This study focuses on Ethiopian women traveling east towards Yemen and Saudi Arabia along what is known as the ‘Eastern Route’ through Djibouti or Somalia, across the Red or Arabian Sea into Yemen (most often with the intention of moving through Yemen towards Saudi Arabia). Based on interviews with Ethiopian women on the move, the study enables women’s voices to be heard and aims to better understand overall gendered dimensions of mixed migration. The study examines why and how Ethiopian women move in mixed migration movements, the modalities of their movement, support and access along their migration journeys and the protection risks they face.
The movement of Ethiopian women towards Yemen and Saudi Arabia is mainly comprised of women travelling with the aim of taking up low-skilled work opportunities in Saudi Arabia as domestic labourers. For most interviewed women, migration to Saudi Arabia is a temporary affair, to earn money and at some point, return to Ethiopia (and possibly later re-migrate).
The business of smuggling Ethiopian women along the Eastern Route from Ethiopia to Yemen was worth in excess of USD 15 million in 2019.
While many Ethiopian women indicated that they had made the decision to migrate alone, 4Mi data highlights that women’s migration decisions are also made within the constraints of social norms, relationships and expectations, highlighting their lowered agency and independence in comparison to men who migrate along the same route.
Smugglers become more influential in encouraging people to migrate the further people move away from home. Although the role of smugglers in initiating or influencing interviewees in their initial decision to leave or in starting a journey is very limited (4%), 60% of women indicated they had used smugglers once they departed.
Moving along mixed migration routes exposes women to multiple forms of intersectional discrimination and violence, but there is still limited knowledge about the status and fate of “missing” women (and girls) who arrive in Yemen and there is a need for further research on this section of women’s journeys.