How is Migration a Gender Issue?

More than ever before, people are moving around the world. The reasons vary from a search for a better life and new opportunities to the escape from conflicts, wars and violence. According to article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of movement is a human right. Whether migration is forced or voluntary, gender is at the center of its causes and consequences. Gender plays an important role when it comes to the decision-making process and the mechanisms leading to migration.  48,1 percent of the 281 million migrants of 2020 are women which shows the importance of focusing on migration through a gender perspective. Even though paragraphs 23 and 31 of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, recognize the specific vulnerabilities of women on the move, the Forty-First UN Human Rights Council report acknowledges that most countries do not have a comprehensive data management system that captures gender.

Each story is different, perhaps hierarchical social relations related to gender shape the migration experience of women. Indeed, women can experience double discrimination due to their gender added to their migrant status which can impact their well-being and violate the respect of their rights. It is therefore important to realize how gender interacts with migration and how to respond accordingly. As a consequence, it is essential to understand if gender inequality is a cause for migration and if migration itself perpetuates gender disparities in order to make sure to formulate inclusive policies that can ensure the adoption of measures to address the specific needs of women who migrate.

In situations where women cannot accomplish their economic, political and social expectations and goals in their country of origin because of their gender, gender inequality becomes a powerful factor leading to migration. Numbers retrieved from UN Women show that 27% of women left Afghanistan because of domestic violence as their main reason. Indeed, practices or policies in the country of origin that are discriminatory against women can manifest in various ways such as the limitation of their participation in society and political life or their access to resources or educational opportunities. Forced marriage and female genital mutilation can also be reasons for women to migrate.

When leaving your home is already a difficult choice, the realities faced in the country of destination can further complicate the situation. Women can also face gender-based discrimination upon their arrival to their host country. Indeed, gender-specific labor demands reflect the existing stereotypes based on the gender of the destination country. The demand for domestic workers, nurses, and entertainers generally focuses on the recruitment of migrant women. According to the United Nations, women represent 73.4% of international migrant domestic workers. In addition, only 26 countries have ratified the ILO Convention on Domestic Workers (No. 189) that aims to promote the rights and dignity of domestic workers, while recognizing the specific forms of discrimination and abuse faced by women.

The internalization of these gender stereotypes by recruitment intermediaries contributes to reinforcing gender segregation in the labor market. In addition, women that work as unauthorized workers are common and this situation makes them particularly vulnerable since they can be exposed to threats and can be victims of verbal and physical abuse. Indeed, in these situations where women work illegally because they did not register in the country of destination or do not have a work permit, they do not have access to protection and cannot ensure their rights are guaranteed. Indeed, they may not have access to fundamental rights such as health or justice if they are afraid to report the crimes and violence committed towards them because of the fear of losing their job or being sent back to their country.  

On the migration road, especially when it is done in irregular ways, women and girls are particularly vulnerable and can be exposed to situations where they do not feel safe and where they are exposed to sexual and gender-based violence. According to UN Women, 90% of women and girls migrating along the Meditteranean have been raped during their road to Italy. This number is shocking considering that some girls and women take contraception in order not to get pregnant during their travels. Furthermore, sexual service can commonly be asked by smugglers for instance. Moreover, the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution and forced labor is one of the fastest-growing areas of international criminal activity. Women who are victims of this trafficking are extremely vulnerable and exposed to exploitation, coercion and abuse of power. 

In addition, women can also be indirectly affected by migration even if they are not directly the subject of it. Indeed, women can be left behind in the country of origin after their husband or partner migrates. In this situation, they may need to generate the income necessary to raise their children and support their family to compensate for the departure of their partner which can be a challenge. Women can contribute to the economic development of their countries of destination through their competencies and skills. In cases where they come back to their country of origin, they can bring their expertise enhanced by their experience.  

To conclude, gender is an important factor in migration both in the causes and in the consequences. Migration is not always a choice and can result from a gender-related situation in the country of origin that forces women to leave. As a consequence principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women should be reminded and adopted in practice. When it comes to the country of destination, more emphasis should be put on SDG 2030 Goal 8 which aims to promote decent work and economic growth for women to work in a peaceful and harmonized environment that does not reproduce any gender-based discrimination as well as on Goal 5 that focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Particular attention should be drawn towards gender-based and sexual violence on migration roads and measures should be taken accordingly to ensure the safety of all women. Host countries should put in place effective mechanisms to accompany women and girls who are gender-based violence survivors. Therefore, the current situation regarding the status of women in migration should be acknowledged and strategies should be further developed to protect and empower migrant women. 


Division for the Advancement of Women Department of Economic and Social Affairs United Nations. (n.d). Women and International Migration. United Nations. 

Migration Data Portal. (2021, September 28). Gender and migration. Migration Data Portal. 

Pedraza, S. (1991). Women and Migration: The Social Consequences of Gender. Annual Review of Sociology, 17, 303–325.

United Nations General Assembly Human Rights Council. (2019, July 12). The impact of migration on migrant women and girls: a gender perspective Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. Relief Web. 

UN Women. (2021, December). How migration is a gender equality issue. UN Women. 

Léa Aleyna Fournier is a French and Turkish student enrolled in her last year of undergraduate studies at Sciences Po. She volunteered and took part in multiple projects on refugees’ rights, women’s rights and children’s rights. Within the International Refugee Rights Association, Léa actively coordinated a project of career mentoring and workshops for high-school aged Syrian girls in Turkey. On October 11, 2021, she took part in the regional conference for the International Day of the Girl Child organized by UNICEF and UNWomen to read a declaration on the theme of Girls’ Leadership in the Digital Age. Léa is interested in human rights, diplomacy and international security. Léa joined Politics4Her because she believes in the power of youth to change and shape tomorrow’s world.

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