Since the later 20th century, there has been substantial labour migration from developing countries to high-income countries. This has included a substantial portion of female migrants. Almost half of the total number of migrant workers in the world today is women. While women have always migrated as accompanying spouses and family members, contemporary migration dynamics have shown a considerable increase in the number of women migrating independently to pursue opportunities of their own.
On a global scale, a significant number of women migrant workers are employed in low skilled occupations but they are also present in skilled welfare and social professions such as health, education and social services (traditionally female-dominated domains). During every stage of their migratory experience, women migrant workers may be more exposed to human rights violations compared to their male counterparts.
They frequently have to deal with difficult living and working conditions, increased health risks, a lack of access to social services and various forms of abuse such as the confiscation of passports by their employers. Women migrant workers usually enter gender-segregated sectors that are largely informal and unregulated and therefore offer them little or no protection. These women often have limited or no bargaining power and few or no opportunities for establishing networks to receive information and social support. Irregular women migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to harassment, intimidation or threats as well as economic and sexual exploitation including trafficking and racial discrimination. Often times, they face incarceration and/or deportation if they attempt to leave their employer.
The problem is more acute among women of the developing countries and as such the Non-Aligned Movement has taken cognizance of the problem. NAM has welcomed the adoption of the Resolution 68/137 on Violence against Women Migrant Workers to reaffirm provisions concerning women migrant workers. The resolution expresses concern that many migrant women who are employed in the informal economy and in less skilled work are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and underlines in this regard the obligation of States to protect the human rights of migrants so as to prevent and address abuse and exploitation. The resolution calls all Governments to incorporate a human rights, gender-sensitive and people-centred perspective in legislation, policies and programmes on migration and on labour and employment, consistent with their human rights obligations and commitments under human rights instruments, for the prevention of and protection of migrant women against violence and discrimination, exploitation and abuse, and to take effective measures to ensure that such migration and labour policies do not reinforce discrimination, and, where necessary, to conduct impact assessment studies of such legislation, policies and programmes in order to identify the impact of measures taken and the results achieved in regard to women migrant workers.
In accordance with these principles, the Non-Aligned Movement has stressed the shared responsibility of and need for cooperation among all stakeholders, in particular countries of origin, transit and destination, relevant regional and international organizations, the private sector and civil society, in promoting an environment that prevents and addresses violence against women migrant workers.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has taken up a host of initiatives to protect the right of women workers in many NAM Member States. In Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, it has set up a labour centre where potential employers can link up with potential labour migrants to South Africa. This project is aimed at formalizing labour mobility between Zimbabwe and South Africa, thereby reducing risks of abuse and exploitation. Another example is IOM’s recruitment facilitation of temporary foreign workers from Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mauritius who are bound for Canada.
In order to integrate the women migrant workers, NAM Member States have been addressing the structural and underlying causes of violence against women migrant workers through education, dissemination of information and awareness-raising, by promoting their empowerment and, where relevant, their integration into the formal economy, in particular in economic decision-making, and by promoting their participation in public life, as appropriate.