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Migrants Day 2021: How the pandemic disproportionately impacted women migrant workers 

International Migrant Day was established in 2000 by the UN General Assembly (UNGA. Taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, 18 December was proclaimed International Migrants Day. 

The day was selected to mark the anniversary of the 1990 adoption by UNGA of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

This day is seen as an opportunity to recognize the contributions made by millions of migrants, such as their work for the economies of their home countries and host. It is also a day to promote and advocate for migrant human rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the critical issues facing migrant workers and women migrant workers have been disproportionately affected.  The latest data estimates the number of international migrant workers is 169 million, 70 million of whom are women. 

“COVID-19-related border closures and the attendant economic crisis have led to extensive job losses for migrant workers globally, with a disproportionate impact on women, who have even more limited income security and social protection and who continue to face wage discrimination,” said António Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration and Coordinator of the UN Network on Migration.

According to a report by the International Labor Organization, many women migrant workers have even more limited income security and social protection than the average worker. This is due to various factors including: the persistent gender wage gap and because women migrant workers disproportionately work in more precarious, insecure and informal employment. Women are also more likely to experience violence at the workplace, the report states. 

This year’s International Migrant Day centers around the theme of “Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility.” 

The UN writes: 

Migrants contribute with their knowledge, networks, and skills to build stronger, more resilient communities. The global social and economic landscape can be shaped through impactful decisions to address the challenges and opportunities presented by global mobility and people on the move.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) offers the opportunity and guidance to actualize human mobility and seize the opportunities it presents.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has assisted millions of migrants since it emerged 70 years ago to assist the vast number of Europeans displaced by the Second World War and continues to lead the way in promoting a humane and orderly management of migration for the benefit of all, including the communities of origin, transit and destination.

With this year’s theme, the UN is sharing stories from migrant workers to amplify their voices. While there is much work to be done to address and rectify the issues facing migrant women workers, sharing their stories and advocating for their rights is a first step toward advancing the cause. 

Maribel Quiala empowering Latinas in critical mental health issues

Maribel Quiala, Licensed Clinician, Global Program Management Consultant, author, motivational speaker and leadership expert in mental health.

Maribel Quiala, Licensed Clinician, Global Program Management Consultant, author, motivational speaker and leadership expert in mental health.

Have you ever experienced depression? Then you are not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health affirms that 10 to 14 million people in the United States experience clinical depression every year.

Women between the ages 18 and 45 are the largest group experiencing depression, and Latinas are at higher risk, at roughly twice the rate of Latino men and more likely to experience depression than Caucasian or African American women.

Moreover, more US Latina teenagers would consider suicide –associated with depression– than any other minority group, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control.

“Depression is a prevailing mental health issue among Latinas, and it is generally related to low self-esteem, anxiety and the stress of adapting to a new culture but also it is rooted in family messages and the struggle to accept their own self-image,” said Maribel Quiala, Founder and Executive Director at Maribel Quiala, PA.

Quiala is a well-known Licensed Clinician, Global Program Management Consultant, author, motivational speaker and leadership expert. Fluent in English and Spanish, Quiala has become a sought-after spokeswoman for socially diverse women’s health issues, conflict resolution, victims’ rights and empowerment.

“Regardless of any person’s socio-economic background, their views about health and mental health are deeply influenced by family values. When a woman is constantly told that she is stupid, or she is not going to achieve or succeed because that is not her place in society, or she is not going to be chosen for a certain task or responsibility, that her role is to please men or simply she looks fat or ugly, then these women are more prone to experience detrimental body and mental health issues,” she explained to LIBizus.

domestic violence, purple purse

Not only recent immigrants suffer from abuse and domestic violence.

In her view, not only Latinas who have immigrated recently to the United States might be affected by major depression because of lack of acculturation, or adjustment to the new hosting society but those with high levels of acculturation are also exposed to mental illness.

Being discriminated or “left-behind” in the workplace, holding a high-stress job, larger family sizes in which they are responsible for caring of several generations –especially elderly parents – or when they face divorce or separation and single parenthood are main obstacles Latinas deal with on an everyday basis.

“There is a continuing stigma of mental health among Latino families, a taboo that ‘it can be fixed at home.’ If the mother suffers from depression, she is not likely to share the problem because she needs to set an example. If there is an addiction, then it is hidden and accepted; and if it turns into domestic violence or abuse, many women stay in the situation because of those same family messages,” she said.

In her book “Hijas del Abuso,” which she co-authored with author Ketty Rodriguez, she explains how women are constantly victims of emotional abuse from their counterparts –it has not necessarily to be a male spouse but also same sex partners–, and they pay a high price with their physical or mental health. Most people associate abuse with physical behavior –hits, bruises – but bullying, humiliation, and self-esteem blows leave these invisible lesions that prevent them from personal and professional achievement.

Abuse is also an emotional, physical and sexual inheritance that our children receive unknowingly. When children experience their mother’s submission and abuse, they will repeat the same scheme in their adult lives and relationships because they see abuse as a normal treatment.

Little girl (age 05) cring with her desperate mother in background

Children who are victims of domestic violence and abuse see the behavior as normal.

However, when trying to address health disparities among minorities, it might be a challenge for other cultures and ethnicities to understand those invisible mental health barriers.

“Many times, I’m the only Latina sitting at a Board where mental health issues are discussed, and I have to make sure that my voice represents others so that everybody understands the barriers and obstacles we face as a community,” she shared.

Quiala has been a keynote speaker, presenter or panelist at over 10 state and national conferences addressing mental health, minority health and caregivers’ issues, and guided numerous organizations on planning strategies and policies that would bring awareness and understanding to helping Latino families navigate a very complex healthcare system.

“When I sit at those boards, or in front of a camera or an audience, I always think it might be the only opportunity to talk about the need for increasing compassion in the communication process, and to manage the tension that stems from the diverging views. I use stories that illustrate my point and show real people’s situations,” she said.

The mental health leader believes there are always opportunities to prepare us all for leadership and for encouraging partnerships. “If you face such a situation at work, for instance, you can always ask for help, not only from a mentor or supervisor but also other members of your team. How do we address this issue, hot do we approach the topic?” she explained.

Teen girl holding a card that says no bullying

Abuse can adopt many forms, not only physical but it can also be mental and emotional.

Quiala believes there is always a common denominator to understand and proceed in a difficult situation where cultural issues become barriers. “Be as flexible as possible,” she said. “If you don’t understand a person’s belief system, stay flexible and open-minded, do more research. Sometimes we are too rigid in our own ways. Respecting differences is the only approach to becoming a successful global leader, especially these days when the world has turn out to be so small, and we are globally connected in a second,” she added.

Ms. Quiala received her MSW from Barry University and was most recently honored with the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Sunshine Award for her executive accomplishments as Healthcare Education Champion.

She has received the Hispanic Women of Distinction Award by Latina Style Magazine and is an alumnus of National Hispana Leadership Institute Program and Executive Leadership Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  She is or has been active in organizations such as Miami-Dade County’s NASW Florida Chapter, the board of  Sembrando Flores HIV/AIDS ministry in Homestead Florida, and a field instructor for Florida International University School of Social Work and Nova Southeastern University, among many others.