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Andean Migrant Women Create Opportunities

Franz Chávez

Bolivian migrant in the airport in El Alto, next to La Paz.  Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Bolivian migrant in the airport in El Alto, next to La Paz. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

LA PAZ, Dec 1 2011 (IPS) - Women make up a majority of migrants from South America’s Andean region and they send more money home to their families than men, according to a study carried out in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Bolivian migrant in the airport in El Alto, next to La Paz.  Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Bolivian migrant in the airport in El Alto, next to La Paz. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

The results of the report by the regional project “Opening Worlds – Migrant Women, Women with Rights” will bring visibility to women migrants from this region, and will help generate legal protection for them, Katia Uriona, executive director of Coordinadora de la Mujer, a Bolivian umbrella organisation made up of 26 women’s groups, told IPS.

Recognition of the contribution made by women migrants will also help to get a gender focus included in Bolivia’s new immigration law, she added.

Ivana Fernández, head of immigration issues at the Coordinadora de la Mujer, told IPS that 57 percent of Bolivians who went abroad to find work in 2010 were women.

A similar proportion of Peruvians who left for Spain last year were women, according to that European country’s statistics institute.

Last year, 210,000 women left Bolivia, while 139,000 Peruvian women chose Spain as a destination.

But in the case of women from the Andean region heading to Spain, the largest number came from Ecuador: 395,000, or 51 percent of all Ecuadoreans in that country.

Ecuador was followed by Colombia, with 289,000 women in Spain, representing 55 percent of all Colombian migrants who settled there.

Fernández said that most of the women go overseas on their own, and are especially exposed to abuses, exploitation and violence in their work, which in most cases is domestic service. And because they are undocumented, they are even more vulnerable, and are paid low wages, she added.

Women from the four countries studied sent home a total of nearly 3.2 billion dollars in remittances in 2010, more than the total sent by male migrants, Fernández noted.

She said the aim of the “Opening Worlds” project, which is funded by the European Union and Oxfam UK, is “to inform, protect and defend women migrants, and guarantee their rights.”

Jorge Cruz, coordinator of the Uramanta Foundation’s migration programme, told IPS that “communication among relatives must be strengthened” in order to rebuild families torn apart by migration.

The Uramanta Foundation works in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba, helping to preserve family ties and providing guidance for the recipients of remittances to invest in productive enterprises to help support the household.

Cruz, who stressed the importance of keeping the family together, said his organisation designs a support system for each household, with the participation of a multidisciplinary team.

The “Opening Worlds” researchers interviewed women who had gone abroad to work and returned to Bolivia. They also visited migrant women working in Spain.

The report discusses the independence that many of the women have gained in terms of administering their money.

That was reflected by Carmen Pérez, a Bolivian woman who left for Italy in 2000. After working for three years as a caretaker for the elderly, she returned to her hometown, Cochabamba.

“I didn’t depend on my husband’s wages anymore,” Pérez, who had graduated from law school before heading abroad, told IPS.

In Italy, she faced racism and difficulties communicating in a new language, while she desperately missed her five-year-old son.

After coming back to her family, she found that the price she had to pay for going away was a gradual waning of her son’s affection. Today she is working as a lawyer and is demanding that the government appoint specialists to diplomatic posts, in order to provide effective assistance to migrants.

Cruz said the Uramanta Foundation helps keep family connections alive. For example, with the support of volunteers, it offers instruction to the children of migrants to enable them to communicate via Internet with their family members abroad.

From the “Aula Tikuna”, an orientation centre in a poor neighbourhood of Cochabamba, youngsters are able to stay in close contact with their mothers and other relatives abroad, he explained.

The Foundation has two notebooks containing 38 examples of “best practices” – the organisation’s contribution to the design of immigration policies.

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