Why Women Must Leave Home
On Thursday, March 1, 2012, United Methodist Women hosted an interactive workshop called “Why Women Must Leave Home” as part of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Delegates and participants from all over the world came together to learn about what circumstances, or “push factors,” cause rural women to become so desperate that they leave their homes and migrate elsewhere.
Facilitator Catherine Tactaquin of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights encouraged the participants to start by discussing regional issues in small groups of six to ten. These women from all over the world soon found that many of their homelands faced the same underlying problems.
Violence and Militarism
Many rural women in West Africa are trying to escape war by going to live in refugee camps. “Many women run away from violent husbands,” said Tunrayo, who represented the Baptist Women’s Union in Nigeria. People in Latin America migrate to avoid violence caused by drug cartels. Ellie from Kosovo told her group that the big flood of immigration in her country ten years ago was caused by people fleeing from war.
Desertification is a huge issue in Sudan, whereas in Bangladesh, torrential rain erodes farmland. After Japan’s tsunami, 40,000 people left their homes to avoid radiation poisoning. Often, said seminary student Nancy Hawthorne, these issues reflect “not a participation with earth of others, but a domination.”
Land-Grabbing and Agribusiness
Farmers in Mexico have lost their subsidies due to NAFTA policy, and at the same time, grain from the United States has infiltrated the country. This has caused many Mexican farmers to migrate. Factory farms within the United States are pushing family farms out of the market, and those farmers often migrate to urban areas to find other work. Land-grabbing in Africa results in millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Lack of Economic Opportunities
Italy is experiencing a “brain drain” as their highly educated young citizens are moving to Northern Europe in search of employment. North Koreans flee to China to escape grinding poverty. Native American families often move off of reservations to escape stigma and a failing education system.
Harriett Olson, head of the Women's Division, the policy-making body of United Methodist Women, summed it up well. “We’re so driven by economies of scale... Bigger is cheaper.” We are always making bigger schools and bigger hospitals. But, Ms. Olson pointed out that if this idea were taken to the extreme, everyone would have to live in highly populated areas. She asked her small group, “Is that really good development?”
Each small group had a chance to report its findings to the rest of the workshop’s participants. Carol Barton (representing United Methodist Women), Chidi King (Public Services International), and Marieke Koning (International Trade Union Confederation) wrote and illustrated the issues that were raised on a large map of the world which covered an entire wall of the conference room.
The participants also shared some examples of how women around the world were organizing to respond to these issues. Many groups in Asia and Africa are helping to educate women before they leave home so that they can make informed decisions about migration and be less vulnerable to human trafficking. Government-sponsored seminars in Tanzania give women the resources they need to fight against female genital mutilation and domestic abuse. These women find strength in numbers, and now work to transform their communities instead of fleeing. A group of rural women in India have formed an all-women’s labor union. They have taught themselves to read, write, set market prices, and negotiate. They have been empowered by their ability to make meaningful contributions towards their family finances.
The workshop ended with closing remarks from two of the CSW delegates. Marta Benavides, who serves as the global co-chair of Global Call to Action Against Poverty/ Servicios Ecumenicos Para Reconstruccion y Reconciliation (GCAP/SERR), emphasized that migration is often not voluntary. She argued that the key word in this workshop’s title, "Why Women Must Leave Home," was "must," acknowledging that “many of us have suffered exile.”
She urged the participants to spend time in discernment searching for a common thread between all of the common push factors that cause migration. “It’s because we have a system of thinking that prioritizes not people, not the care of the earth, but to make money... The UN is an instrument, and I’m very concerned that we’re not using this instrument for the good of humankind and the planet.”
Nelcia Hazell, a United Methodist Women-sponsored delegate to CSW and a community educator in St. Vincent, summarized the workshop and urged the participants to take hope in “the influence of civil society organizations.” The stories of women educating each other and rebuilding each other’s homes were cause for great hope. And she commended the women of CSW for their participation: “As I was listening, I was hearing the leaders. They are not emerging, they have emerged.”
The issues facing rural women around the globe are systemic. United Methodist Women is on the front lines of the fight against injustice. Partnership with CSW and other groups, causes, and conferences helps United Methodist Women extend its reach to women, children, and youth around the world.
This event was sponsored by:
- United Methodist Women
- Feminist Task Force of Global Campaign Against Poverty
- International Trade Union Confederation
- Migrant Forum Asia
- Migrant Rights International
- National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
- NGO Committee on Migration
- People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights Women’s Caucus
- Public Services International
Julia Kayser is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.