Assistant Secretary General Speech


April 20, 2017 - Washington D.C.

Mr. Alvaro Calderón Ponce de León, Chair of the Committee on Migration Issues

Carmen Moreno, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission for Women

Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women

Ambassador Laura Thompson, Deputy Director General of the International Organization for Migration

Distinguished Panelists

Permanent Representatives and Alternates

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor to be here this morning to give opening remarks at this panel discussion on “Migration and Gender.” As you know, migration often occurs when one sees the prospect of greater economic and social opportunities abroad vis-à-vis local conditions. Economic drivers of migration include employment opportunities, cost of living, and income levels as well as other factors such as migration policies, climatic conditions, and diaspora networks.

Migration patterns, choices and outcomes are not gender neutral. There are important gender differences in the drivers and patterns of migration which merit further analysis. Today, women account for close to half of all migrants. For the most part, public policy has focused on female South-North migration. In 2013, women represented 52% of all migrants in the North. Given this reality, it is noticeable that gender discrimination is an important factor in female migration. For example, sex-based discrimination in the labor market has been identified as an important factor in driving female North-North migration. However, given that South-South migration represents over 50% of the total migrant stock and women accounted for 43% of all migrants in the South in 2013, a better understanding of the gender dynamics in migration is of increasing importance for migration policies and research.

Female migration has traditionally been understood as a by-product of male migration: women follow their husbands, brothers or fathers for family reasons. More recently, with the increase of independent female labor migrants, economic and employment factors have started to dominate the literature on female migration. However, little attention has been paid to how discrimination and violations of women’s rights and freedoms may also influence their migration decisions. Women’s unequal status in familial, societal and cultural structures should be considered as barriers or incentives to migrate, as well as influencing their choice of destination country.

Thus, discriminatory social institutions and norms also influence migration choices: on the one hand, migration may be a way for women to escape discrimination; on the other hand, discrimination may curtail their ability to migrate. There are certain possible scenarios for how discriminatory social institutions in countries of origin influence female migration. On the one hand, a woman’s desire to escape gender-specific discrimination within their community or family structure could be considered as an additional determinant for their migration. Women may prefer to migrate to avoid early marriage or gender-based violence.

However, in situations where a woman’s basic rights are restricted, her capacity to migrate is also severely curtailed. For instance, early marriage is known to reduce a girl’s chance of completing her secondary education and is also linked with limited economic independence and decision-making autonomy within the household.

Furthermore, non-economic determinants of female migration include three broad categories: individual, family and societal factors. For example, levels of education have surprising gender differences: men with higher levels of education are found to be less likely to migrate in contrast to educated women for whom the probability increases. Better access to education in origin countries and higher employment opportunities in destination countries help to explain the increase in the number of female labor migrants. This is also related to the growing demand for female-specific employment, especially in the service and care sectors.

I am proud that the OAS continues to play a central role in addressing challenges facing our hemisphere while remaining committed to delivering tangible benefits to the peoples we serve. We cannot have a stable democracy without development, and development cannot occur in the absence of human rights.

In 2016, the OAS General Assembly approved by Resolution AG/RES. 2883 (XLVI-O/16) the “Inter-American Program for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants, including Migrant Workers and their Families”. This Program incorporates a cross-cutting gender approach to migration and establishes a series of specific objectives for the protection of the human rights of migrants. These objectives span from the exchange of best practices and cooperation between countries of origin, transit, and destination, to attention to the special needs of vulnerable groups of migrants (such as children, women, and indigenous, etc.).

I wish to thank the Committee on Migration Issues for convening today’s panel which will allow all stakeholders present to discuss their work in this area and exchange ideas on how best to safeguard the rights of migrants.
Since the dawn of civilization, migration has been an integral part of human activity in we will surely continue to witness these flows in today’s globalized world. We must therefore ensure that migrants, particularly women and children, are afforded basic human rights during passage and at destination countries. We also cannot ignore the innumerable push factors precipitating female migration.

Countries of origin should also implement programs and policies that safeguard women’s rights and empower them.
I firm believe that only through concerted action amongst all stakeholders can we create an environment that respects migrants and alleviates the socio-economic and cultural conditions that perpetuate migration.
I hope that today’s panel discussion will enrich our understanding of this phenomenon and engender more adept migration policies in our countries.