Socio-environmental strategies to protect the rights of women migrant workers in the Reconquista area (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Execution Period:  36 months

Principal Research Institute: Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM)

Partner Institutions: Economía Feminista, Biblioteca Popular de La Carcova, Centro Cultural y Merendero Los Amigos de Barrio Sarmiento

Considering that the gender condition affects women in a particular way and that the climate change produces relevant local impacts (UN, 2008), this participatory-action research proposal investigates the reality faced by thousands of women migrant workers living in the lower basin of the Reconquista River (CCR), Argentina. This basin, where more than 4.2 million people inhabit, is one of the most polluted in the country, especially when it reaches the northwest of the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (AMBA[1]), in a region called Reconquista area (AR) located in the municipal district of General San Martín. There is settled the largest open-air dump in Argentina (the CEAMSE) which, at the same time, is the livelihood of a large part of the approximately 500,000 people who inhabit this municipality (if we account for the official figures of the INDEC Census 2010 and the estimates made by the informal settlements surrounding it themselves).

Despite the conditions of vulnerability and environmental risk of the Reconquista area, the migratory displacement from Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as from the provinces of the northern Argentina, to the nearly 15 settlements of this specific zone of the district is caused by the combination of socioeconomic, environmental and climatic factors. These migrations are pulled by the increasing degradation of natural resources as a result of recurrent floods and droughts, the advancement of the agricultural frontier and the monoculture of transgenic soy. In destination, migrants of the AR must face other socio-environmental problems derived from the pollution of the river and garbage, which also generate floods alongside with severe health problems. In fact, it is estimated that only in this area where the open dump is located live about 110,000 people (although most have not been surveyed or registered by government agencies) with a clear predominance of young women, girls and adolescents from migrant families. Among them, this research focuses on the approximately 60,000 women who, as we estimate, live in these neighborhoods of the municipality of San Martín, and it will place a special emphasis on those approximately 2000 that develop their work in this dump located in the margins of the river.

Overall, it seeks to identify and promote a set of socio-environmental strategies developed and deployed by these women for the maintenance of their family nuclei whose responsibility lies mostly on them. It will first investigate the extent to which climate change impacts differentially on women’s migration to this area. Secondly, it will examine the area’s socio-environmental and climatic conditions that determine the ability of women migrants to fully exercise their rights and participate of the decisions that affect them. For this purpose, the multiple vulnerabilities of the neighborhoods where women migrant workers reside in AR will be assessed through bi-directional (two-way) processes of identification and construction of knowledge about climate change, gender and migration. These activities will produce a system of indicators and practices to promote the strengthening of the capacities of migrant women to fully defend their multiple rights, also reinforcing public policies with transformative gender equality approach aimed at improving living and working conditions of AR. In addition, these experiences and teachings can be replicated in other areas of the Reconquista River basin, specifically in neighboring municipalities corresponding to the AMBA.

General Objetive

To streng then social and gender equity in the lower part of the Reconquista River Basin by providing transformative capacities to women migrant workers based in the surroundings of Argentina’s largest open-air dump in order to access and guarantee their rights.

Specific objectives

1) To enhance knowledge of the strategies and resources of women migrant workers in the face of differentiated climate change impacts on female migration to the Reconquista River Basin study area;

2) To increase dialogue and awareness about the living conditions of migrant women and their involvement in political decisions at local and provincial level, through the strengthening and creation of organizational networks;

3) To challenge social an gender unequalities by provinding new skills to women migrant workers to legitimice them as social and environmental carers of the Reconquista Area (AR);

4) To promote the adoption by local and provincial governments of successful social innovations, which contribute to public awareness and debate around socio-environmental problems and the role of female migrant workers in dealing with climate change.


