Meet some of the millions of women who migrated recently, risking everything

Screen Grab from National Geographic Website. PHOTOGRAPH BY NICHOLE SOBECKI

Raxma Xasan Maxamuud never wanted to leave her home in Somaliland. But a relentless cycle of droughts turned rivers to dust and dried up the grasses her livestock depended on. In Honduras, violence drove Kataleya Nativi Baca, a transgender woman, on a perilous journey to the United States border.

Women make up about half of those who migrate internationally and within their own countries. Some are pulled by the promise of a better future, but for those who face famine or danger in their home countries, migration is a gamble for their very survival.

Here, photographers with The Everyday Projects—a global network with a mission to challenge stereotypes by presenting diverse perspectives—explore how hardship and obligation, violence, poverty, climate change, and other forces undermine women’s lives, spurring them to make life-changing journeys.

The International Organization for Migration reported that 272 million people—130 million of them women—were living in a country not of their birth in 2019. More than 60 percent of those migrants live in Asia and Europe. Most international migration, however, is regional, with movement to and between countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa growing fastest.

In recent decades women increasingly have migrated to wealthy countries to become breadwinners themselves, rather than to join family members. They’re taking jobs in child- and eldercare and domestic work, as well as manufacturing and agriculture—a shift described as “the feminization of migration.” Migrant women living abroad are more likely to be overqualified for these jobs and earn less than men, and they send more of their incomes to families back home.

For women escaping violence or poverty, the clandestine routes they take increase their vulnerability to sex trafficking, assault, and rape. And for women going to countries with weak laws, or for women who are undocumented, securing basic rights may be impossible.

Forced migration of refugees and asylum seekers rose by an average of 8 percent a year from 2010 to 2017, compared with less than 2 percent for international migration. Of the 33.8 million people forced to migrate abroad in 2019, nearly half were women. That year another 33.4 million people, more than half of them women, were forced to move within their own countries, 75 percent of them because of natural disasters. (This is what 50 years of human migration looks like.)

The World Bank estimates that in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unprecedented 20 percent drop in global remittances to home countries. Fear, anger, and poverty are inflaming resentments and xenophobia, and migrants are often scapegoated as disease vectors or blamed for social ills exacerbated by the pandemic.

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