Washington, D.C., 7th March 2019

Distinguished panelists and keynote speaker

UN, OAS and multilateral partners

Colleagues connected across the Americas and on Facebook

Ladies and Gentlemen, Buenos días, Bon dia, Bonjour, Good morning!

Thank you all for joining us here today to observe International Women’s Day. I take this opportunity to salute the Women of the Americas and pay special tribute to the Women of PAHO and to thank you for your contribution. This year we spotlight a very important challenge: ensuring access to health for every migrant woman, everywhere in the Americas.

Like me, I would guess that many—if not a majority—of you gathered in this room today are migrants or descendants of migrants. We have experienced some of the challenges of migration. But it is true to say that most of us have done so from positions of advantage and no doubt many of us have improved our situations through migration. 

What we are here to talk about today are the less advantageous aspects of human mobility, such as forced displacement, border tensions, tent cities and health crises: to name a few of the more visible challenges. Let us not forget that, historically, the Americas have witnessed many migration waves related to economic, social, and political challenges, including conflicts, wars, and natural disasters. Nonetheless, recent assessments show that migration in our region is increasing in unprecedented magnitude, with new migrant profiles (with more women and children) and with new destination countries. A comprehensive response to the problems associated with migration requires us to pay attention to the situation of migrant women, and especially their health.

It’s important to acknowledge the enormous challenges that migration imposes on host countries. It puts new strains on what are already fragile social safety nets in many countries. There is no doubt that the massive cross-border movements which we are experiencing in the Americas seriously challenge the health sector’s capacity to respond and exacerbate existing health system vulnerabilities and barriers to access.

At the same time, migration exacerbates many underlying socioeconomic disadvantages that women already face, for example, with respect to living and working conditions, legal status; discrimination, disempowerment and exclusion. Ensuring migrant women’s access to health, will require a coherent approach that addresses the combination of gender inequalities and other barriers to health.

PAHO has been working on migrant health for decades; in 2016 a new resolution, “Health of Migrants,” was adopted and helped to accelerate the development of health policies and programs that promote and protect the health of migrants. In late 2018, PAHO hosted a Regional Ministerial Meeting on mass migration and health, where concrete actions were identified to address issues impacting the health of migrants and other threats to public health.

This meeting identified the importance of ensuring health services for migrant women, most notably, for sexual and reproductive health, maternal health and pre- and postnatal care.  The panel we have convened today will help us unpack these and some of the less documented specificities around access to health for migrant women. Our hope is that this dialogue will help all of us see the forest while also highlighting the important trees.

According to our resolution on the health of migrants, a person’s gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, among other factors, can be associated with specific risks to health and differential vulnerability before, during, and after migration. Some more readily recognized gender and health considerations for migrant women are lack of health insurance; underserved treatment of sexually transmitted infections and immunization; limited access to obstetric and gynecologic services, mental health illness; loneliness and isolation; and of course, violence, which in fact is a driver of migration in our Region. A 2015 UNHCR study found that women interviewed after migrating north out of Central America and Mexico cited violence—including rape, assault, extortion, and death threats—as a primary motivation for leaving their communities.

Today, we have several meaningful opportunities to create new synergy for migrant women’s health. These include the roll-out of PAHO’s Women, Children and Adolescent Health Plan 2018-2030, the implementation of the resolution on the health of migrants and our new guidelines on migrant health, as well as, of course, our continued efforts to support the implementation of PAHO’s Gender Equality Policy, which urges the mainstreaming of gender considerations across all policies, programs and plans.

The mainstreaming of gender into sustainable development policies and plans will be essential for peace prosperity and poverty elimination among women. In these times, the social protection of migrant women is emerging as a challenge to the development agendas of many, if not all, countries.

As we renew our commitments to gender equality and universal health, PAHO will continue to work with countries and partners to monitor health inequalities.

This will require working with Member States to define indicators disaggregated by sex and migrant status as well as income or wealth, age, disability, place of residence, and ethnic origin. The strengthening of health systems for health is fundamental for the monitoring of indicators.

Thus, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, we commit to support PAHO’s member governments—in coordination with multiple partners—to accelerate actions to address the health needs and contributions of all migrant women. This means defending the right to health; protecting the gains in public health and ensuring access to and meaningful participation of women, in health development. 

Finally, I wish to send a special greeting on International Women’s Day to all women; those here with us physically, those connected virtually and all those in our lives. I look forward to the panel discussion and extend a warm welcome once more to all of you.

Thank you