International Women's Day: Honoring Migrant Women


Story by Kezia Carpenter, PhD, LMHC, Greater New York Region, RFL Volunteer

International Women’s Day was established by the United Nations on March 8, 1975. This day offers a time to reflect upon the valuable role women play in societies across the globe.  As a volunteer in International Services Restoring Family Links (RFL)— a Red Cross service that aims to reunite family members separated by conflicts, disasters or migration—it is a time to recognize women who embark upon international migration on behalf of their own and/or their family’s survival.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), migrant women comprise half of the international migrant population or a total of approximately 111 million. Women and girls also make up half of the forced migration or refugee population. Although still a motivator for many women, migration is no longer limited to family reunification purposes. Women offer high- and low-skilled labor and increasingly migrate for their own and their family’s economic wellbeing. However, many women must resort to an irregular means of migration as they attempt to address unemployment, poverty, and crisis in their countries of origin. Irregular migration presents complex challenges for women, including planned and unplanned family separation.

Recent data reported by IOM highlights both the challenges and opportunities of migration. First, migration increases inequalities between countries of origin and destination. Women are more vulnerable to exclusion, poverty, illness, exploitation, and violence. In situations of displacement, these risks—particularly discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence—can be exacerbated. Women need better access to reproductive health services, personal safety and security. Despite vulnerabilities and protection needs, women’s remittances stimulate local economies in their country of origin and are a critical source of social protection for their families. Women are significant contributors to development efforts. Through grass roots initiatives women mobilize social and political change (such as Women Circle Project in Senegal, Pourakhi NGO in Nepal), as well as peace building and reconstruction.

As International Women’s Day highlights, and a Chinese proverb rightfully states, women hold up half the sky. Women are essential agents of change and must be thoughtfully engaged in international development and crisis planning processes.  International Services RFL continues to champion women, offering critical assistance as they embark on their planned and unplanned migration journeys. Today we honor the strength, resiliency, and contributions of migrant women around the globe.

For more on the International Organization for Migration, click here.

For more on forced migration, click here.

For more on International Women’s Day, click here.