Increasingly women are migrating as part of what used to be predominantly male worker flows and are becoming the principal wage earners for their families, but in the search for economic gain, they are also becoming more vulnerable to trafficking, a United Nations report says.
"At no time in human history have as many women been on the move as today," says the 2004 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Women and International Migration, which was launched today in conjunction with the 10-year review of the outcomes of the 1995 Beijing conference on women by the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Growing numbers of women are migrating on their own rather than as family members, the chief of the UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs (DESA), José Antonio Ocampo, told a press briefing to launch the report.
Women are empowering themselves as they either take on new roles in their host countries or learn to cope at home with the absence of a migrant husband, he said.
About 90 million women around the world form 49 per cent of migrants, up from 46 per cent in 1960, he said, but he acknowledged that data collection on women migrants needs improving.
The difference between the smuggling of undocumented workers and trafficking is that undocumented people might pay to be transported across borders in search of better life prospects, while the trafficked, also looking for legitimate occupations, find themselves trapped into prostitution, forced marriage, domestic work, sweatshops and other forms of contemporary slavery, the report says.
Carolyn Hannan, the Director of DESA's Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), told the briefing it is important to reduce the supply of trafficked persons by informing the public about the dangers of trafficking and, on the other hand, to examine and reduce the demand by traffickers, those who exploited the trafficked and officials who might be supporting them.
Economic opportunities in their home countries and channels for legal migration can prevent women from being lured into trafficking networks, she said. Responses to trafficking should balance prevention and prosecution by protecting the rights of trafficked persons because harsh punishments for undocumented workers could make trafficked people afraid to report their situation.
The author of the study, Susan Martin, an expert on international migration from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, said a small but important percentage of migrants, about 10 per cent, are refugees and about 75 per cent of refugees are women and their dependent children.
Wars, conflicts, repressive policies, fear of persecution for religious, ethnic or political reasons, as well as gender-based violations, like female genital mutilation, honour killings and domestic abuse, persuade women to seek asylum in other countries, Dr. Martin said.
The report recommends educating such women so they could become literate, have access to livelihoods and make informed decisions about their own lives, she said.