April 26, 2013

New York–The Resolution of the 46th Session of the Commission on Population and Development recognized the centrality of meeting the needs of women and young people through migration policies and programs that respect and protect human rights.

“We are pleased that governments have committed to respecting the rights and meeting the needs of migrant women and girls, given the large numbers of women who migrate for work around the world today,” said Françoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition. “This agreement makes clear that health services for migrant women must include sexual and reproductive health services, including vital services for migrants who have suffered violence such as emergency contraception and safe abortion.”

In recent years, demographic patterns have shifted dramatically. Today, more women are migrating than ever before, representing nearly half of the total international migrant population, and in some countries, as much as 70 to 80 percent. During the process of migration, women and girls tend to be more vulnerable to human rights violations, particularly breaches of their sexual and reproductive health and rights including violence and sexual coercion.

The negotiations during the weeklong Commission reached tense levels over issues of whether and to what extent migrants should have access to services. The European Union and Canada, in particular, strongly opposed extending services to all migrants regardless of migration status. For its part, the Holy See once again argued against sexual and reproductive health and rights and claimed not to see any connection between sexual and reproductive health and migration, turning a blind eye to the clear needs of migrant women and girls. The Holy See was joined by conservative governments such as Nigeria, Egypt, and Qatar. In the end, however, they were unable to thwart consensus.

In recognition of the realities faced by women and girls, the Resolution urged governments to “incorporate a gender perspective into all policies and programmes on international migration,” and to “strengthen actions to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence, coercion, discrimination, trafficking in persons, and exploitation and abuse of women and girls.” Furthermore, the Resolution called upon governments to adopt or strengthen measures to prevent “discrimination, sexual harassment, violence and sexual abuse in the workplace, including in domestic work.”

Migrant women and adolescents are also at increased risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections due to lack of access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health care. In some countries, young migrants who get pregnant or acquire a sexually transmitted infection, such as HIV, face imprisonment or deportation.

The Resolution called upon governments to “provide services that are particularly sensitive to the needs of individual women and adolescents… with particular attention to those who are victims of sexual violence.” It further called upon governments to provide migrants with access to sexual and reproductive health services, information and education, and services to prevent violence. These services include emergency contraception, safe abortion, and HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support. When health care services are available, migrants often have to pay more than permanent residents for health insurance.

The Resolution paid particular attention to the rights of young migrants, especially girls, recognizing that “young people, including young migrants, are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection because of social and economic factors and other inequities, including stigma and discrimination, gender-based and sexual violence, gender inequality and violations, and lack of accurate information on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and access to sexual and reproductive health, including HIV-related services.”

In addition, the Resolution encouraged governments to identify and review “HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence in order to eliminate them.” The United States and China recently repealed their own travel restrictions on people living with HIV. Such restrictions increase stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV.

The Resolution also called upon governments to work to mobilize the resources required to realize the “migration, development, and human-rights related objectives” of the ICPD Programme of Action, and ensure that resources are used “in full alignment with the needs and priorities of developing countries.”