Story by Nadia Kalinchuk, National Headquarters, Outreach Coordinator and Caseworker for the Americas
March 8th marked International Women’s Day, next week is women’s studies week, and this month we celebrate women’s history. With these days and weeks that make up a month on my mind, I have had time to reflect on the work of reconnecting families and the role of women, girls and migration.
In the last few weeks, two reports came out about unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the US. Both provide perspectives to a phenomenon that has been unfolding since 2011: the surge of unaccompanied minors. A report by Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) examines the complex legal system the minors encounter once they are in custody. The second UNHCR report investigates the reasons for migration by interviewing 400 unaccompanied minors. Through these interviews with minors from El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, the report reveals that children are fleeing violence and harm involving both interpersonal and criminal actors. With projections of unaccompanied minors reaching as high as 60,000 this year, the importance of these issues cannot garner enough attention. .
Upon reading more on women and migration, I stumbled onto this anecdote from a series examining migration: “Elsy Nohelia Ayala, 24, begins to cry when she realizes she forgot photos of her two children when she left her home in Honduras headed for the U.S. Ayala did not want to leave her children, but her mother asked her to accompany her brother in fleeing the country after gang members threatened to kill him.”
To me this story clearly reflects the choices faced by women and girls fleeing violence and the mothers who encourage their children to leave. These choices are not without sacrifice or anguish, and in many circumstances, a family matriarch is compelling the family to stay together or trying to find the safest way for her children to escape a dangerous situation.
In my daily life as a mother raising two daughters, I find that there is a need to not only discuss how these issues of migration and protection affect women and girls, but to also link these discussions to actions that improve outcomes. Yesterday, during the launch of the report of the unaccompanied minor, I sat in a room full of women. It was a comment that my male colleague made note of, “always so many women at these events.” I looked behind me and agreed, as I saw women peeling off their coats and multipurpose bags, intended to carry laptops, diapers and wipes. Many, if not all of the women in the room, were and are working for the protection of the child. This is an action they commit to everyday, improving the lives and outcomes of children, advocating for their legal rights as well as access to important psychosocial support. Their names may never be heard on the news, and they may never receive recognition, but they do what they can daily to improve the outcomes of unaccompanied children.
On this international women’s day, I celebrate the strength of women and girls trying to find safety, those working to keep their families together and the women advocating for the social support and understanding needed to help unaccompanied and separated children.