Women migrant workers around the world have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many working in essential but low-paid, vulnerable and often unregulated jobs such as work in health, care, laundry, cleaning and agriculture, placing them at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. Others have faced layoffs and unemployment due to the pandemic, often leaving them with no income and no benefits. Women migrant workers face a higher risk of losing their livelihoods, and often have limited or no access to health services. They are more likely to work in the informal economy, especially the domestic service and care sector, with insecure contracts and no paid leave or ability to work from home. Their jobs are generally excluded from contributory social insurance schemes, which means limited or no social safety nets to compensate for lost income and limited or no access to health care or paid family and medical leave.
Many migrant women were unable to return to their countries of origin due to lock-down measures and travel bans, with many having lost their jobs or experiencing reduced work hours and pay. Those migrants that could return experienced high rates of stigma and discrimination, being blamed for spreading COVID-19 as well as facing a lack of job opportunities. The pandemic has exacerbated migrant women’s increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) at all stages of migration, particularly those with irregular migration status, or sexual and gender minorities who are least likely to report violence due to discrimination or fear of arrest or deportation. The pandemic has also increased migrant women’s and girls’ vulnerability to trafficking in persons. Rising poverty and the inability to gain access to decent work may lead women to seek risky economic opportunities and face a heightened risk of coercion, abuse and trafficking.
At the same time, there have been significant disruptions in the provision of essential services for the prevention and treatment of SGBV owing to containment measures, making it even more difficult for migrant women to seek support. Some of them may also be afraid of seeking medical help, such as getting tested or accessing treatment, because of a fear of arrest and/or deportation. Migrant women—and particularly those that are undocumented—may also have been excluded from COVID-19 emergency relief packages from governments, despite their increased care burden and reduced job opportunities. It is critical that the specific vulnerabilities of migrant women and girls during the pandemic are recognized and addressed as part of the implementation of the GCM.
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