Women on the Move – With New Risks


By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Migration, mainly viewed as a passage of hope by the economically depressed in society, has emerged as one of the major factors contributing to poignant vulnerabilities among women and children. The State of World Population Report 2006 launched yesterday by the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) reveals that migration, which in the past was usually common among men, has today seen a lot of women move both internally and internationally in search of greener pastures. “Women constitute almost half of all migrants and dominate in migration streams to developed countries,” states the UNFPA report. Mainly involved in the caring and wellbeing of families, women around the globe have become mobile and unfortunately this has placed them in even more vulnerable positions where they are exposed to human rights abuses. UNFPA Country Representative Nuzhat Ehsan says 95 million women in the world work behind the scenes while their work is usually unrecognized. This could be attributed to the characteristics that have been attached to these jobs. The report says these jobs are regarded as dirty, difficult, demeaning and dangerous. This is also true to the Namibian set-up where domestic work offers Namibians, mainly young women migrating to urban areas, the path to a better future, an escape from poverty, and improved health and education for their children. Due to the nature of their work, which is usually outside the public, these women are dependant on their employers for basic needs and in the process become vulnerable to abuses by their employers without recourse to justice. At another level, young people especially those who failed grades 10 and 12, tend to migrate to the cities to look for employment opportunities. They usually tend to adapt new lifestyles and behaviours, including prostitution, which usually put them at the risk of contracting diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Today, human trafficking is the third lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug tracking, the report says. Based on a recent survey conducted by one of the local researchers titled “Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: Adolescents in Namibia”, Merab Kiremire reveals that in Namibia prostitution remains illegal but there is no law against trafficking in the country. Namibia is affected like many other African countries that are exporting people. Slightly different from other countries, trafficking in Namibia is mainly internal than beyond the borders. However, there are few cases where prostitutes are illusively taken out of the country. Governor of the Khomas Region, Sophia Shaningwa, echoed that women largely migrate due to social and economic conditions such as lack of services. Besides that, the majority of rural-urban migrants are mainly unemployable because they do not have the education and neither the training. Many of them end up living in more poverty than the ones they left in the rural areas. “Economic challenges in the city have forced some women to develop relations with men as a way of survival, risking STDs or HIV/AIDS,” she said. According to Ehsan, today’s realities and needs of women migrants highlight the shortcomings and the dark side of globalization, together with the persistence of poverty, gender inequality and exploitation. “We hope that the Namibian Government and other partners will initiate programmes and improve existing ones to provide employment opportunities to reduce internal migration and to protect the rights of those who are migrating from the rural areas to urban areas, especially from HIV infection, gender based violence, and other forms of abuse,” she said. She added that widespread discrimination and violence against women, and restrictive immigration policies that limit opportunities to migrate safely and legally, fuel the trafficking trade. “Although awareness and action against trafficking is growing, there is an urgent need to do more to end this terrible crime and its often attendant impunity,” the UNFPA representative stated. Although the Namibian Government has made efforts in addressing some of these problems, Shaningwa said, there is a great need to create awareness about the realities of the poor in urban areas as the majority of rural people think cities are rosy.