The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis that has revealed and exacerbated existing cracks in our societies such as major structural inequalities, especially gender inequalities. Photo: UNDP

I am surprised that time and time again, even with the COVID-19 crisis, the framework of the 2030 Agenda, and the commitment we have to leave no one behind, we still speak, think and act on development challenges and human mobility on neutral terms. "Migrants, migration" is still being used interchangeably in our organization to explain a phenomenon that highly differentiates between men and women as well as boys and girls.

Whenever we work on key issues for human development, we start by assuming that communities and social groups are "almost" homogeneous. As a result, the strategies and public policies used to address development challenges are often designed from a universal blueprint.  The problem is that, not only are these challenges far from homogeneous but to generalize, the male model and its reality are still used as the universal and determining one. However, the norm continues to be the male one.

Teresa left Venezuela in late 2018 with her partner Daniel, her 12-year-old daughter, and her 8-year-old son. To survive she sells food at a traffic light; getting up, cooking, preparing meals, selling at the crossroads are the activities she can do while she is with her son and daughter. The overlap of paid work and care work is a constant in women in general and even more so for migrant women. When Daniel, her partner, cannot find another job, he also accompanies her to the traffic lights. When he does not go, Teresa knows that she will face systematic sexual harassment. One day, a man sitting in his car touched her and told her that she was poor because she wanted to, as “her daughter's curves could feed her”. When Daniel found out, he decided that she would not go back to the traffic light and instead stay home. In a second she lost his livelihood (even if it was very precarious) and his presence in public space.

The life of women like Teresa revolves around domestic work, job insecurity, and family. In 2018, 62% of Venezuelan migrant women traveled with family members, compared to 42% of men[1], and 1 in 4 women traveled with children under 5 years (in contrast, only 1 in 10 men travel with children)[2]. For them, the family means material and emotional support as well as protection from sexual violence in public spaces. But families can also become a burden that distances them from their working lives. Without state and social networks, working and caring for their family becomes almost impossible for migrant women. Income shortages, precarious and multi-family housing, lack of water, light, and household appliances, the presence of children, who in many cases are not in school due to their migration status and currently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are the daily routine of many migrant women. Besides, many of them experience domestic violence and situations of discrimination and abuse that have increased with the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis that has revealed and exacerbated existing cracks in our societies such as major structural inequalities, especially gender inequalities. According to the United Nations Development Programme Human Development (UNDP) Report’s 2020, natural hazards such as heatwaves, severe floods, storms, landslides, and droughts create risks that affect migration, urbanization, inequality, and ecosystem degradation. Although migration is an adaptation strategy, social patterns of discrimination and exclusion often persist even after people move (Singh 2012).[3]

It is important to remember that migrant women, especially those involved in domestic care, are facing the greater potential for exposure when they maintain their economic activity, and when they are unable to do so, due to travel and mobility restrictions, they experience severe socio-economic consequences from the loss of income[4]. COVID-19 is an opportunity to reverse structural inequalities and realize the Agenda 2030 principle of leaving no one behind in achieving sustainable development. In this sense, it is important to react and abandon the biased view of migration which makes women invisible.

Even now, after many years of learning, data, and studies that explain gender inequalities and intra-household inequalities (in any of their multiple forms), migration policies and humanitarian aid conceive of the two-parent family as a unique and universal concept, and women - because they are good administrators and guarantee the good use of resources - as the only ones responsible for and implementing programs. Although these are practical and effective measures in the development and humanitarian contexts, it is time that we understood what a utilitarian model implies for women and the impacts it has on their time, workload, aspirations, and life expectations.

Although we do not yet have enough statistical data to precisely know the situation of women in migration in general, we do have enough information to make changes in the responses and put women with their decisions and proposals at the center and forefront of development, humanitarian, and recovery support programs.[5]

For example, for Venezuelan migrant women in Peru, we know that they have on average higher levels of formal education than migrant men (incomplete or complete higher technical or university education 62.6% and 53.6% respectively)[6]. Even so, their unemployment triples compared to men; they take longer to find work and earn 86.7% of what their equivalent male migrant counterparts earn. Half of them work in restaurants and cleaning houses, which are activities that only 19.6% of migrant men do[7].

Disqualification, as part of the loss of human capital, inmigration processes is a well-known problem that affects women and men. The return to the domestic space does not.

Understanding and transforming gender inequalities throughout the life cycle of individuals, considering their migratory status and ethnic-racial condition, is a central principle of sustainable development and human rights and is at the same time an ethical imperative that should guide our generation of data, public policies, global instruments, sectoral responses, and strategic alliances. At UNDP we have decided to bet on this path, and we are proud to have recently presented UNDP’s Regional Strategy on Human Mobility and Sustainable Development, which seeks to transform this way of seeing, thinking, and addressing the challenge of forced mobility in development contexts. 

 

 

  1. OIM. (2018). Analysis: Venezuelan migration flows  in South America. May 2018
  2.  DTM4 Ecuador. (2019). Monitoreo de Flujo de Población Venezolana: Ecuador Ronda 4. Quito: OIM.   Recuperado de https://reliefweb.int/report/ecuador/dtm-ronda-4-monitoreo-de-flujo-de-poblaci-n-venezolana-ecuador-marzo-2019
  3. PNUD. Informe de Desarrollo Humano (2020)
  4. PNUD, “Nota técnica: los impactos económicos del covid-19 y las desigualdades de género. Recomendaciones y lineamientos de políticas públicas”, 2020.
  5. La Encuesta sobre condiciones de vida de las personas venezolanas viviendo en Perú, aplicada en 5 ciudades que reúnen 85% de la población venezolana según censo de 2017, mide con precisión diversos aspectos de la condición de mujeres y hombres de nacionalidad venezolana viviendo en Perú en el año 2018.
  6. INEI. (2019). Condiciones de Vida de la Población Venezolana que reside en Perú. Resultados de la “Encuesta dirigida a la población venezolana que reside en el país” ENPOVE 2018. Lima: INEI.   Recuperado de https://data2.unhcr.org/es/documents/download/70521
  7. INEI. (2019). Condiciones de Vida de la Población Venezolana que reside en Perú. Resultados de la “Encuesta dirigida a la población venezolana que reside en el país” ENPOVE 2018. Lima: INEI.   Recuperado de https://data2.unhcr.org/es/documents/download/70521

 

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