5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Women and girls on the Move: Towards Safer Work and Migration for Women

Assessing Determinants of Vulnerability and Women’s Empowerment through Migration

High-level panel - Auditorium
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
09:30 to 11:00

Migration is one of the defining features of the 21st century contributing significantly to all aspects of economic and social development, and as such will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Safe, orderly and regular migration, allow women to develop their skills, flourish as entrepreneurs, and contribute to economic growth. The 2030 Agenda explicitly recognizes the economic value of migrants; but women and girls, representing 48 per cent of all international migrants, are still exposed to gender specific vulnerabilities. This High Level Panel, moderated by the Swiss Agency for development and cooperation, will discuss how the EU and its partners can empower women and girls to improve their socioeconomic status.

Key points

  • The human and civil rights of migrants must be guaranteed in all circumstances.
  • Women represent half of all migrants.
  • Women send home half of all remittances, even though they generally earn less than men. Ending the gender wage gap would likely boost remittances.
  • Many migrant women help fulfil growing demand in healthcare and domestic services. This helps free European women from these chores so they can pursue professional careers.
  • The entire value chain of human trafficking must be criminalised.
  • Poor governance is a leading “push factor” for people who end up in refugee camps or seek greener pastures elsewhere.


Europe and the world should take a positive view of migration. As goods and services move across borders, it makes sense that people will do the same. Destination countries must respect the human and civil rights of migrants in all circumstances. For women, this would include access to reproductive services.

The feminisation of migration has been a hot topic for many years. Women now make up half of all migrants. They often work in healthcare and domestic services. Both fields are experiencing growing demand in Europe and other parts of the world. When migrants take over such chores, it takes the burden off European women who can more easily pursue professional careers.

Healthcare and domestic work tend to rank on the low end of the pay scale. Domestic work is particularly hard to regulate; often it is informal. Since it is diffuse and takes place in family homes, it is hard for labour inspectors to track. Meanwhile, only 39 countries have ratified Convention 189 of the International Labour Organization that covers the sector.

Women migrants contribute to their country of origin by sending half of all remittances home – even though they earn less, on average, than men due the gender wage gap. Eliminating that would probably boost remittances, which in most countries are significantly more important than foreign aid. Many South Asian countries have become highly dependent on remittances from women working abroad, many in the Persian Gulf region. By contributing to development, remittances may stave off future waves of migration.

Most human trafficking involves women and girls. Generally, these individuals are looking for new opportunities abroad and end up being exploited by criminal gangs. Because people make money, it is important to look at the business model. The entire value chain should be criminalised. This would include people who help transport, feed and house the victims, as well as those who knowingly use the services provided by and goods produced by trafficked individuals. Law enforcement should follow the money trail.

The Migrant Forum in Asia, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, provides orientation for prospective migrants before they leave their countries of origin and helps them establish peer-to-peer social networks that can provide support once they move abroad. It advocates for migrant rights on the national and international levels.

Bad governance represents an important “push factor” for migrants who leave their home countries. They are forced out by violence or enticed by better opportunities elsewhere. Good governance might encourage more people to try to make a go of it at home.


Better data collection and analysis is needed. Results should be disaggregated to help better understand the specific realities of particular groups, including women.

Organised by


Thomas Gass
Assistant Director General
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
Laura Thompson
Deputy Director General, Ambassador
International Organisation for Migration
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Executive Director
UN Women
Myria Vassiliadou
EU Anti-Trafficking Coordinator
European Commission
Isatou Jarra Touray
Minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment
The Republic of the Gambia
William Gois
Regional Coordinator
Migrant Forum in Asia
Esther Nakajjigo
Young Leader - Uganda
Audrey Le Guével
Director Brussels Office
International Labour Organization