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Supporting Latin American Women in the United Kingdom

Issues Affecting Women Programme / Partner story

Photo: © Latin American Women’s Rights Service

It is estimated that as many as one million Latin Americans currently live in the UK. Many are highly-skilled young people who are often unable to obtain jobs that use their professional skills.

“I left Colombia seeking a life with better opportunities in a safer country. In Colombia I was an accountant, but here, if I didn’t do this, I’d have nothing.”

Woman with three different cleaning jobs in London

Although comparable in size to other large migrant populations in London, the Latin American community often goes unseen and its contributions, needs and rights are routinely ignored. Migration routes into the UK (in combination with immigration status) heighten vulnerability to violence and abuse, with undocumented women and those with visa restrictions especially at high risk of exploitation.

In particular, Latin American migrant women experience: difficult living conditions; restricted access to social protection and services; and low levels of integration, partly due to a lack of English language skills. For the most part, even the most highly skilled and educated find employment in unregulated, low-paid and exploitative sectors – such as domestic work, cleaning, catering and, increasingly, as sex-workers. As a result they are at risk of violence and exploitation.

The Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) offers practical and legal advice, advocacy, information and counselling services to women. “A lot of the women who are accessing our services have experienced years of abuse, traumatic experiences that haven’t been addressed,” explained Maria-Eugenia, Counselling and Psychotherapy Coordinator at LAWRS. These can be urgent housing needs, finding a job or escaping domestic abuse. By taking a human rights-based approach, LAWRS aims to empower women to make informed decisions.

LAWRS also promotes migrant women’s rights. This is particularly important in light of stricter border regulations, restrictive immigration laws and country controls that increase the risk that migrant women are trafficked and exploited. UK Government policies that criminalise undocumented migrants too often override the right to due process and result in the detention and even removal of trafficking victims. It is essential that the issue of trafficking does not become conflated with asylum and migration considerations. Victims of trafficking must not be labelled as criminals when they need and deserve protection and support.

This work falls under our Issues Affecting Women Programme, which envisions a world where women have the rights, capacity and opportunity to live their lives free from violence and enjoy their full and equal human rights.

Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report 2014