Should Women Migrant Workers Leave their Families in Order to Work?

| March 3, 2017

On February 17th, I attended a UN Women conference which addressed women’s human rights in the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration. I focus on migration and immigration, in my current studies, so I was understandably interested in the event.

Migrations is an urgent issue affecting the globe, and it occurs for many reasons, including poverty and political persecution. Perhaps the most obvious reason why many persons migrate today is war. Countries around the world, and especially in the Middle East, are going through chaotic times. Entire cities in the Middle East are controlled by ISIS. Because of these situations, families are attempting to migrate to countries where they hope they will find haven, and women play a key role in the family, hence UN Women’s interest in migration.

I was able to learn much on the topic of women migrating, including through eye popping statistical analysis of global data. Panelists described the many risks for working migrant women who are tangled in physical violence, health complications, injuries and exploitation. Working migrant women aren’t always protected, in fact, they are seldom protected.

I was heartened to hear speakers highlight how women should have the opportunity to migrate. But you can understand my dismay when I heard others describe this in terms of helping women cut ties with their families—thereby destroying their family.

One speaker in particular, Eva Richter, who is part of the NGO Committee on Migration, mentioned that there are more women migrating as head of the household today than ever before, but many others still “depend” on their husbands or fathers, who are considered the primary migrants. Women should not depend on their husbands, or fathers, to be able to migrate for work in her view. But this means the destruction of family.

Migration can “positively impact their [women] position in their family,” she said. In other words, women should able to do anything on an equal basis with men, to the point of destroying their own family.

Many clapped supportively as Ritcher expressed the view that women should be able to ‘escape’ their family to work.

The event was light on the means of supporting the family of migrant workers, whether a woman or a man was the primary migrant. In fact, the issue of supporting migrant families and the families of migrants was never even touched upon during the entire event. UN Women should have pointed to ways for migrants to support their family and governments to support migrant families rather than just saying that women should be able to quit their families when they see fit. That does not sound like a winning policy in the long run.

Yes, women migrant workers should be given the opportunity to work, but shouldn’t they also be given the opportunity to support their families and not have to destroy them?


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