Clare Moody is European Parliament Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence and rapporteur on "EU fund for gender equality"
Faced with the challenges of climate change, global conflict and inequality, we are now seeing the largest movement of people to Europe since the Second World War. According to figures published by the United Nations, there are roughly 258 million people living in a country that is different from the one in which they were born. People move for many reasons: to escape conflict and violence or to pursue the undeniably human instinct of improving circumstances for themselves and their families.
Migration allows destination countries to reap significant benefits thanks to the transfer of knowledge, skills and innovative technology. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the crucial role that international migration plays in the development of a country’s economy.
For women, emigration often makes it easier to access opportunities in employment and education – areas from which they may have previously been restricted. It also offers alternatives to traditional social structures and promises an escape from negative cultural practices, of which Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage are some of the most notorious examples.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the crucial role that international migration plays in the development of a country’s economy
Through a combination of new earning powers and an exposure to contrasting gender norms, female migrants can inform and change social, cultural and political norms. In destination countries, these women have been able to reconfigure the gender dynamic within their own families and interrogate some potentially problematic attitudes on serious issues like domestic violence.
Remittances sent and received by women can have a positive effect on health, education and infant mortality rates. In certain countries, it has been found that women tend to remit a higher percentage of their salaries than men, prioritising nutrition, health and education over savings and investments for the future. What is more, these patterns of investment are often mirrored by women receiving remittances in their countries of origin.
However, our world is far from perfect. While international migration can benefit both countries of origin and destination countries, it is not always a wholly positive experience.
Women in particular face a specific set of challenges and risks. Their ability to make social and financial contributions in destination countries can be hindered by threats of exploitation and trafficking. Migrant women and girls are at risk of sexual violence at the hands of smugglers, criminals, gangs or individuals whilst travelling to their destination.
To ensure that migrant women are better protected from these risks so that they can continue to make a positive societal impact, the European Union must provide them with better employment opportunities and social support. It is also vital that the people providing those support services are properly trained to recognise the gender-specific issues facing women in these circumstances.
The European Parliament has repeatedly called for a holistic approach to migration in Europe, as seen in a number of Parliamentary resolutions that include this vital gender perspective. However, more work can be done. We must change the discourse around current patterns of migration. The stereotypes that are all too frequently invoked by a handful of media outlets and politicians across the continent are essentially scaremongering tactics designed to exploit a climate of fear, often perpetuating negative perceptions of migrants. Highlighting what migrant women can offer is an integral step in changing that narrative.
Solutions to conflict are more effective and long-lasting when women are involved
In the process of policymaking, women are conspicuously underrepresented. Despite being the primary victims of security, political and humanitarian crises, women are often excluded from solution-seeking bodies. To address this, we must be careful not to view migrant women exclusively as victims, but as active proponents of change.
A greater number of women in the political sphere amounts to a greater awareness of the impact that policymaking has on women and girls. When it comes to peacekeeping, the evidence proves that solutions to conflict are more effective and long-lasting when women are involved.
Revised means of developing gender sensitive migration policies in Europe are urgently needed. This includes addressing the gendered dimensions of migration and improving data collection on female migration so that policymakers are kept well informed.
It is vital to recognise the positive contribution that migrant women make to both destination countries and countries of origin and to ensure that these women remain at the foundation of our policymaking.
IMAGE CREDIT: CC/Flickr - World Bank Photo Collection