Studies have shown that nearly half of all migrant workers globally are women. Although in Africa female migration is fundamentally a recent trend, African women are moving out of their countries in order to ensure their economic independence. These women tend to be young, unmarried and in their reproductive years. For many, marriage occurs once they settle in their new domicile, that domicile is more likely to be in Africa than Europe or the USA. Now more than ever, African women are leaving their husbands home with their children in pursuit of better paying jobs abroad.
Women on the move across borders are more likely to be victims of discrimination, exploitation and abuse. With so many female citizens on the move across African borders any freedom of movement policies, national and international laws developed to regulate such movement must take them and their needs into consideration. The AU has made the freedom of movement of people a priority. It acknowledges that movement of people across borders can contribute significantly to African countries’ economies. However, such a contribution can only come about if, according to the AU, it is managed holistically. It prioritized the enhancing of women’s empowerment and gender equality as part of its migration and development policy back in 2006. The AU has thus acknowledged that as part of Africa’s development, migration and women’s empowerment and gender equality are interdependent. Consequently, economic advantages of freedom of movement will only be truly achieved if, in initiating any new policies and protocols, the AU pays particular attention to the needs of female migrants. For example, in regulating freedom of movement it must take into consideration the possibility of free borders being exploited by criminal gangs to traffic women and girls. The AU must ensure that its member states make concerted efforts to educate their citizens about the real possibility of free borders being used to trafficking women and girls. Further, the AU must impress upon its member states the need to protect migrant women and girls from discrimination, exploitation and abuse by enacting and, or, enforcing human rights laws in line with continental and international human rights norms. There must be uniform basic human rights standards and their application so as to empower women and create gender equality if freedom of movement is to tangibly encourage development.
By Dr Yitiha Simbeye