Home / News & Events / News / ...
Women’s Rights

United Methodist Women Forum Promotes Migrant Women’s Rights

Joycelyn Gill-Campbell (left) from Domestic Workers United and Catherine Tactaquin (right) from National Network
Joycelyn Gill-Campbell (left) from Domestic Workers United and Catherine Tactaquin (right) from National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Migrant Rights International were speakers at the “Women, Migration and Global Turmoil” workshop, sponsored by United Methodist Women, for the 54th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations’ New York City headquarters, March 1. Photo by Felipe Castillo.

By Michelle Scott

Migrant women’s vulnerability to exploitation and need for international protections dominated a panel discussion co-sponsored by United Methodist Women at its Church Center for the United Nations in New York City, March 1. Women and men from around the world and local United Methodist Women members attended the “Women, Migration and Global Turmoil” forum convened as a parallel event to the 54th Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations’ New York City headquarters, March 1-12.

“Our priority is to remind policymakers that labor is not a commodity. You can’t move people like products,” said Gemma Adaba, the International Trade Union Confederation’s U.N. representative.

Oftentimes the only jobs available to migrant women are positions as domestic workers. In many countries, including the United States, housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers do not have the same protections as employees of a business. 

Joycelyn Gill-Campbell, organizational coordinator for Domestic Workers United, is working through the union to establish a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in New York to ensure some standards for work. “I have to remind legislators that this is an issue of humanity and not politics,” she said. A migrant woman and former domestic worker, Ms. Gill-Campbell organizes other migrant domestic workers to fight for their rights. 

Ms. Gill-Campbell shared some common stories of women migrants -- how they can be summarily dismissed, denied days off or forced to sleep on the floor. “Slavery has not been abolished; it has been camouflaged,” she said.

Women migrate mostly for the sake of their families. More and more women are migrating with their families because of climate change. Often people who are displaced by climate change belong to a marginalized group at the top of the “pyramid of abuse,” explained Cathi Tactaquin, executive director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She illustrated how people who are pushed out of their homelands because of climate change are most likely also forced out because of unjust and environmentally irresponsible systems. 

International women participating in the forum shared examples of migration in their regions, demonstrating that migration is a global phenomenon with common themes of exploitation and official harassment.

The session culminated with sharing ways women can organize to put migrant women’s concerns on the global stage. Ms. Tactaquin noted the need to ratify the Convention on Rights of Migrants, which was formed in 1990 and ratified by only 40 nations since then. This year will see a global push for participation by all nations, including the United States.

Ms. Gill-Campbell introduced a global campaign for a domestic workers’ at the International Labor Organization that would set global standards. Ms. Adaba said fulfilling U.N. Millennium Development Goal 8 -- to develop a global partnership for development -- would help poor nations develop and prevent the need for migration. 

A new report, “The Exploitation of Undocumented Migrant Women in the Workplace,” was released at the meeting. It features findings during the People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights in Athens, Greece, Nov. 4, 2009.

Below is a statement issued from a Gender and Migration NGO Caucus that met March 1 during the 54th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

The intention of the statement is to lift up the needs of migrant women in the review of the Beijing Platform for Action and to call attention to the need to strengthen the involvement of migrant women in global fora.

Advancing Rights for Migrant Women

Migrant women in all regions of the world face particular barriers and challenges to the fulfillment of their human rights and gender equality. In most regions, the basic rights of citizens are not extended to migrants, particularly those with irregular status. Women’s efforts to strengthen legal statutes and social protection for women in their nations will not improve the rights of migrant women unless specific efforts are made to recognize migrant women’s full human rights. This includes political rights, labor rights, economic and social rights and full recourse to legal protection.

Women are 75% of all refugees and 52% of the total global population of people in migration, estimated at over 220 million. Migration is occurring within nations, between neighboring countries in all regions, and from South to North. By and large women migrate out of necessity, due to economic need, climate change and war. The neo-liberal economic model, imposed on many nations through trade, aid, economic and financial policy, has undermined national economies and forced millions to migrate in search of livelihoods. Increasingly they are met with hostility and criminalization.

There is a profound hypocrisy in policies that create the necessity for migration and then take advantage of migrant’s labor and penalize or criminalize them for their presence. Xenophobic and racist attitudes are reflected in the media, public discourse and legislation. As migrants are utilized as a commodity that is sometimes needed and sometimes expendable, xenophobia intensifies in times of economic crisis when jobs are scarce. Migration issues must be addressed through global economic policies that enhance sustainable development and job creation, especially in the global South, and make migration a choice rather than a necessity. Fulfillment of MDG8 for a global partnership that more equitably shares global resources is an essential priority.

Women migrants face unique challenges. Many women must leave their children behind in order to find work to support their families. Others migrate with their families, and bear the burdens of intense work plus care-giving at home. Women tend to find work in traditional women’s roles—domestic work, child care, cooking, garment, piece work—where they work long hours for low pay and intense exploitation. Domestic work is a particularly egregious situation, where women are isolated and sometimes abused, with no benefits or recourse, in an occupation not internationally recognized as “work.” Women migrants may also face abuse and violence by employers, law enforcement, “coyotes”, and spouses. Because of the growing criminalization of migrants, they are often unable to seek redress for such abuse.

1.) NGOs must utilize several international venues to promote global migrant rights, particularly the rights of migrant women:
2.) Reaffirm the specific needs and realities of migrant women in review of the Beijing Platform for Action, as noted in the Beijing+5 review, and address the diversity of women’s experience in all aspects of the review;

3.) Recognize that MDG goals must go beyond programs for citizens to address the needs of migrant women (including those without formal status) within national territories – for example, regarding women’s poverty; maternal mortality; education for girls, etc.;

4.) Urge the Universal ratification of the UN Convention on the Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, linked to CEDAW and CERD;

5.) Support the creation of a new Convention on Domestic Workers, being discussed in this year’s International Labor Conference;

6.) Address migrant women’s needs in the context of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, and specifically promote a gendered analysis of the impact of dubious “circular migration” schemes; and

7.) Raise awareness within the UN Human Rights Council of the human rights abuses women experience in the course of migration as workers, detainees and as deportees.
  Migrant Rights are Human Rights! Women Migrants Deserve Equality and Rights too!   Gender & Migration NGO Caucus 54th Commission on the Status of Women, New York  March 5, 2010

For further information, contact:

Michelle Scott is a freelance writer and former communications director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Last Updated: 04/12/2010

© 2014 United Methodist Women