Want to Fix Border Crises? Empower Women

By Marisol Ruiz

The United States has a border crisis - with more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors streaming into the country overwhelming the administration. The obvious reasons behind their desperate journey of up to 1,600 miles are well known - fleeing violence, drug crime, poverty and lack of opportunities. But the solutions offered by the US government and politicians are short-term palliatives that do not address the fundamental causes including gender inequality and poor governance.

Most of the minors are fleeing from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which have high rates of homicide and poverty. The violence threatens livelihoods, and in addition, about 40 percent of the minors coming from these three countries have a parent or family member living in the United States. Regional migratory surges are common when a struggling country has easy access to stronger, more developed economies and a constant onslaught of images touting wealth and comforts. Conflicts emerge when many in the host country fear the sudden influx might precipitate demographic, cultural or security threats. Migrations are more complicated when the influx is composed mostly of unaccompanied minors - a migratory challenge transforms into a humanitarian and moral dilemma.

The suggestions from politicians are many, ranging from a tough response from the United States and demands for emergency funding to strengthen border security, hasten deportations and relocate the humanitarian crisis to militarizing the border and setting up detention centers in home countries. Central American leaders ask for more US economic aid.

These are but shortsighted attempts to end the flow of children - as politicians and commentators bend over backwards to ignore the region's major challenge - high birthrates that contribute to desperate poverty.

Neither immigration policies nor presidential pronouncements have enticed children to risk their lives to travel to the United States, but rather hope of escaping the violence, precarious economies and the lack of opportunities in home countries. The solution is not investing millions of dollars in border control, tighter security or foreign aid projects. Ending debate on needed immigration reform won't eliminate the dire challenges confronting Central Americans.

A common denominator in most proposals is that they lack a gender perspective or simply ignore the concerns of women and girls. A long-term solution is to urge Central American governments to allocate resources - their own and any that the United States may want to contribute - to policies that reduce inequality and promote "gender mainstreaming" - the "globally accepted approach to achieving gender equality," according to UN Women, so women's and men's concerns and experiences are "integral to the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of all policies and programs."

The United Nations, the World Bank and other organizations have confirmed that economic inequality is deeply rooted in gender inequality. Yet most proposals for ending the US border crisis would continue to fail to address the specific ways in which policy outcomes might harm women and girls, adding to more poverty and violence in these Central American countries. Any approval by US Congress for emergency funds should attach specific conditions to the aid packages, ensuring the money will implement policies focused on gender mainstreaming, highlighting the importance of transforming gender relations, rather than just implementing a one-size-fits-all approach to include women.

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Marisol Ruiz is a Fox International Fellow (2013-2014) at Yale University and has a master's degree from El Colegio de México. Her research focuses on gender and international relations and the interconnectedness of the local to the global. © 2014 The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale

(AP Photo)

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