Intervention by Ms. Blandine Mollard
Conference on the topic « Multiculturalism: A contribution to Peace ? »
United Nations Office Geneva • Room XIX (19), Geneva, September, 2011
It is a pleasure to take part in this discussion and to interact with you all.
In recent years, expressions of xenophobia and discrimination against migrants have increased in most industrialized countries. Migrants and refugees are growlingly perceived as being the cause of economic stagnation and high unemployment. In addition, the social tensions at the national and local levels can influence perceptions and attitudes towards migrants. These tensions are often exacerbated by a certain degree of political opportunism and unbalanced media reports which may, in turn, exacerbate the animosity and lead to mutual distrust between immigrants and members of the host community.
In my intervention today, I am interested in specifically looking at the situation of women in that context. What kind of roles are they playing, what kind of opportunities and challenges are they faced with?
According to latest estimations, women migrant represent more than 100 million people in the world. In other words, almost one international migrant in two is a woman. While women have always migrated as spouses and family members, migration dynamics have shown a considerable increase in the number of women migrating independently to pursue opportunities of their own, rather than those of their husbands and children only. This should be acknowledged as evidence of the greater autonomy and self-determination enjoyed by increasing numbers of women the world over.
Unfortunately the migration experience is still not always safe and in this area, women, due to their increased dual vulnerability (as migrant and women) are still disproportionately affected by a variety of risks arising from their mobility.
Forms of discrimination occur at several levels. Often, policies regulating entry, access to labour market and public services result in de facto discrimination against migrant women with regard to access to legal recourse, social security, housing, education, health care, employment and other socioeconomic opportunities, as well as a lack of security and protection from violence. Migrant women are more likely to accept poor working conditions and being exposed to serious health risks. The end result can be disempowerment, which further increases their vulnerability to various forms of discrimination and violence.
In addition, migration can create situations where violent or harmful practices associated with traditions of a particular group are imported into the host society. Harmful practices include, dowry-related violence, female infanticide, female genital mutilation/cutting, early and forced marriage as well as honour killings. In situations where integration is difficult, such harmful practices can also be used as a way of consolidating traditional gender roles and controlling women’s behaviour, especially in receiving societies where women have more freedom of choice and expression, as compared to the community of origin.
Beyond traditional practices, young women and girls may suffer from restrictions on their freedom of movement and limitations with respect to their choice of career or partner. These impair their social development and integration into the host society and limit their educational opportunities.
Furthermore, women and girls’ participation in associations or politics is frequently impeded by the often secluded and time-consuming nature of their work, which often takes place either in private homes or remote factory facilities, as well as by the lack of family-friendly social services that could facilitate their role as mothers and wives, especially when they have left children in their countries of origin.
For all these reasons, migrant women are often hindered from playing a leading role in migrant organizations or in the public sphere in general.
Thus, the fate of migrant women in their host country may appear at first sight unenviable. Moreover, the majority of media reports and even public policies tend to depict and deal only with difficult or negative aspects of migration, especially when it comes to women: integration, job insecurity, forced marriages, violence,... If these aspects are important and require protection measures on the part of all concerned, they should not let us forget the great economic and social contributions made by women migrant should not overshadow their role of agents of social cohesion and development both in their countries of origin and in their host country.
One of those contributions is very tangible: the money female migrants send back home can raise families, even entire communities, out of poverty.
Research show that women tend to send as much money back home as men, despite the fact that they typically receive less pay for equal work (or are employed in sectors that offer low pay), which is to say that they send a higher proportion of their earnings - it regularly and consistently.
Beyond financial remittances, social remittances of migrant women (ideas, skills, attitudes, knowledge, etc..) can also stimulate economic development and promote human rights and gender equality. Women migrants who send money transmit at the same time a new definition of roles for each gender. This can affect the views that families and communities have of women's positions in society.
Migrants, who may be exposed to alternative conceptions of women’s roles and rights while in the destination country, can navigate among different cultures and thus have a unique position to discuss and mediate culturally sensitive topics such as gender-based violence or sexual and reproductive health. Networks of migrant men and women working together to transmit social values of women’s human rights can be influential in their ethnic, religious and other communities of origin, as well as within their host society.
They are more likely to create their own networks of migrants that transfer skills and resources and generate a change in concepts that have traditionally being the appropriate gender roles.
It is with this strong belief in mind that IOM has organized for the past two years a workshop in Haifa, Israel, aimed at strengthening the capacity of migrant women to lead diaspora organizations. It aimed at supporting the role migrant women play towards integration, social cohesion and development. The programme’s objectives were to equip participants with a combination of project development and management skills as well as enhance their expertise in communication and leadership, in order to maximize their engagement with their communities but also national and international partners. As leaders within diaspora associations, these women can play positive roles in countries and communities of origin and destination while building key partnerships between countries of destination and origin.
The workshop encouraged women to assume leadership roles within their host and home communities and underlined the overall importance of social remittances on gender equality. One participants recalls: “The workshop has reinforced my determination: women have a huge impact in diaspora development and it should not be ignored. It has given me more strength and hope that I’m not alone and that together we can bring changes to benefit the world.”
Integration and tolerance are a two-way process involving adaptation of both immigrant and their new societies - but also a process that all parties benefit from. This is to promote understanding and respect for the rights and duties of migrants as members of the host society, as well as laws and values that bring them together within a common social system.
It is therefore key that we work together to ensure that iNtegration is designed to meet the needs of both newcomers and residents of older date, not to mention immigrants of the second or third generation which may have to fight against exclusion.
Let's not not give up on acheiving the goal of a society where all members, young or old, male or female can develop their full potential and learn from one another.
Ms. Blandine Mollard,
Gender Coordination Unit,
International Organization for Migration
Ms. Mollard is Project Officer in the Gender Coordination Unit of the International Organization for Migration.
She has a background in international law and international relations, and has been working in the Gender Coordination Unit of IOM at its headquarters in Geneva since 2006. Her work consists of providing expertise on the inclusion of gender concerns in migration management. Recently she coordinated the IOM publication Crushed hopes: underemployment and deskilling among skilled migrant women. The publication focuses on the psychosocial aspects of deskilling among skilled migrant women with case studies from the UK, Quebec and Geneva.