Global Compact on Migration and gender

The Global Compact for Migration: what could it mean for women and gender relations?

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December 2020

By Carolina Gottardo & Paola Cyment, Women in Migration Network

Gender & Development Journal - ISSN: 1355-2074 (Print) 1364-9221 (Online) Journal homepage:

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This article examines the process to elaborate the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) from a gender-responsive perspective. It takes into consideration the advocacy role that the Women in Migration Network (WIMN) and other civil society stakeholders played in its development, identifies the various opportunities and gaps within the GCM, and explores how migrant women's organizations and development organizations can promote change for women in migration using the Global Compact. The authors are both members of the Women in Migration Network (WIMN), which has been actively involved in multi-stakeholder dialogues, consultations, and inter-governmental negotiations in order to promote a gender-responsive approach to migrati​on governance. WIMN seeks to ensure that women's rights standards are fully promoted and upheld in accordance with international human rights instruments, and to advance the rights of women and girls at all stages of migration.

Gender is a cross-cutting issue in migration and development that applies a specific lens in every area to explore causes and consequences, and to identify specific policy requirements. The article considers an intersectional gender analysis to view migration, which explores the social and economic roles assigned to women and men in society and how these roles shape women's circumstances. This includes women's power to negotiate on their own terms and to claim rights. Women live at the intersection of multiple identities and multiple oppressions that allow for greater or lesser levels of power. They often experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination at all stages of migration, not only as women and as migrants, but also based on (but not limited to) the grounds of race, nationality, migration status, marital and family status, age, sexual orientation and gender identity, pregnancy, parenthood, nationality, class, ethnicity, religion or belief, and/or disability.

Women (and specifically poor, migrant, women of color/racial minorities, lower-caste women) provide unpaid labor for the social reproduction of the household (caregiving, food production), and they are similarly concentrated within these roles in the paid economy. SGBV is a reality in all countries and at all levels. Women migrate while navigating livelihoods, protection of their families, safety, and rights. The migration journey becomes more complex for women who are marginalized by race, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, migration status, and other factors.

Gender in the GCM: what was achieved and what is missing

The GCM was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 2018. The GCM's guiding principles include gender-responsiveness, promoting gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls, and recognizing women as agents and drivers of change, moving away from a lens of victimhood. Gender is also mentioned in 19 out of the 23 objectives of the GCM. This was in part the result of advocacy from key actors involved in the consultations and negotiation process, including champion members states, the UN Women expert group on gender and addressing the human rights of women in the GCM and WIMN.

Despite the fact that gender has been mainstreamed in the GCM and is part of the guiding principles, there is no specific objective on gender, as is the case with the SDGs, and thus there are various gaps that need to be addressed. It is also problematic that SGVB is only mentioned tangentially in the document, as part of one of the objectives, but not addressed in a comprehensive manner, despite the alarming impact of SGVB on women in migration.

The GCM does not address the need for full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all migrant women. It is also silent about the special needs and rights of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. Neither does it mention or address the rights of LGBTQI migrants or non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The GCM also has a strong focus on promoting development from a market-oriented perspective, in terms of supply and demand. In this sense the gender-responsive perspective also risks becoming dependent on market needs, instrumentalizing women migrant workers as merely economic resources for the development of countries of origin and destination without recognizing their agency and guaranteeing their full access to rights. Such omissions set back efforts by member states, civil society and other stakeholders to create the conditions where migrants – including migrant women and girls – can fully enjoy their rights as established in international law.

 Looking forward: how to promote change for women in migration under the GCM

The GCM represents an opportunity to ensure that women in migration are at the center of development policies and practices as agents of change and leaders in their own communities and beyond. Women and migrant organizations also need to be central to meaningful implementation efforts and to local initiatives, influencing regional and international dimensions. The GCM is rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides the foundation on which the implementation of the GCM will take place at local and national levels.

More importantly, development organizations should pursue these goals by promoting women and migrant women organizations as key agents of change. There is a need for the development sector to move from merely promoting women's roles, through the lens of economic growth and through remittances, into adopting a rights-based approach to advocacy and programme work that brings migrant women to the fore. In order to pursue this goal, the development sector should appropriately resource and support women's rights and feminist organizations working on these issues at local and national levels.

In addition, global instruments such as the GCM and the SDGs need to be complemented by capacity-building efforts and resourcing of local and national actors, in order to echo the messages coming from national and local organizations representing women's rights, migrant rights and social justice activism.

Ultimately, the main challenge of the GCM is to ensure a gender-responsive implementation, and to follow up and review at national, regional, and global levels to ensure that women in migration are not left behind and that the GCM has a real impact on their lives. Gender-responsive commitments in the GCM must be translated into practice so that all women and girls in migration, including LGBTQI women and girls, can realize their rights. Gender should not be side-lined or left as mere words on a page.