2018 International Women’s Day: A Time to Include and #PressforProgress

Every year, International Women’s Day serves as a reminder to where we stand in relation to gender gap around the world, and during which much of the advocacy on behalf of women and girls is centred on key imperative themes, such as: gender based-violence, discrimination, and the absence of equal rights and opportunities, including women in leadership position. However, we should not forget to use this day as an opportunity to also celebrate with friends, colleagues and supporters of gender equality, whilst reflecting and taking stock of progress, stagnation and retreat around us. According to the World Economic Forum While women worldwide are closing the gap in critical areas such as health and education, significant gender inequality persists in the workforce and in politics. Given current rates of change, [the] Global Gender Gap Report estimates it will be another 217 years before we achieve gender parity.”[1]

Based on empirical evidence, just as the one cited from the Global Gender Gap Report, there is much work ahead if we want to break down barriers and glass ceilings towards gender parity; and yet, unless we gather and share our stories and vision, the road forward feels too lengthy for anyone/or any entity to journey alone. Above and beyond, “travelling” in good company is always more fruitful and an enriching process, especially for those invested in social change for the greater good of a broad community of which we are connected. Social media is a great tool, but as Gloria Steinem[2], reminded us through her experience on the road, it takes community organization and social movement to bring forward real change and tangible results in a sustainable and inclusive manner. What’s more, there is something magical that happens when people get together and share their experiences and aspirations, because it is through this process that we find community and willpower to move forward within shared goals. In Steinem’s words, “Over time and far from home, I discover something I might never otherwise have learned: people in the same room understand and empathise with each other in a way that isn’t possible on the page or screen…On the road, I learned that the media are not reality; reality is reality”.

Perhaps, as we live in what feels an intense period of transition, the 2018 International Women’s Day may carry on a special significance in light of a growing interest, effort and platforms where women’s voices around the world are raising common concerns in relation to gender equality and the need for action. As such, more women are actively participating and contributing in small or bigger roles as agents of change. As the UN IWD theme for 2018[3] emphasizes the need to transform the current momentum into action[4], let us not forget the large numbers of migrant women on the move, including professional women at regional and international level. In recent years, international migration has taken centre stage, not always for the greater good of migrants and intra-regional movers themselves and their families, thanks in part to some segments of society who insist to portrait migrants as “drivers of crisis”, instead of potentials for opportunities.

According to the OECD “World Migration in Figures” 2013, women comprise about 48% of all international migrants worldwide, while the proportion of highly educated immigrants in OECD countries has risen dramatically in recent years. Moreover, when looking at highly skilled migrant women, the OECD underscores that “in many countries of origin, the share of tertiary educated women who were living outside their country of birth was higher than for men. This difference reached 10 percentage points in 2010/11” for some countries in Africa, thus leading analysts to conclude that brain drain is more pronounced amongst women than men. On the whole, despite research efforts in the field of highly skilled migration, experts continue calling for the improvement in data collection and analysis in order to have a comprehensive overview of the issue from a gender perspective. In addition, comprehensive data could also support in the effort to raise the level of visibility among key stakeholders of this group of migrant/intra-regional mobile workers.

Against this background, in general migration debates are still silent and dismissive over the disadvantages and challenges faced by female highly skilled migrants (including intra-EU mobile citizens). Instead, most interlocutors prefer to overlook and label this category as mainly “privileged expats”.  Since we live in interesting times full of complexities, perhaps it is time to question our assumptions based on outdated stories of expatriation, and look at realities of a labour market in transition, in an economy where finance and automation is the motto. As such, consider for a moment the following issues: dual-career couples; gender bias in accessing economic opportunities in country of origin as a driver to migration (including amongst Member States in the European Union); transnational income differentials between origin and destination country; and last but not least – youth unemployment in the context of young professionals in search of jobs in the European Union – yes not your average picture of a “migrant worker”. Moreover, as we continue on this perspective, maybe it is time to break the silos towards identifying the communalities between migrants, intra-regional mobiles and “expats” which unite us as a category instead of divide us on the basis of perceived or de facto privileges and outcomes. The latter proposition would also entail breaking up silos among experts and practitioners in the field of human resources, business management, migration, diversity, employment and gender equality, so as to work in a truly interdisciplinary way centred on the challenges and opportunities in relation to international migration/intra-reginal mobility of professionals. What’s more, such an interdisciplinary approach may render us better equipped towards identifying gaps and potential actions that could enable us to harness the full potential of female migrant/intra-EU mobile professionals to flourish and contribute to the community at large, hence addressing untapped/unused talent and expertise.

Migrant women is certainly an issue to be included as part of the debates on International Women’s Day, but leaving female migrant/intra-EU mobile professionals out of the discussion is a mistake, because one will fail to notice key themes around gender equality, work and international mobility that should be part of the conversation. Themes which may directly affect the integration and well-being of female professionals, such as: quality of employment, advancement of women in the labour market, “leaky” pipeline, unemployment, underutilization of skills, disadvantage, unconscious bias, de facto diversity in the work place, underrepresentation, and “brain-drain” to name a few. What’s more, by dismissing the subject of highly skilled migrant women from the debate one risks to ignore this groups’ de facto socio-economic contribution to society, as well as their on-going and potential involvement as agents and advocates working towards the advancement of women’s issues at national and transnational levels. Female highly skilled migrants make up the bulk of health care professionals working around the world, as such should we care to know more about their contribution to our community, along with their challenges?  Should one try to involve those migrant/mobile health-care professionals by making their stories and concerns more visible to the community at large (where they serve), including among advocates working with other migrant groups?  When I share my work interests with professional migrant/intra-EU mobile women in conversation, there is always a connection and a space opening in which they finally feel that they can talk about issues affecting them most, including a relief to know that their challenges are not based on individual notions around the myths of meritocracy, but rather on structural constraints affecting them in the labour market and beyond.

In conclusion, reflecting on IWD 2018, times of transition, social movements, communication and a genuine desire for positive change, I remembered an important lesson Steinem underscored to those who want to be part of social change that feels empowering and long lasting…In her words: “Then and now, we take the road to hold communal meetings where listeners can speak, speakers can listen, facts can be debated, and empathy can create trust and understanding[5]. As we approach the 8th March deliberations, may you endeavour to get to know and to include the experience and voices of highly skilled women on the move[6] in your work and communal meetings. Likewise, as for those international professionals, let’s celebrate and share with our peers, supporters and friends our experiences and lessons learned, so together we too can strengthen ongoing initiatives or initiate a greater collective of voices calling for and acting towards change which is inclusive of ALL.

Happy International Women’s Day to all, and may the efforts employed by those involved in making gender parity a reality in political leadership[7] inspire other bodies to leap forward, because “Empowering women requires women in power”.[8]


[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/women-leaders-key-to-workplace-equality

[2] Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, 2015

[3] 2018 theme: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives” http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/

[4] Especially actions in relation to rural and urban activists working to change women’s lives.

[5] Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, 2015

[6] Professionals defined under the category of immigrants, migrants, third country nationals, expat, asylum seekers, refugees, and intra-EU mobile citizens.

[7] http://iknowpolitics.org/en/news/world-news/canadian-prime-minister-names-50-50-cabinet; http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39948523

[8] https://epthinktank.eu/2017/03/13/empowering-women-requires-women-in-power/ ; http://redscope-consulting.com/women-leading-politics-european-parliament/