By Yasmina Benslimane | Issue #22
As someone who has lived in seven countries and completed my undergraduate and graduate studies in incredibly diverse environments, I have come to a resounding realisation: gender inequality knows no boundaries—it is universal. In the last decade alone, nearly 60 million more people became international migrants, seeking better opportunities and a brighter future outside their countries of origin, approximately 48.5% of whom are women. These women often face specific challenges such as gender-based violence (GBV), limited access to healthcare and education, and economic exploitation.
Addressing these challenges through gender-sensitive social protection is crucial to ensuring migrants’ well-being and empowerment. It is also key to the empowerment of women and girls in their respective countries of origin. Gender-sensitive social protection means creating and implementing programmes and policies that consider the different needs and challenges faced by men, women, and gender-diverse individuals. This article will explore how these initiatives address the specific needs of migrant women and girls, leveraging their transnational networks, and advocating for social protection that focuses on their needs.
Youth diaspora initiatives as agents of change
Youth-led initiatives by the diaspora are effectively raising awareness, driving policy changes, and fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for women and girls in their countries of origin. They use their unique position at the intersection of multiple cultures and their firsthand experiences of migration to advocate for social protection. By leveraging their transnational networks, youth-led initiatives can connect with both origin and destination countries to influence policy and practice. They are actively engaged in addressing the gender-specific challenges faced by women and girls. Initiatives can take various forms, such as advocacy campaigns, community mobilisation, and service provision or mobilise communities to create safe spaces and support networks. These initiatives provide training and educational opportunities to empower young people and enhance their resilience. By fostering solidarity and community engagement, youth diaspora organisations play a vital role in building a supportive environment for women and girls in migration.
Leveraging transnational networks and experiences
Having settled abroad for the past ten years, I have witnessed firsthand how the Moroccan diaspora, even from afar, continues to organise and rally for women's rights back home. This collective effort exemplifies the strength and determination of individuals who refuse to be silenced by geographical distance. Motivated by these experiences, I founded Politics4Her in 2017 during my time in Costa Rica while studying at the UN Mandated University for Peace. Within Politics4Her, the Women4Leadership project has emerged as a vital initiative in Morocco, at the forefront of engaging young Moroccan women. W4L has equipped young women from diverse backgrounds, including refugees and migrants in Morocco, with the necessary knowledge and skills to become agents of change. By mobilising the diaspora and leveraging the digital space, W4L has ensured inclusivity and equitability in its approach, ultimately contributing to positive and sustainable change in Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and gender-sensitive social protection. Collaborating with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), we organised a consultation focused on the lived experiences of gender-based violence (GBV) among refugees. The consultation provided refugees with a platform to express their GBV experiences, needs, and concerns. By engaging with their voices, the session aimed to inform and shape future interventions, policies, and programs to better support and protect them.
Pashtana Zalmai Khan Dorani, a resilient leader I have met through our membership in the Transform Education Network hosted by UNGEI, champions girls' access to education through her organisation, LEARN Afghanistan. As a refugee herself, she deeply understands the transformative power of education and has dedicated her efforts to improving the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan. Pashtana founded LEARN Afghanistan in 2018 with the aim of expanding educational opportunities and empowering Afghan girls. The organisation focuses on digital education, offering free online courses and providing valuable resources, professional training, and mentorship to thousands of Afghan girls. Despite the challenges posed by the resurgence of the Taliban, Pashtana's leadership has been instrumental in keeping the mission alive by finding alternative ways to support education and empower Afghan girls. In the face of gender apartheid, Pashtana Zalmai Khan Dorani and LEARN Afghanistan play a pivotal role in breaking barriers and equipping girls with the knowledge and skills they need to shape their own futures and contribute to their communities. Through their unwavering dedication, Pashtana and her organisation are paving the way for a brighter future for women and girls in Afghanistan to thrive.
The Palestinian diaspora, forced to flee their homes due to displacement and occupation, remains deeply connected to their roots, culture, and the Palestinian cause. Shaped by their experiences and rooted in their heritage, the new generation in the diaspora carries forward the struggle for justice and liberation. Their unwavering commitment ensures that the diaspora remains an integral part of the larger Palestinian community, working towards self-determination and equality for all Palestinians, regardless of their location. Within this vibrant diaspora, Palestinian feminist activists in my network have recommended the work of the Palestinian Feminist Collective (PFC), which stands as a powerful force. Comprised of Palestinian and Arab feminists primarily based in North America, the PFC engages in intersectional activism and organising to confront systemic gendered, sexual, and colonial violence. Grounded in an anti-colonial framework, the collective resists the normalisation of oppression, drawing inspiration from past and present feminist movements. Through their work, the PFC not only centres the urgency of the Palestinian struggle but also advances Palestinian feminism as a liberatory philosophy and practice. By fostering transformative justice, healing, and creation, the collective contributes to the creation of a more just and equitable world, amplifying the voices and experiences of Palestinian women and challenging oppressive structures at the intersections of gender, race, and colonialism.
These examples highlight the various ways in which youth-led diaspora organisations actively address the gender-specific challenges faced by migrant women and girls. They engage in advocacy, community mobilisation, and service provision, making significant contributions to promoting gender-sensitive social protection in migration contexts. Collaboration with policymakers, civil society organisations, and international institutions drives positive change and fosters a supportive environment for women and girls globally. However, these youth diaspora initiatives encounter challenges such as limited financial resources, organisational capacity, and access to decision-making processes, which can hinder their effectiveness. To fully unlock their potential, sustained support from and strategic partnerships with governments, civil society, and international actors is necessary. By investing in youth-led diaspora initiatives and embracing their expertise, we can collectively work towards a more inclusive and equitable future, ensuring women and girls' access to their full rights.
Yasmina Benslimane has accumulated over six years of professional experience in the migration field with national human rights institutions, NGOs and UN agencies, in several countries, including IOM, UNHCR, UNDP, and the Migration Policy Institute. She is currently the Gender Specialist at the Migration Youth and Children Platform (MYCP) and the founder of Politics4Her. You can find her on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.