Historically, migration has often been perceived as a male-dominated phenomenon. In the past, men were migrating while later followed by their wives and children. Women were described as passive in the migration process because of the decision-making held by their male partners and their role in the household.
The 21st century is often characterized as the “age of migration”. In recent years, there has been an interesting phenomenon untitled “feminization of international migration”. As a matter of fact, there is an increase in the number of female migrants as much as there are more of them being “independent”. In other words, women are becoming protagonists of migration. In 2017, 48% of all international migrants were women. According to the UN Migration Agency (IOM), 3% of the world’s population of migrants is located in Latin American and the Caribbean. In 2017, 50.4% of migrants in this region were women. The feminization of migration is a key element of our migration age. However, female migration results in a huge challenge.
In their country of origin, women are already facing issues because of the vulnerable position that is attributed to them in their society. Migration from countries in Central America, especially from the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, is particularly increasing. Generally speaking, many migrants are fleeing the escalating levels of violence and conflict in Central America. Women are even more fleeing violence and persecution they are being victims of in their home country, hoping to reach Mexico or the U.S. for a better life. Throughout their journey, female migrants tend to face additional dangers. As there is a rise in migration there is not automatically a change in policies to protect women more in countries of transit or destination.
The main factors pushing women to migrate are either for economic reasons or to avoid violence and insecurity. Adding to this, some cases of domestic violence have been reported and brought the debate into the table. Under the Refugee Convention of 1951, it is argued that women fleeing gender-based violence or domestic violence can be granted asylum or refugee status. It is still complex, as many don’t agree on the issue. The UNHCR has reported 64% cases of rape, assault, or extortion as main reason for migrating from Central America to the U.S. In fact, 85% of the victims were coming from zones controlled by criminal armed groups in Central America. Sexual and gender-based violence is not only committed by gangs, as some cases involved partners at home.
As mentioned previously, the majority of women entering the U.S. and seeking asylum in other countries of Central America are originally from the Northern Triangle. The route to reach their final destination is not without risks. It is costly and dangerous, as crossing borders requires paying coyotes (smugglers). Many women are robbed, kidnapped, or raped by criminal groups. According to Amnesty International, 60% of migrant women and girls are raped while migrating. Violence is experienced throughout every leg of the journey. Prostitution and human trafficking are other risks female migrants may encounter.
Deportation and detention remain the principal risks for any migrant. Very often, migrants don’t receive proper information on the journey ahead of them or on their rights if ever detained.