The Climate Crisis Pushes More Women To Migrate

Sunita * came to Italy from the Indian state of Punjab. He left home after losing his land to climate change and now works on a farm in Italy’s Agro Pontino region, south of Rome. Half the year he works with a legal contract and for two months he works irregularly, to send money home and pay the travel debt. The rest of the time is spent with her young son, but says: “Life is difficult for a single mother with a child, without a husband and in a foreign country … people see a single woman and think that it must be ‘easy'”.

Sunita is just one of many immigrant workers who are exploited on a daily basis by a ruthless illegal network. And since she is a woman and a mother, everything is more difficult.


According to expert voices, women have been disproportionately affected by climate change because they take on the most humble and lowest-paid jobs, such as fetching water in extreme drought conditions. In addition, women are more likely to stay at home looking after children and the elderly, while men go out to find work where the weather conditions are better. And if they are looking for a job abroad, they are often the first to fall into the trap of human traffickers or forced into prostitution on the streets of European cities.

Sunita’s story shows how the climate crisis is only widening the gender inequality that already affects women. This is one of the key messages spread by #ClimateOfChange (Climate of Change), a climate poverty awareness campaign launched by young Europeans and led by WeWorld, an NGO that for the last 50 years has been fighting to defend the rights of women and children in 27 countries around the world. WeWorld is also very active in Italy, where it supports farm workers at Agro Pontino, where Sunita works.

The #ClimateOfChange European tour will pass through Milan on October 1 and 2, during Pre-COP26 – an event prior to the UN climate conference, COP26 – and will bring a contemporary circus show to the city that highlights the relationship between climate change and migration.

“The stories of the women we find working on the farms of southern Italy fit into a patriarchal economic system that is firmly rooted in their native countries and that is often maintained once they reach their final destination,” says Elena Caneva, director of the WeWorld research center. “In their places of origin, these women are forced to walk several kilometers every day, carrying a lot of weight on their backs, to find a way to survive, especially after major floods or droughts. And therefore they cannot go to school. They are constantly victimized and discriminated against ”, he explains.

Once they leave their villages to look for work elsewhere, their conditions do not improve much. While formal equality between men and women has become established in most countries and in many legal systems, the old distinctions between productive and reproductive duties still prevail, even in the West. In theory, these women are fervently encouraged to join the workforce, but at the same time they are expected to bear the full burden of caring for homes and children. “On average, more than 75% of unpaid domestic work is done by women, and they spend much more time than men doing these tasks anywhere in the world,” says Caneva.

In Sunita’s case, she was unable to choose her fate. She was sent to Italy by her family and now endures the same harsh conditions as so many Italian workers with dependent children. In addition, you have to face all the difficulties of being an immigrant in a very harsh work environment, where illegal work, exploitation and gender-based violence abound, which only further accentuates the inequalities that you experienced at the beginning.

But not all irregular migration leads to exploitation. In many cases, migrant women can become key figures in a changing world, provided they are given the right opportunities to achieve their goals.

The WeWorld 2020 indicator –Which compares and classifies the living standards of women and children in 172 countries around the world according to their inclusion index– highlights the need to move from the simple recognition of women’s rights to their practical application, through the development of individual capabilities.

* The name has been changed to protect your identity



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