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  • Author or Editor: Natalia Cintra x
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The concept ‘migrant’ encompasses a heterogeneous range of individuals who move from one place to another for different reasons, within or across state borders, involving pendular, circular, or return movements. This chapter focuses on the distinction between ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’, and the implications of the ways this distinction is mobilized in, and plays out across, legal, political and social contexts with significant effects on the rights and wellbeing of those subject to this schema, which is particularly important in the case of displaced Venezuelan women and girls. The primary reasons for their displacement are poverty, lack of medical services, gender-based violence, and lack of sustenance, which are not straightforwardly encompassed by categories of international refugee protection and, therefore, may fail to be recognized as entitled to the necessary protection. We consider debates around the category of ‘refugee’ and the political role of such debates, before exploring the way in which the refugee/migrant distinction is gendered and establishes a rights hierarchy in the treatment of border-crossing people. We argue for a framework in which the categories of displaced persons is specified instead by the concept of ‘necessary fleers’.

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This chapter addresses the forced migration, gender, and health nexus in a South-South context. We focus on the case of Venezuela and the flight of around 20 per cent of its population, approximately 50 per cent of which are women and girls, primarily to neighbouring states with Colombia and Brazil being two primary destinations. In this chapter, we provide the contexts for our enquiry by addressing the nexus between forced migration and gender before introducing the issue of health and the right to health. We then sketch out the theorization of displacement as a social determinant of health, before concluding by contextualizing the Venezuelan situation.

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Conceptualizing Gender Protection Gaps in Latin America

Focusing on the flight of women and girls from Venezuela, this book examines the gendered nature of forced displacement and the ways in which the failures of protection regimes to be sensitive to displacement’s gendered character affect women and girls, and their sexual and reproductive health.

Highlighting how categorical legal distinctions between ‘refugees’ and ‘migrants’ fail to capture the dynamics of forced migration in Latin America, it investigates how the operation of this categorical divide generates responsibility and protection gaps in relation to female forced migrants which act as determinants of sexual and reproductive health. Drawing on the voices of displaced women, it argues that a robust political ethics of protection of the forcibly displaced must encompass all necessary fleers and be responsive to the gendered character of forced displacement and particularly to effective access to sexual and reproductive health rights.

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Since 2015 a new corridor of forced migration has been opened up by the mass displacement of Venezuelans to neighbouring countries fleeing hunger, poverty, violence and the collapse of the welfare state. In 2016, 200,000 Venezuelans left the country, double the average rate per year since 1999. By 2023, the number of displaced Venezuelans grew to 7 million, fleeing the spiralling economic collapse that left basic food and medicine out of reach for most of the Venezuelan population. The current exodus of Venezuelans has generated the largest migration crisis of its kind in recent Latin American history. Crises of this sort exacerbate a wide range of social injustices that have specific gendered characteristics. This introductory chapter sets out our analytical and normative frameworks for addressing gendered inequalities in relation to displacement and in systems of protection. We focus on Venezuelan women and girls who have fled to Brazil and Colombia for whom gendered drivers of displacement have been significant, and yet protection of their general rights, particularly in relation to their sexual and reproductive health and rights, remains problematic. We provide a dignity-based approach to the nexus of forced migration, gender, and health that combines taking the voices of displaced women and girls seriously with a proposal for gender-responsive systems of protection.

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Our empirically grounded socio-legal analysis of the predicaments of displaced Venezuelan women and girls in relation to protection and secure access to sexual and reproductive health rights highlights a range of obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights and more generally of recognition of their dignity. In this chapter, we address the requirements of protection and the enjoyment of SRH rights, and analyse the distribution of responsibility for securing such conditions. The chapter returns to the challenges confronted by female necessary fleers in transit, in places of immediate refuge and in settlement, before turning to situate these in the ‘necessary fleer’ framework and the core principles of protection that it establishes. This is followed by some more abstract and general reflections on responsibility, contextualized in relation to the Venezuelan displacement. We distinguish the different roles and responsibilities of a range of actors that encompass governmental and non-governmental agents as well as the displaced women and girls themselves. Finally, we locate this account of protection and responsibility within a wider justice and development framework that addresses the conditions that generate necessary flight.

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When women and girls reach their countries of destination, issues of documentation matter, both in how they experience their (health) rights in their everyday circumstances, but also in how they perceive themselves and are socially perceived as rights-holders. Even in contexts where legal definition of status and documentation might not theoretically affect access to basic rights, such as healthcare, in practice, barriers to access to healthcare affect enjoyment of the human rights that migrant women are entitled to. Despite systems of protection and normative frameworks in place, whether documented or not, gender, race, ethnicity and class intersect with women and girls’ migrant status in affecting their everyday experiences of rights. This chapter argues that everyday barriers associated with social perceptions and practices create inequalities and injustices that affect women fleers’ enjoyment of their right to sexual and reproductive health and agency. We make the case for the importance of going beyond issues of documentation and status for effective and gendered responsive systems of protection.

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Experts have praised Latin America for advancing sustained and ‘generous’ asylum and refugee policies since the ratification of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol on the rights of refugees. In effect, the region has formally adopted an expanded definition of refugee going beyond the international refugee regime through the regional framework underpinned by the 1984 Cartagena Declaration. While this suggests that Latin America – and particularly South America – is well-placed to respond to events such as the Venezuela exodus, this chapter analyses gaps in implementation of normative frameworks that could derail principled rights-based approaches to international protection. We identify ambiguities and ad hoc policies predicated on the use of discretionary executive powers. Rather than a rule-based framework that guides and coordinates local, national, regional and international responses, the practical actuality of the experience of Venezuelan necessary fleers more closely resembles a limited and restricted ‘care and maintenance’ system. The chapter therefore shows the vast gap between the promise of the legal framework represented in claims of de facto protection to all forced migrants and the practical reality confronted by Venezuela necessary fleers.

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The gendered character of forced migration is brought into sharp relief by the mass displacement of Venezuelan women and girls. Not only are they compelled to flee for reasons that are typically either gender-specific (the collapse of maternal healthcare) or gender-inflected (as primary agents of familial care work), but they also confront gender-specific challenges in transit to, and reception and settlement in, countries of protection. Focusing on SRH provides a lens through which the gendered nature of their displacement and the necessity of gendered forms of protection is made visible even as it exposes a series of protection gaps that the failure to recognize the distinctive character of female forced migration generates. The first and foremost of these gaps is the conceptual and normative failure of the protection regime to acknowledge that women and girls may have practically necessary reasons for flight not captured by legal conceptions of refugeehood. These conceptions are predicated on identifying this status with a limited range of specific causes or grounds of flight and hence with constructing the refugee–migrant binary in ways that allocate some forced migrants to one category and others to another. Addressing this conceptual failure and articulating a robust ethics of forced displacement can be accomplished by adopting the category of ‘necessary fleer’ and a framework of protection based on this status. The category of ‘necessary fleer’ distinguishes those who have compelling reasons of flight grounded in concern for protection of their basic rights from those who do not have such reasons of practical necessity, and its combination of generality and singularity overcome the conceptual and ethical problems posed by the migrant–refugee binary and to disable the political uses of that binary.

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