Migration is NOT a Choice

The Women in Migration Network (WIMN), together with the Global Unions (PSI, ITUC and IDWF) and 5 NGO partners (ACT Alliance, BAJI, Migrant-Rights.Org, Solidarity Center, UUSC), hosted a parallel event on Monday 11 March, at the CCUN, under the title “Climate, Gender, Migration: Public Services, Decent Work & Rights-Based Pathways.”

In her welcoming words, Genevieve Gencianos, Migration Program Coordinator, PSI, refuted the claims that ‘’migration is a source of sustainable development,” “climate change is an opportunity for labour mobility” and the assertion of ‘’migration as an adaptation strategy’’ as these appear to be an exaggeration of the benefits of migration and ignore the root causes. People do not migrate willingly, but rather due to persistent poverty, lack of social protection and the threats of climate crises and conflicts. However, as migrants, they are faced with racism, xenophobia, exploitation, violence and harassment, and precarious work and living conditions. Trade unions, civil society and migrant communities themselves have to fight for their labour rights, robust social protection and access to public services free from discrimination.

The main six remarkable female speakers made powerful testimonies and statements on the intersectionality of climate, gender and migration. From the feminist perspective, climate justice is equal to gender justice and gender justice is migrant justice. 

Clara Garcia Gracie, Co-Chair of Black Network for Peace & Justice, member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), gave her testimony as a black woman from Honduras. She maintained that forced migration of women means the displacement of families and culture. Future generations will not be able to keep up the legacy of their ancestors due to the loss of their lands and traditions. Thus, there are endless efforts to preserve these connections and improve public policies and frameworks targeting migrant women’s well-being. All communities are resilient and are fighting to prevent forced migration. She referred to tactics used by some American corporates to push Honduran people from their land to business profit with the promise of achieving the ‘American Dream’ during the time of President Obama. However, they suffered from different forms of discriminatory treatment in work and education as black migrants. Some of them were forced to go back with no home or land to return to. 

Rita Thandeka Mbisi, Vice President for Africa & Arab Countries, PSI, maintained that migration cannot be justified under any circumstances. As workers, we ourselves are impacted by internal displacement, or forced to migrate for work due to poverty, deteriorating working conditions, lack of opportunities, and lack of social protection. Therefore, the nexus of climate, gender and migration are very much part of the lived experiences of public service workers. Africa and the MENA region are also dealing with conflicts and wars, many of which are also driven by climate and dwindling natural resources. In Sub-Saharan Arica, there were 90 on-going wars and conflicts reported in 2022. The MENA region is currently the most affected region, with 45 armed conflicts currently taking place: in Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Yemen and Western Sahara. What is going on in Palestine is a horror that we watch every day. While struggling with the impact of climate change and large scale displacement due to wars, Africa and the MENA Region is host to the highest number of refugees in the world, along with a high number of migrant workers. Despite their poverty situation, it is the developing countries that host 85% of the world’s refugees. Rich countries have the international obligation to do more. In contrast, rich countries are spending heavily on arms instead of investing in public services, peacebuilding, humanitarian assistance, climate financing and loss and damage support. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) and privatisation of public services along with structural adjustment programmes and austerity measures have a devastating impact in dismantling our public services and public healthcare systems resulting to deteriorating employment conditions and reducing the number of staff. As a result, many of our health and care workers are forced to migrate. With weakened public services, societies are left unprepared and are unable to build their resilience from the impacts of climate change and conflicts. Underfunded public services can also become overburdened and are not able to meet the needs of the host communities. She concluded with her vision of what women and girls require in order to claim rights once they have migrated, namely:

  • Gender-responsive and gender-transformative labour migration policies

  • Strong social protection and access to quality public services

  • Protection of women migrant workers’ human and labour rights, including core labour standards such as the right to organize and bargain collectively. 

  • E.g. of ‘’PSI Passport to Workers Rights” and the Pre-Decision and Information Kits. 

  • Building women migrant workers’ leadership in trade unions.

  • In the Care sector, insist on the 5Rs in Rebuilding the Social Organization of Care.

Dur-E Shawarma Sarajevo, Vice-President of Pakistan Workers Federation, ITUC, maintained that the lack of investments in climate resilient and gender transformative public policies and services perpetuates the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next. 80% of displaced victims of the floods in Pakistan were women who have suffered the worst living and health conditions. Migration again was not a choice but rather a purpose of survival. She highlighted the efforts of the trade unions and NGOs to help those migrant women and their children to receive the minimum requirements of decent humane conditions of life. 

Adriana Paz Ramirez, International Domestic Workers Federation, underscored the contribution of domestic workers to the society’s welfare. She also tackled their precarious work conditions, lack of social security and representation. The privatization of care has to be addressed particularly as all the profit goes to global care chains that exploit care workers in the absence of state regulation. She called for joint efforts to protect the rights of domestic workers stressing, “Nothing for us without us.”

Laura Chacon, Communication & Advocacy Manager, Lutheran World Federation, ACT-Alliance, reviewed the deteriorating conditions of Venezuelan migrant women in Colombia and the multiple crises that they face, driven by  conflicts and natural disasters, along with their lack of access to healthcare services and other resources. Highlighting examples of how women migrants harness local resources, such as building community gardens to provide access to food, she stressed how increasing women leadership is a must to be able to bring about change in society.

The event ended with highlighting the policy demands that the Global Unions will advocate in the final conclusions of the UN CSW68, as well as reiterating the continuing endeavor by the Women in Migration Network in building a feminist migration policy from the ground up.

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Contributed by: Wegdan Hussein Abdrabou, Egypt Bibliotheca Alexandrina Solidarity Staff Union, PSI World Women's Committee Vice-chair for Africa and Arab countries.