As climate change is a global scale problem (OHCHR 2017, UN 2000, UN 2015), its consequences are perceived at the local level, and they unequally affect the various groups and territories (Gudynas 2004, Martínez Allier 2005). Among them, the most affected are populations that reside in informal settlements, mostly on the margins of watercourses, such as those that are the subject of this study. Generally, these populations live in conditions of extreme poverty and are exposed to high environmental degradation, two problems that are mutually reinforcing (Besana, Gutiérrez, Grinberg 2015). Impoverished sectors of the countryside and the city are forced to settle on land with little or no commercial value, mostly in floodable areas, exposed to environmental pollution from various sources, such as: industrial spillage pollution, sewage dumps, «open pit» rubbish dumps and degraded water courses (Curutchet, Gutiérrez, Grinberg 2012). On the other hand, inadequate provision of basic environmental services further aggravates the environmental conditions present in informal settlements (Besana, Gutiérrez, Grinberg 2015). Residents of such settlements are often in a situation of energy poverty and environmental injustice with respect to the rest of the population (Swyngedouw 2004) and are exposed to the effects of climate change, especially by heavy rainfall that increases the level of the courses of the rivers and streams. Such is the situation in the Reconquista area (AR), where around 110.00 people live, with living conditions and livelihoods highly difficult. The problem is further aggravated by the 60,000 women who reside in these contexts[2].  In a large number of migrants, women tend to be at the same time those who are most exposed to the environmental conditions of the territory where they reside and who perform tasks to improve those conditions. Indeed, in the territories into which these women arrive; the urban environmental risk is high, if we consider three discrete elements: climatic threats, vulnerability and adaptability (Mehrotra et al 2009). Climatic threats are the climate-induced stresses, such as heat waves, droughts, sea level rise and floods. On the other hand, vulnerability refers to the physical and socioeconomic attributes that determine the degree of susceptibility of a city, including the propensity to flood, land area, elevation, population density, economy and percentage and composition of their low-income populations. Finally, adaptive capacity refers to the city’s ability to respond to climate-related stresses. In this context, we understand that climate change can act as a «transforming stress factor» that can influence institutional change and how governments deal with the problem. That is why in this proposal we will analyze the environmental risk based on adaptation strategies and their planning. For that, we will attend to the solutions provided by the State, but also to the community alternatives. These neighborhoods were historically used as illegal waste landfills, so they are generally low-elevation land and with a lot of unlevels on their surface. Also, as mentioned, in this area is located the largest landfill of the country, the environmental complex North III of the CEAMSE that receives approximately between 17,000 and 18,000 tons of daily waste, from all the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA). For this reason, this is the municipality with the highest concentration of recyclers in the country, who are the ones who carry out the job of collecting, selecting, recovering, transforming, commercializing and reuse of solid waste in the first link of the chain of marketing and retrieval of material. The proximity to the landfill constitutes one of the greatest sources of work, especially for the unemployed sector and informal workers. So, we ask: 1) What is the differential impact of climate change on female migration in AR? 2) What role do migrant workers play in the socio-environmental problems of the AR, mainly the floods of the Reconquista River and the contamination of the landfill?

These big questions are crossed by so many others that become visible through the intersectionality that-as a focus-we will adopt to analyze the processes and elaborate proposals for action. In this sense, we believe that the gender category is not a closed entity or acts in isolation, but is built and negotiated in the social context and in relation to processes such as climate change, migrations and labor markets, and with various social categories with which they dialogue, along with other variables such as the existing institutional framework and the symbolic representations that frame the social spaces they inhabit. So, to those initial questions we could add: How does the gender category appear in environmental conflicts in the area? How is it articulated with other central categories such as ethnicity, nationality, class, generation, among others? What is the specificity that makes it relevant in the context of migration? What identities are promoted and used for public and political action on the part of these women? In order to develop proposals for action, we will also seek to respond: what are the effects of these constructions on the production and reproduction of the lives of women, migrants and AR workers? What obstacles do they face and what strategies do they deploy to access their basic rights? What state policies and agencies serve and seek to ensure access to the public resources and infrastructure of the area? How do they apply? Do they encourage the participation of the target population, mainly women migrant workers? What alternative and practical proposals exist that we can promote in order to carry out educational and transformative experiences based on the training of leaders, the construction of networks and the strengthening of public systems of protection of rights?


participatory research-action methodology (IAP) is proposed which, due to the complexity of the migratory reality in the territory, is born with an interdisciplinary character, involving researchers from different fields and disciplines, with an interest to increasingly involve students, referents of organizations and public officials. Through this look, we identify three factors that aggravate the vulnerability of the female migrant population. The first concerns the environmental problems of AR, which, as we mentioned, become the location of the largest open-pit landfill in Argentina. The second refers to the fact that migrant women in the area are actually crossed by the intersectional elements of social marginalization, which makes them live processes of condensation of social inequalities. They experience the overlap of exclusionary factors linked to their ethnic affiliation, of class, of age and of national belonging, which will be much more incisive in their marginalization, because they combine these characteristics with their obligations as economic, care and emotional heads of their families.

