C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Circene,
rapporteur for opinion
1 Current profile and misconceptions on migrant
1. The profile of migrant women has evolved over the
years. As indicated in Ms Frahm’s comprehensive report, today women
do not migrate solely as accompanying spouses. They increasingly
migrate independently and represent a growing share of the overall
2. This new trend in women’s migration is not appropriately taken
into account in the elaboration and implementation of immigration
and/or labour policies in Council of Europe member states. Migrant
women in the labour market suffer therefore double discrimination:
in relation to the population of the host country, as migrants,
and within the category of migrants, as women.
In countries of destination outside Europe, particularly in
the United States which has by far the world’s largest immigration
flow, migrant women have outnumbered men for several decades, the
turning point being the 1930s.Note
The gender composition of
immigration flows to Europe is following a similar path. Women represent
a growing share of the migration flux.
4. The growing presence of women in migration flows has not affected
the social perception of the phenomenon: migrants are still generally
assumed to be predominantly male, while women are believed to accompany
their spouses, to migrate later to reunite the family, or to create
a family by joining migrant men from the same country of origin.
5. Reality is different: women migrate because they are motivated
by poverty, climate change or the need to escape the discrimination
to which they are subjected on the labour market at home. More and
more of them take the decision to migrate autonomously, without
any pressure from their spouses or family members.
6. Moreover, the proportion of remittances that are sent by women
towards their countries of origin is growing. This means that migrant
women make a conspicuous contribution to the economy of the countries
of residence, but also of origin. As the primary recipients of the
remittances are close relatives, migrant women acquire an increasingly
prominent position within their families of origin. This happens
even in countries where gender roles are such that women would not
normally be expected to contribute financially to the family’s wealth.
7. I particularly welcome Ms Frahm’s remarks on the need to recognise
migrant women’s skills and qualification and improve regulation
of self-employment. As pointed out in the report, a large number
of migrant women are far from being unskilled. “Brain waste” should
be reduced both by helping skilled women to find jobs matching their
qualifications, and by creating a favourable environment for self-employment
and business creation.
2 To respond to mixed migration flows, gender-sensitive
migration and labour policies are necessary
8. Since migration to Europe was at first men-driven
and because of the misconception mentioned, the situation of migrant
women has been largely neglected by European policy makers and legislators
for a long time. This must change.
9. The process of migrating is experienced differently by women
and men. In addition, depending on the geographic area of origin
and destination, the type of work and its organisation, migration
can be sex-selective, involving a higher number of women or men.
In other words, migration is never gender-neutral.
10. Migration laws and policies should be gender-sensitive, in
order to take into account the particular characteristics of women
within the migration flux, as well as migrant women’s role in the
3 Undocumented migrant women
11. Undocumented migrant women face significant legal
and practical barriers to access social services and seek protection,
for example from trade unions, through women’s shelters or from
non-governmental organisations. They are therefore at higher risk
of violence and exploitation. When victims of gender-based and domestic
violence, undocumented migrant women often avoid reporting violence
to the competent authorities for fear of being deported.
12. I agree with the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population
that the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating
Violence against Women and Domestic Violence should apply to all migrant
women, irrespective of their legal status or absence of status.
The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men fully
supports this approach, which was endorsed in the Assembly’s opinion
on the draft convention.Note
the Committee of Ministers has not included an explicit reference
to migrant women without legal residence status in the convention.
14. I share Ms Frahm’s concern for the respect of human rights
of undocumented women. However, we should not lose sight of the
challenges faced by migrant women who have a legal entitlement to
reside and work in host countries.
4 Migrant female domestic workers
Migrant female domestic workers are reported to be
exploited both in sending and receiving countries.Note
Moreover, their work is undervalued.
As the preamble of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO)
future convention on decent work for domestic workers states: “domestic
work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mostly carried
out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of
historically disadvantaged communities and therefore particularly
vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment
and of work, and to other abuses of human rights”.
16. Domestic migrant workers who are employed illegally are in
constant fear of being discovered by the authorities. They are at
the mercy of their employers and they have absolutely no bargaining
power over their working conditions. Even those who work legally
are not necessarily recognised as workers with a full range of labour
17. Promoting the representation and defence of domestic workers’
rights and interests is difficult because of the isolated nature
of their work and other barriers of a cultural nature. Nevertheless,
attempts to create domestic workers’ organisations or to open existing
trade unions to them have been made in Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately,
migrant women’s participation in workers’ organisations is still
largely insufficient. Measures should be taken to promote their
active participation and representation within labour unions.
5 Trafficking in human beings and prostitution
18. Ms Frahm’s remarks on the need to set up appropriate
channels for legal migration of women are very pertinent: recognised
studies show that limiting regular migration encourages irregular
migration and trafficking in human beings.
Women and girls are particularly exposed to the latter, representing
80% of transnational victims globally.Note
great majority of them are trafficked for the purposes of sexual
20. In recent years, a number of European countries have decided
to legalise and regulate prostitution. This step was taken also
with a view to improving the working conditions, health and security
of prostitutes, and reduce their exploitation and the abuse they
are subjected to.
21. In addition to being rather controversial, these measures
have met with mixed results: the objectives only partially reached,
with legal prostitution acting as a magnet for human trafficking.
Women continue to be recruited with false allurements for a legal
job, they are forced to work as prostitutes, their identity documents are
illegally confiscated, and so on.
22. The Assembly must continue to promote the widest possible
signature and ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on
Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
6 Circular migration
23. A number of European countries have introduced schemes
for circular migration, in order to recruit migrant workers from
countries of origin with which there are special relations because
of historical and cultural links or geographic proximity. Under
these schemes, migrant workers receive short-term contracts for
a given period of time every year and go back to their country of
origin at the end of each contract.
24. Circular migration is used to meet the needs of sectors characterised
by labour-intensive seasonal work, especially agriculture. The proportion
of women amongst circular migrant workers is on the rise, particularly
in countries such as Spain and Italy.
25. Circular migration should be encouraged, as a way to provide
a response to migration pressure while helping close a labour gap
and meet the host country’s economic needs. However, it should be
closely monitored, in order to avoid migrant workers’ exploitation
and total dependence on their employers for the renewal of their