This is the first part of a series of blogpost on ARROW and partners’ engagements at the 51st Commission on Population and Development (CPD51), 9-13 April 2018, New York. Read the second part here.
The Commission on Population and Development is one of the ten functional commissions of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The goal of the Commission is the follow-up to the implementation of the Programme of Action (PoA) of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The Commission monitors, reviews and assesses the implementation of the Programme of Action at the regional, national and international levels. It is also responsible for tracking population changes and their effects on economic and social conditions.
The Commission meets once a year and the 47 member states that are part of the Commission negotiate and eventually agree on the text for the outcome document. A negotiated outcome document means greater transparency; it gives more opportunities for civil society groups to influence the outcome through seats on member delegations, or through influencing the delegation from their countries. More importantly for advocates of SRHR, it allows for the opportunity to advance the ICPD PoA in a very tangible way.
There is some cause for some apprehension, however; sometimes the Commission fails to produce an outcome document, as was the case in 2015 and 2017. This impasse is usually caused by a lack of consensus on the outcome document due to a number of member states not willing to accept a certain language, the watering-down of agreed language, or the lack of will to adhere to existing commitments.
Migration and Human Mobility – as much a South-South Issue as it is a North-South Issue
The 2018 theme – Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration – has been deemed ‘tricky’, given the current controversy-laden landscape on which the issue of migration is set. Therefore, it is certainly possible that traditional allies of the SRHR movement may not necessarily be on the same page in regards to migration.
Regardless, key stakeholders and the general public will do well to keep in mind that migration is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an entirely new discussion; after all, the CPD in 2013 – with the theme of New trends in migration: demographic aspects – did reach an outcome document. It is important that we do not regress on gains that were made five years ago!
There is also an urgent need to debunk the notion that migration is merely a North-South issue and rally the Southern member states in understanding the importance of looking at South-South Migration (SSM). In 2017, there were 62.1 million international migrants in the Asia Pacific region, an increase of more than 10 million migrants compared to 1990. The trends of labour migration in the region shows there are 150.3 million migrants in the world who are economically active. Over half – 83.7 million – are men, and 66.6 million women while Asia-Pacific hosts 17.2 per cent of migrant workers worldwide (25.8 million persons). In 2017, Asia-to-Asia constituted the largest regional migration corridor in the world, with some 63 million international migrants born in that region residing in another country of Asia.
However, the need to discuss SSM goes beyond the numbers. It is important to correct misperceptions that persist, and understanding key elements of SSM is an important first step in addressing related issues. SSM has a few key features: it tends to be more temporary; it involves migrations largely in the context of labour; contract based and migrants are usually more likely to return home (which also requires a larger discussions on reintegration of returnee migrants back into their home country); unstable migrant employment with high turnover caused by availability of cheap and unspecialised labour; migrants tend to be generally poorer, lower skilled and likely to engage in migration as survival strategy to escape poverty, lack of job opportunity and discrimination; occurs through shorter distance due to accessibility, low levels of risks, less costly or existence of regional or bilateral agreements; and lastly, migrants have higher chances of being irregular and undocumented.
The high rate of irregularity in South-South migration, coupled with weaker law enforcement in the South than in the North, implies that South-South migrants may face greater risks than North-South migrants. Women migrants have to deal with additional challenges as they face human rights violations based on their migrant status as well as based on their sex and gender.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women migrant workers are often subject to regulation by both countries of origin and destination. As women – and more so as women migrant workers – they are particularly susceptible to violence. Those who enter countries without proper documentation are even more vulnerable. They have less access to health facilities as a marginalized group whose mobility is restricted by employers and by the fear of law enforcers. Vulnerabilities are severe and acute among women migrants in unsupervised and unregulated sectors—such as domestic work—and include violence, exploitation, abuse and labour rights violations. Once women workers are in the country of employment, labour and immigration policies further curtail their SRHR. Many women experience restrictions in their freedom of movement, especially when employers confiscate their passports and identity documents. The politicised nature of migration and the conflicts arising from immigration policies, public health and human rights, present real challenges.
Many destination countries remain unwilling to recognise the human rights of migrant workers, including their SRHR. The imposition of mandatory HIV and pregnancy testing, for instance, is seen universally as violating a person’s right to privacy and bodily integrity, even as, ostensibily, immigration policies impose this requirement for workers behind the guise of public health. Low-skilled migrant workers undergo a dehumanisation process as ‘migrant stock,’ wherein they are disallowed to manifest their sexual and reproductive needs and enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights. Prohibition of marriage, pregnancy and childbirth takes away the agency of migrant women to make choices on their sexuality. Apart from direct violence from employers or other members of the household in which they work, women migrants are at risk of physical violence by state actors, such as police officers, customs officers or workers in detention centres. Migrant women workers are therefore exposed to violence in unconventional forms, including exploitative working conditions such as long working hours, non-payment of wages, forced confinement, starvation, beatings, rape, or sexual abuse and exploitation.
Addressing these issues require a multi-sectorial collaboration and multi-country approaches throughout the migration continuum, as well as commitment and political will of Southern member states. The outcome document of the 51st CPD needs to accurately reflect these trends in migration and address the needs of the most marginalised groups, to realise gender equality and human rights for all regardless of their immigration status.
A lot is riding on this session. An outcome document is pertinent as it has consequences beyond this one session. It will shape future policy directions as states come together to review the PoA in its 25th anniversary in 2019; in essence, it may very well determine the continued relevance of the ICPD. A negotiated outcome document from the CPD that has strong SRHR language will help to ensure women’s health and rights are prioritized, and that these issues are on the radar in countries around the world.
Watch this space as we bring you regular updates from the session in the coming days!
Programme Manager, Information & Communications for Change
 Campillo-Carrete, B. (2013). “South-South Migration: A review of the literature.” ISS Working Paper Series/General Series, 570(570), 1-98.
 IOM. (2010). Taking action against violence and discrimination affecting migrant women and girls fact sheet.