the GCM is genderresponsive, including follow-up and review processes. Previous guidance notes in the series address the need for the Compact to ensure gender-responsive access to services and justice; ensuring a gender-responsive approach to promoting and protecting the human rights of children and families at all stages of migration; and guidance on how to ensure that the human rights, including labour rights, of women migrant workers are fully protected and promoted, whether working in the formal or informal economy. See also UN Women’s Recommendations for addressing women’s human rights in the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration (2016), 14 pp.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

A UN agency, the ILO brings together representatives from governments, employers, and workers, to help shape programmes and policies, and is responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards. It is the only UN agency with a mandate to protect migrant workers, and has been involved with labour migration issues since its inception in 1919. Central to the ILO’s vision is the idea of ‘decent work for all’, and within this overarching framework all major sectors of the ILO – standards, employment, social protection, and social dialogue – work on the issue of labour migration. The ILO has drawn up several conventions relating to migrant labour, including the 2011 Domestic Workers’ Convention. However, with many countries failing to ratify these conventions, they offer no protection to the rights of workers in these places.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Established in 1951, IOM is an inter-governmental agency working in four broad areas of migration management: migration and development; facilitation of migration; regulation of migration; and forced migration. IOM activities that cut across these areas include the promotion of international migration law, policy debate and guidance, protection of migrants’ rights, migration health, and the gender dimension of migration. The organisation’s research activities world-wide encompass several migration management topics, including migration trends and data, international migration law, migration and development, health and migration, countertrafficking, labour migration, trade, remittances, irregular migration, integration, and return migration. The IOM publishes the annual World Migration Report, and the journal, International Migration. The IOM often faces criticism from those working from a rights-based approach to migration, who argue that, reflecting the concerns of its wealthier country donors, the IOM’s central concern is migration control, prioritising regulation rather than a rights agenda (see Lourdes Benería, Carmen
Diana Deere, and Naila Kabeer, 2012.)

Claiming Rights: Domestic Workers’ Movements and Global Advances for Labor Reform (2013) International Domestic Workers Network, International Trade Union Confederation, and Human Rights Watch, 36 pp.

This report provides an accessible and informative overview of the International Labor Organization’s Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (also known as the ILO Domestic Workers Convention) which came into force in 2013. The Convention is a groundbreaking treaty – long campaigned for by domestic workers’ rights movements, at grassroots, national, and international levels – and as well as highlighting progress in domestic workers’ rights around the world since the adoption of the Convention, the report explores the growth of the domestic workers’ rights movement itself. It sees this vibrant coalition of organisations and networks as having gained fresh impetus from campaigning for the Convention, and for national legal reforms raising public awareness of domestic workers’ rights. Identifying migrant domestic workers as particularly hard to organise because of restrictive immigration rules, language barriers, and more, the report outlines some strategies for successful mobilisation of this group.

Democratising migration from the bottom up: the rise of the global migrant rights movement’ (2015) Nicola Piper, Globalizations 12(5): 788–802

Arguing that the dominant international policy approach to migration ‘focuses primarily on controlling migration through state cooperation and extracting economic benefits of foreign workers whilst paying mere lip service to the human rights of migrants’ (p. 790), this scholarly article draws on theories relating to social movements and International Relations to explain the rise of what the author terms ‘rights-assuming advocacy’ by an emerging global migrant rights movement. This is in the context of a weakened International Labour Organization, which is the central standard-setting international organisation in the area of migrant and non-migrant labour. The author finds that, building on grassroots migrant activism, transnational migrant advocacy networks have developed that carry out campaigns for labour standards and labour rights, and that are challenging ‘top-down’ global governance of migration through ‘bottom-up’ civil society processes.

Workers without rights as citizens at the margins’ (2013) Virginia Mantouvalou, International Review of Social and Political Philosophy 16(3): 366–82

Citing Hannah Arendt’s description of citizenship as ‘the right to have rights’ (p. 367), this article argues that domestic workers, and especially migrant domestic workers, are denied rights, and hence citizenship, through the lack of labour rights in the domestic work sector, and through punitive immigration legislation. For the author, viewing labour rights –
specifically domestic workers’ rights – through the prism of human rights can help overcome the marginal status of migrant domestic workers. With universality a defining feature of human rights law, and attached to everyone, whether they are citizens or not, the author examines the international human rights convention, the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Domestic Workers (adopted in 2011). This includes civil rights, such as access to justice and privacy, and social and labour rights, such as working time and minimum wage, and the author argues, takes an integrated approach towards human rights law in line with the ideal of citizenship, where all groups of rights are essential for membership. For the author, ‘the enjoyment of labour rights as human rights depends, and should only depend, on the status of someone as a human being who is also a worker’. Not addressed by the author, however, is the necessity, and willingness, for countries to ratify the convention in order for workers to benefit from its protections, and as of May 2018, only 25 countries had done so.

What Price Safe Motherhood: Charging for NHS Maternity Care in England and its Impact on Migrant Women (2018) Rayah Feldman, London: Maternity Rights, 65 pp.