From participatory-action research (IAP) a work organization is posed from the technique of disaggregated work structure (WBS). This approach understands that a project becomes more manageable when it is divided into individual parts, implying a hierarchical breakdown of the work to be carried out by the team oriented to specific products aimed at achieving the proposed objectives. In our case, the activities to be carried out will be organized into 4 components each one of which corresponds to one of the specific objectives of the project: 1) Information production: Realization of a qualitative and quantitative survey that includes the completion of cartographies and the creation of a file, alongside with a diagnosis on climate change’s impact in the area under study, 2) Strengthening and creation of networks: It consists in the identification of relevant actors and the creation of inter-institutional spaces for debate and proposals for conflict resolution, 3) Education and training: It is a series of educational experiences in the territory ranging from the realization of a diploma certificated by the University to the practices in schools, among other, 4) Communication and creativity: It focuses on conducting a public broadcast campaign that will involve the creation of numerous products (audiovisual, performances, etc.)

Key expected outputs

  • report summarizing the research on the existing vulnerability and policy patterns in the lower river basin and mainly in the Reconquista area, as well as the characteristics of the population with focus on migrant women workers.
  • 1 series of cartographies that illustrate both socio-environmental problems and some resources aimed at their reduction,
  • Digital Platform (website) and virtual interaction database, accessible to both researchers and policy makers, public employees, social organizations and mainly migrant women leaders of community groups from the Region,
  • 1 Letter of commitment of the strengthened and unified networks in a new network,
  • 1 set of differential impact indicators of gender policies in the area,
  • 40 graduates of the diploma, about 20 to 30 migrant women, in addition to state workers at their different levels and students of the university,
  • 1 doctoral thesis, 1 of master’s degree and at least 2 of degrees focused on the thematic of the project,
  • 4 booklets/brochures for the elaboration of local and provincial policies for policy makers and other State actors,
  • academic articles for specialized journals, with at least 1 published at the end of the Project,
  • 10 Press articles distributed or published in the local newspapers,
  • 1 set of audiovisual products that report the process and serve for the public dissemination campaign of the research,
  • theatrical piece related to socio-environmental reality in AR from a gender perspective.

Key expected outcomes:

  • Generation of new knowledge on vulnerability and impact of climate change on women migrant workers at the Reconquista River ;
  • Increased interactions among local networks of researchers, policy makers, women migrant workers and other stakeholders to facilitate the adoption and scaling up of a gender approach in innovation strategies for adaptation to climate change ;
  • Capacities improvement of research team members, technical local staff and junior researchers in applied methodologies in order to participate in projects implementation;
  • Empowerment of women migrant leaders in Reconquista River communities to develop new skills and to become owners of their own decisions,
  • Adopt new ways to manage climate change risks on their livelihoods and resources
  • The adoption and implementation by the local government of gender-egalitarian policies that improve adaptation and safety in the face of climate change, and thus improve their livelihoods.

[1] The AMBA is conformed by the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (CABA) and the 34 municipalities of the metropolitan area also called Gran Buenos Aires (GBA) or suburbs (conurbano bonaerense).

[2] According to the last census of population of the year 2010, in the entire river basin Reconquista inhabit 4,239.091 people. In the municipality of San Martin, that is part of this basin, inhabit 405,122 people, of which 37,850 are migrants and of those 12,300 are women. These figures do not account for the Reconquista area (or AR) where the census did not arrive or official statistics such as the Permanent household survey. The organizations in this region estimate that some 110,000 people live with a predominance of young women, girls and adolescents from migrant families or descendants of domestic and international migrant families.