The situation of migrant women is critical. Currently they comprise approximately half the world migrant population. It can be observed that international migration has become increasingly feminized as more women migrate on their own and not as a dependent member of a family. On moving for work abroad, many women gain opportunities that they would not have in their country of origin and, therefore, migration economically empowers them, allowing them to contribute in a constructive way to the destination countries, as well as to their families in their countries of origin.

Women are particularly at risk of discrimination, abuse and exploitative treatment when they are migrant workers. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors how States Parties apply the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, issued a General Recommendation on this subject in 2009. The Recommendation provides a comprehensive overview of the situation and issues facing migrant women.

The following extract summarizes the principal concerns:

  • While migration presents new opportunities for women and may be a means for their economic empowerment through wider participation, it may also place their human rights and security at risk. 
  •  The position of female migrants is different from that of male migrants in terms of legal migration channels, the sectors into which they migrate, the forms of abuse they suffer and the consequences thereof.
  • There are countries whose Governments sometimes impose restrictions or bans on women’s employment in particular sectors. Whatever the situation, women migrant workers face additional hazards compared to men because of gender-insensitive environments that do not allow mobility for women, and that give them little access to relevant information about their rights and entitlements. 
  • Women migrant workers often suffer from inequalities that threaten their health… As women have health needs different from those of men, this aspect requires special attention.
  • Women migrant workers are sometimes subjected to sex-discriminatory mandatory HIV/ AIDS testing or testing for other infections without their consent, followed by provision of test results to agents and employers rather than to the worker herself. This may result in loss of job or deportation if test results are positive. 
  • Discrimination may be especially acute in relation to pregnancy. Women migrant workers may face mandatory pregnancy tests followed by deportation if the test is positive; coercive abortion or lack of access to safe reproductive health and abortion services, when the health of the mother is at risk, or even following sexual assault.
  • Women migrant workers are more vulnerable to sexual abuse, sexual harassment and physical violence, especially in sectors where women predominate. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual assault, food and sleep deprivation and cruelty by their employers.