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COVID-19 impacts on the labour migration and mobility of young women and girls in South-East Asia and the Pacific

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The IOM project “Supporting Brighter Futures: Young Women and Girls and Labour Migration in South-East Asia and the Pacific” resulted in a 2019 publication of the same name. Six experts contributed papers exploring issues that ranged from the role of adolescent and young girls as household income providers and the nexus between migration and education, to human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Collectively the papers paint a complex picture, raising challenging policy questions and highlighting gaps that need to be filled by further research.

While the papers address different components of a larger whole, a finding that emerges from each is that young migrant women and girls make significant contributions not only to their own prosperity and that of their families, but also to communities in sending and receiving countries. The “feminization” of migration is revealed not only as a by-product of economic and social development, but also as a key driver of this development. Accordingly, female empowerment is a theme that threads throughout the report, with gender equality being the common aspect underpinning its policy recommendations.

The picture of course, is not so simplistically sunny; labour migration and mobility pose significant challenges for young women and girls who migrate or whose family members do. Here, Brighter Futures emphasizes the need for a stronger evidence base to inform policy and programme responses to labour migration, labour rights and protection, as well as the gender dimensions that impact countries and communities of origin, transit and destination. In building understanding of female labour mobility as a determinant of development, the call is made to track the structural socioeconomic factors that drive harmful forms of migration, as well as the changing agency of young women and girls.

Yet 2019 already seems like a different era of history. Since Brighter Futures was published, COVID-19 and the measures taken in response to it have shifted the world in ways yet to be fully fathomed. Migration policy and programmatic responses are in rapid flux, and our understanding of the implications is constantly evolving. However, the disproportionate toll on female migrants is already clear, as is their leading role at the frontline of efforts to confront the pandemic. Against this shifting background, this paper offers speculative reflections on some policy implications that these shifts may have on the overarching and interrelated economic, social, cultural and structural findings of the report, and the gender dimensions at play in South-East Asia and the Pacific.

International Organization for Migration
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