High-Level Dialogue on The Challenges Facing Kenya’s Female Migrant Workforce Takes Place to Mark International Migrants Day

Nairobi - To mark International Migrants Day (IMD), which falls on 18 December each year, IOM the International Organization for Migration/UN Migration, in Kenya, brought together government and non-government organizations and entities from a variety of sectors to discuss the rights of Kenyan women migrant workers, and the challenges and vulnerabilities they face while migrating within the region and outside the East and Horn of Africa.  

Every year, people across the world, including in Kenya and its neighbours move for multiple reasons, including issues as broad as conflict and climate change, but increasingly and primarily in this region, labour, job opportunities, and the search for work overseas. IMD seeks to raise awareness about the challenges and difficulties migrants face while highlighting the positive benefits and contributions migrants add to society. 

Participants who took part in the event in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, were drawn from government, civil society, migrant women associations, academia, development partners and UN agencies.  The meeting was aimed at producing recommendations for better policies towards gender sensitive migration governance, with greater attention paid to and diversity; and crucially, to look at how opportunities for Kenyan women migrant workers can be maximized, and the vulnerabilities they face, minimized.

As the feminization of migration increases in the region and in Kenya in particular, media investigations have revealed the many severe challenges facing migrant women – from trafficking, abuse, inequality, and denial of their human, economic, labour and social rights. Media stories and investigations have zeroed in on the vulnerability of and human rights violations faced in particular by Kenyan women migrant workers heading to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)countries. 

In line with this year’s IOM’s IMD campaign ‘I Am A Migrant’ women migrants were also represented in the meeting.  They shared their experiences when working abroad as domestic workers, specifically the challenges encountered related to gender-based violence and their success stories when starting a new business in Kenya, with IOM support upon return. 

Participants highlighted the need to strengthen accountability both at the countries of destination and origin to enhance protection measures toward migrants workers.

During the event, IOM’s Chief of Mission to Kenya, Sharon Dimanche said, “While nearly half of migrants worldwide are women, a figure that might suggest an acceptable gender balance in terms of global flows, it does not provide adequate insight into the underlying social constraints nor of the significant qualitative differences that characterize the migration of women.” 

For many women, migration can be a positive experience leading to a better life and livelihood, autonomy, and empowerment. It can offer women access to education and careers that might not be available in their countries of origin. Migrant women may earn better incomes, enjoy greater autonomy and freedom, and provide steady flows of remittances to their countries of origin. 

“Nevertheless, despite all the opportunities that migration can provide, when migration is inadequately monitored and managed it exposes women and girls to serious violations of their human rights and discrimination at all stages of the migration process,” IOM’s Dimanche noted.

According to IOM research, migrant women are often more affected by socioeconomic challenges, such as unemployment, unequal job opportunities, wage gaps, and underemployment. They are also affected disproportionately by migrant trafficking. Frequently, upon arrival in countries of transit or destination, traffickers leverage the economic vulnerabilities of migrant women and place them in exploitative situations such as the commercial sex industry and forced labour.

During the event, Ms. Edith Okoki, the Director of Kenya’s National Employment Agency (NEA) emphasized that a lot of work has been done and is underway to ensure the safety and protection of rights of migrant women in GCC countries, where an estimated 53 million domestic and low care workers are – 85% of who are women.

“We are fast-tracking the adoption of the National Employment Labour policy and the Labour Migration bill, both of which provide the framework for safe, orderly, and humane migration. We are also reviewing our Bilateral Labour Migration Agreements (BLMAs) to beef up protection measures, and an additional seven BLMAs are being prepared. Additionally, three Labour Attachés have been posted to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. A lot is happening to improve the processes,” said Okoki. 

Well-managed, migration offers development opportunities for both the host countries and the migrants. Kenya for example has gained from the transference of remittances, skills, and knowledge, while receiving countries have been able to fill existing labour gaps. Regional efforts such as the formation of the Regional Consultative Process “Regional Ministerial Forum on Migration (RMFM) on Harmonizing Labour Migration Policies in East and Horn of Africa – A United Approach on Safe, Regular and Humane Labour Migration”, have been pursued to enhance gender sensitive labour migration governance and regional cooperation.

“We need to come together as partners and stakeholders to make migration safer and more humane. This dialogue is timely. It helps us identify gaps at multilateral levels, the result being the harnessing of the benefits of labour migration. Migration when managed well presents a lot of opportunities”. Ambassador Julius Bitok, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary, Kenya Ministry of Interior’s State Department for Immigration and Citizen Services. Ambassador Bitok added that the Department was on track to develop a digital platform in collaboration with other relevant Ministries, that would ensure migrant data is captured and the Government is able to track its citizens in the diaspora.

Despite the many challenges faced, migrants, all participants agreed continue to contribute with their knowledge, networks, and skills to build stronger, more resilient communities.  

For more information, please contact Regional Media and Communications Officer and Spokesperson, Yvonne Ndege at or +254797735977

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals
SDG 1 - No Poverty