Sexual and gender-based violence against migrant women and girls occurs throughout the migration cycle. It can be a driver of migration from countries of origin, and is also common during transit and in situ in destination countries. It happens at home, at work and in public, and can take the form of intimate partner violence, transactional sex, workplace harassment and exploitation, or trafficking, among others. Women with irregular migration status are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse.

Women may use smuggling networks to facilitate irregular migration, due to high cost of regular migration, restrictions on their movement, or lack of regular opportunities. In addition, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are often targeted for these forms of violence in countries of origin, transit and while in detention. Despite the prevalence of SGBV, care must be taken to avoid characterizing migrant women and girls and gender-diverse individuals generically as a vulnerable group, and instead focus on identifying specific inequalities and contexts that may place certain subgroups of migrants in a disproportionately vulnerable position and, therefore, in need of protection.

The Global Compact for Migration commits to addressing and reducing vulnerabilities in migration Gender-responsive actions include reviewing relevant policies and practices to ensure they do not unintentionally contribute to migrant women’s vulnerability. Such measures may create an opportunity to make visible and address gender inequalities in pathways for regular migration, thereby reducing women migrants’ reliance on smugglers for transport. The Migration Compact also calls for providing migrants in a situation of vulnerability with necessary support, including cases related to women at risk, sexual and gender-based violence, domestic workers, and trafficking victims (GCM, 23b); developing gender-responsive migration policies to address the particular needs and vulnerabilities of migrant women, girls and boys, which may include assistance, health care, psychological and other counselling services, as well as access to justice and effective remedies, especially in cases of sexual and gender-based violence, abuse and exploitation (GCM, 23c); addressing workplace-related vulnerabilities for domestic workers and those working in the informal economy (GCM, 23d).

Additional resources:

Beijing Platform for Action (1995)
  • The Beijing Platform for Action articulated a vision for women to live their lives free from violence. Migrant women, including women migrant workers, are noted as being particularly vulnerable to violence and other forms of abuse (art. 116).
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (2017) General recommendation 35 on gender-based violence against women.
  • In 2017 the CEDAW Committee issued this recommendation to update General recommendation 19. It highlights that women in the context of migration often face a heightened risk of violence.
International Labour Organization (2019) Convention 190 and recommendation 206 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.
  • The convention recognizes the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, while the recommendation requires members to take legislative or other measures to protect all migrant workers, in particular women migrant workers, regardless of migration A/74/235 19-12733 3/18 status, in origin, transit and destination countries, from violence and harassment in the world of work
UN General Assembly (2019) Violence against women migrant workers: Report of the Secretary-General
  • This report outlines the current context with respect to the problem of violence against women migrant workers. It provides information on the measures taken by Member States and activities undertaken within the United Nations system to address this issue and ensure the protection of migrant women’s human rights. The report concludes with recommendations for future action.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children (A/HRC/44/45)
  • This report analyses protection gaps in the legal and policy framework to prevent and combat trafficking, and argues for profound changes in the current approach to antitrafficking action, which tends to prioritize investigation and prosecution of traffickers over victims’ support, empowerment and long-term social inclusion. It also recognizes that restrictive migration policies contribute to exacerbate vulnerabilities to trafficking and severe exploitation, and hamper the protection of trafficked persons’ rights.
Report of the Commission on the Status of Women, 63rd session (23 March 2018 and 11–22 March 2019), E/2019/27-E/CN.6/2019/19
  • In the agreed conclusions adopted at its 63rd session, the Commission on the Status of Women underscored the importance of protecting labour rights and a safe environment for women migrant workers, noting that migrant women, in particular those who are employed in the informal economy and in less skilled work, are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (2017) Principles and Guidelines, supported by practical guidance, on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations
  • This includes specific guidelines on how to protect the human rights of women and girls in migration, and how to ensure human rights-based and gender-responsive migration governance.

Click on the thematic area Violence and Vulnerabilities to learn more.

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