An example of the kind of exclusion from services outlined in the World Health Organization resource Women on the Move (see above), and indeed, of the specifically gendered inequalities relating to (im)migration policies, the research in this report draws on the experiences of 16 women migrants in the UK, many of whom had irregular immigration status, and no financial resources. The UK’s National Health Service provides health  care free at the point of demand for UK and European Union citizens and some categories of migrants, such as refugees, and asylum seekers, with holders of visitor’s visas and undocumented migrants the main groups of people charged for health care. This is in the context of the UK government’s drive to create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants, with responsibility for policing immigration now extending to health and education providers, landlords, and others. The report documents the stress experienced by this already vulnerable group of women (who are officially recognised as having highrisk pregnancies, and have often been unable to access antenatal care) as they face a system in which charges are often wrongly applied and in which individual billing renders them solely responsible for payment, absolving partners from any financial responsibility.

European Network of Migrant Women

This Brussels-based network consists of members ranging from on-the-ground service providers to organisations carrying out research and advocacy. The Network maintains links with supra-European bodies, such as the European Institute for Gender Equality and European Union bodies, lobbying on issues that reflect the focuses of its member organisations, which include the human rights of migrant and refugee women, economic empowerment, and violence against women and girls.


UK NGO Kalayaan is an example of the kind of organisation that has developed in many countries to respond to the needs of migrant domestic workers. As well as lobbying for change with regard to immigration and employment laws, it offers a range of services for its migrant worker clients. These include advice on immigration and employment, support in retrieving passports from employers, training in accessing health care and mainstream services in the UK, English-language classes, support with reading and writing letters or forms, and provides practical emergency assistance to clients who have recently left abusive employers. Kalayaan’s website gives information on immigration and employment rights for migrant domestic workers within the UK, along with employers’ responsibilities and a ‘model’ contract. 

Trafficking, violence, and abuse

The Gender Dimension of Human Trafficking, Briefing (2016) Sofija Voronova and Anja Radjenovic, European Parliament, 10 pp.

Opening with the UN definition of trafficking, this briefing paper provides an overview of some of the gendered aspects of trafficking, with a particular focus on Europe. This human rights violation is on the increase, the report argues, due to increasing mobility, the internet and new technologies, low risks and high profits for traffickers, and very few prosecutions for this crime. The main forms of exploitation of those who are trafficked are sexual exploitation and forced labour, with sexual exploitation the larger category – the report giving the following figures: in 2010–12, 53 per cent of victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation (97 per cent of whom were women) and 40 per cent for forced labour (65 per cent of whom were male). Trafficking for sexual exploitation was higher in the European Union, at 69 per cent (p. 3). Outlined as root causes are women’s increased vulnerability arising from domestic violence, and the high level of demand for commercial sexual services. Also discussed are recruitment channels, such as false job offers and matrimonial agencies, the rise of the use of digital technologies in trafficking, and international and European Union efforts to combat this crime.

Beyond Borders: Exploring Links Between Trafficking and Gender (2010) Julie Ham, Bangkok: Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, 48 pp.

This paper provides a consideration of gender and trafficking. Beginning with a discussion on the dangers of focusing on women’s ‘vulnerability’ rather than discrimination against women, it argues that it may be more accurate to speak of the ways women are ‘vulnerabilised’ by certain practices, rather than how they are inherently ‘vulnerable’ themselves. This is underlined in the paper’s analysis of root causes of trafficking, in which different forms of discrimination, including economic – exacerbated by gender-based discrimination in the case of women – may push people into the hands of traffickers. Barriers to labour migration and tightening borders see women and men from economically disadvantaged countries resorting to traffickers in the absence of legal or safe channels of migration. The paper notes the gendered ideas relating to migrants and trafficked persons, with public messages around trafficking and women often based on vulnerability, rather than a woman’s rights, and a victim identity proving helpful in generating public interest and funding. The paper also includes a section on the controversial issue of trafficking and sex work, summarising the differences in feminist thinking on this subject. Explicit in its support for sex workers’ rights, and arguing that the majority of sex workers are not trafficked, the paper’s assertion is that trafficking is a phenomenon distinct from sex work; that some anti-trafficking measures can result in human rights violations of sex workers; and that a sole focus on trafficking of women for sex can divert attention and resources away from human rights abuses in other migration-related sectors.

Stolen Smiles: A Summary Report on the Physical and Psychological Health Consequences of Women and Adolescents Trafficked in Europe(2006) Cathy Zimmerman, Mazeda Hossain, Kate Yun, Brenda Roche, Linda Morison and Charlotte Watts, London: The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 28 pp.

While acknowledging that trafficked women can have very different experiences – ranging from unremitting physical assault to psychological pressure via threats to themselves and family members – this report, based on research undertaken with 207 women who were trafficked to and within Europe, underscores the long-lasting damage done to the health of trafficked women and girls. The report outlines the kind of physical, sexual, and psychological injuries sustained by the women, and points to the significance of physical and sexual violence experienced by women in their lives prior to being trafficked, with the women in the study reporting notably high levels of this kind of abuse. The report provides a set of recommendations: for states, for donors, for health service providers, and for those providing services to trafficked women. Top of the list is a call for states to approve national legislation that requires provision of health care – regardless of legal status or ability to pay – for all women who have been trafficked.