The case for Latin American migrant women

Brasil Observer - Aug 15 2016
Prime Minister Theresa May has been clapped in to 10 Downing Street for the first time
Theresa May enters Number 10 (Photo: Tom Evans/Crown Copyright)

(Leia em Português)


What do the Brexit vote and the appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister mean for Latin American migrant women?


By Carolina Gottardo

The Brexit vote is likely to have a negative impact for Latin American migrant women. As illustrated by our recently launched report Towards Visibility, many Latin American migrant women have EU passports. The vote has increased the level of anxiety and uncertainty that many of us feel as migrants in a country where politics have been tarnished by a negative rhetoric on migration and the actual erosion of migrant’s rights. It’s important now more than ever to continue fighting for our rights.

Another worrying effect has been the serious increase in cases of racism and sexism that have followed the Brexit vote. At LAWRS (Latin American Women’s Rights Service) we have been receiving many reports of racial hatred that Latin American women and girls living their ordinary lives at work or at school, have been victims of. This did not happen often before. However the increase in racial and sexual hatred is alarming.

Will the appointment of a female Prime Minister change things for the better? Perhaps not. Ms May has been one of the longest serving Home Ministers that the UK has had. She has implemented few positive contributions on certain areas of policy. However she has an appalling record on others when considering migrant women rights.

On the less negative side, May has taken an interest in the area of violence against women and girls introducing an action plan and responding to the issue of honour based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and others. However, taking an interest on women’s rights is far from enough considering that rights apply to all women regardless of their race or immigration status. It’s not enough to have a society where some can exercise their rights and others can’t. Women’s rights and survivor’s rights should always be above immigration control.

Theresa May is the woman that brought the Modern Slavery Act and she has been committed with the fight against human trafficking (although the bill has many gaps and loopholes and does not address the endemic labour exploitation that affects so many Latin American migrant women).

Appallingly, Theresa May has been one of the fiercest opponents of migrant’s rights. She was the woman behind the “go home” vans that caused community tensions and breached migrant’s rights in such a flagrant way. She has also encouraged an official “hostile” policy against migrants and is behind the Immigration Act 2016 that criminalises undocumented migrants and converts landlords and health authorities into “de facto” immigration control officers. Even following the Brexit vote during her campaign for leadership, Ms May was using EU migrant’s rights as part of the negotiation that she would be happy to bargain with.

Theresa May is a woman but she is by no means a feminist and let alone one that cares about the rights of every woman irrespective of their race, physical ability, age or immigration status. It is positive to have a female leader in male dominated politics, but Theresa May is not the one that is going to respond to women and girls’ needs or help us to exercise our rights. On the contrary, she will be very happy to reduce migration as much as she can and to bargain with our rights as migrants in the UK.

What we needs is a female leader that is also a feminist and that believes that women rights are human rights no matter what and that they apply to all women and girls in the UK completely irrespective of their immigration status. Is such a universal principle so hard to understand?


  • Carolina Gottardo is Director of Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) –