Can the frontier between countries and the experience of it be gendered? Absolutely!

Nations worldwide have increased the militarisation of their borders as a response to migrants fleeing the consequences of globalisation, global warming, and armed conflict. Yet, international frontiers across the world vary significantly. From jungles and deserts to paved streets and fenced facilities, no border is the same. Similarly, the experiences of migrants attempting to cross them differ based on where the migrants are from and where they are going. In many cases, these invented frontiers are strategically used to deter any illegal entry. And in this context, the borders become tools of boundary enforcement and a strategic slayer of border crossers.

This process of differentiating who may or may not cross the border(s) increases the insecurities and vulnerabilities of those migrants exposed to them. Any individual faces the likelihood of robbery, assault, extortion, or even death while crossing international frontiers and that is irrespective of one’s gender identity. Yet, the sexualised nature of the violence that women migrants suffer makes it a gendered issue. According to some estimates, between 80% and 90% of women who attempt to cross the Mexico-United States border undocumented suffer sexual assault. On the Colombian­-Venezuelan border or across European frontiers, the situation is equally worrying, if not worse. 

Not only are women and girls victims of sexual assault while crossing, but they’re also at risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation within the borderland areas. All in all, the entire (transiting) journey of women whether inside or outside refugee camps subjects them to abduction, (sexual) violence, and extortion. The risks of these forms of violence increase based on other parts of migrants’ identity such as race, sexual orientation, nationality, or disability – with, for instance, queer people being subjected to far more violence than non-queer persons.   

Even though these specific and gendered forms of danger are painfully common, they continue to remain hidden. This is just as true for illegal migrants and refugees seeking a formal protection status where the current international framework seems to be oblivious to gendered forms of oppression. Lacking basic human rights or protection, women must endure violence and insecurities, in a context where violence is normalised or even expected. Without documents, access to services, or an understanding of the justice system, survivors are left without any recourse. This is further exacerbated by the fear of retribution experienced by survivors should they come forward. Ultimately, this makes migrants more vulnerable to further oppression. And without any means to improve their precarious situation, the perpetration of violence continues unabated.