The migration generation: Gender-based violence and access to employment

Woman carrying a baby and holding hands with a child in a refugee camp

ACU Summer School unites students from every corner of the Commonwealth to discuss multidisciplinary issues of global importance.

In 2020 delegates from across the Commonwealth came together to examine themes linked to migration, including: climate change, youth labour market participation, social media, health, and intergovernmental partnerships.

In this series of blogs three groups write about their projects.

In groups, students delivered a presentation on a topic linked to migration before a panel of judges. In this series of blogs, the three winning groups write about their ACU Summer School 2020 projects. This group presented on migration as an adaptation strategy to climate change and came third place.

Whilst voluntarily moving from one’s home to a new location can be exciting, forced migration can be abusive and exploitative. Gender-based violence (GBV) and access to employment remain strongly interlinked with migration. These factors can influence both the reason a person migrates and their experiences in the host country.

As a marginalised community, migrants are particularly vulnerable to the deeply rooted power imbalances and gender inequalities at play in labour migration and GBV. To protect the safety, rights, and welfare of migrants, we need to:

  1. Adopt a gender-sensitive approach to consider the differentiated needs of women and children.
  2. Implement policies which recognise the potential of skilled emigrants.

Migration and gender based violence 

Female migrants experience greater difficulties due to intersectional discrimination. In some cases, those experiencing GBV use migration as an escape route from violence and abuse in the hope of finding better living conditions and protection.

Underage female migrants are particularly vulnerable in Ghana, with many engaging in prostitution or experiencing sexually exploitation. Often this is in exchange for protection whilst living on the streets or in refugee camps.

The United Kingdom’s migration trends, patterns, and policies have been informed and shaped by relationships with its former colonies. Within the migrant population, women and children are considered at greater risk of GBV, especially those belonging to Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities.

Intersectional discrimination prevents BAME women from reporting GBV and seeking legal support, particularly when they suffer from uncertain immigration status. Many immigrant women are discouraged from reporting abuse due to the fear of deportation and/or loss of their children’s custody.

Additionally, some communities allow socio-cultural practices that are often expressed through abuse (e.g. forced marriage and female genital mutilation). Using harmful practices within the family or household is seen as a powerful tool to control women.

For some female South Asian migrants in the UK, feelings of relief are found from having physically, psychologically, and symbolically moved away from societies that reinforced the normality of GBV. However, for others these issues persist as family, culture, and faith are part of their identity. To abandon their families because of GBV is seen as a significant loss and a lack of respect. 

As these examples demonstrate, women and children are particularly vulnerable to deep rooted power imbalances and gender inequalities. This highlights a need to explore solutions which consider the differentiated needs of women and children.

Access to employment 

We need policies which recognise the potential of skilled migrants. Migration contributes to  the size and skill of labour forces. Notably, labour migration has contributed to socioeconomic transformation in developed and developing countries across the world.

The successful integration of migrants in host countries is key to capitalising on the knowledge and skills of migrants and refugees. However, employment and language communication skills can serve as barriers to migrants’ integration in host countries. Refugees are often stressed financially and have less ability to work. In times of crisis, there are limited opportunities to receive formal language training.

For example, Canada – a country which prides itself as a country of migrants – struggled to host large numbers of refugees during the Syrian refugee crisis. Over 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada between December 2015 and February 2016. The Canadian government struggled to facilitate the integration of migrants and refugees into mainstream society. This was made evident by lengthy waiting times for language courses. As a result, many refugees missed out on employment opportunities due to language barriers. 

This is a prime example of a failure to capitalise on the skills of migrants. Moving forward, we need policies which recognise, nurture, and develop the skills of migrants.

Looking forward

Migration as a global phenomenon cannot be prevented or stopped. It imperative, therefore, that we invest in global efforts to protect the safety of migrants and refugees as much as possible.

Although GBV and labour migration presents itself differently in different cultural contexts, they tend to originate from existing, deeply rooted gender inequalities and power imbalances. These gender inequalities and power differentials deeply shape individual welfare.

To protect the safety, rights, and welfare of migrants and refugees, we need to:

  • Adopt a gender-sensitive approach which considers the specificity of the differentiated needs of migrant and refugee women and children as the most vulnerable. Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment is key, particularly for BAME women and girls who are discriminated against on the basis of their gender, faith, race, ethnicity and immigration status. GBV poses a barrier to the equal treatment and participation of women in the political, economic, and social arena (World Bank Group, 2019), thus their level of autonomy to make decisions for themselves is also very much limited.
  • Ensure that every country has a strategic policy framework to manage both current and future migration. Working conditions, documentation, incentive packages, support programmes and sustenance of linkages with emigrants and migrants must be considered and improved. When supported by appropriate policies, migration can contribute to inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development in both home and host communities.
ACU Summer School Student PowerPoint presentation Group D


Sharonrose Asiaw, University of Cape Coast, Ghana

Rachel Baylis, University of Southampton, United Kingdom

Stefano Brambati, University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Brady Podloski, York University, Canada

Zikiru Shaibu, University of Cape Coast, Ghana

Baimba Osman, University of Sierra Leone