KIND celebrates International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month 

March 8, 2023

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, KIND will share a series of blogs on how our work advances migrant girls’ and women’s rights. We are reflecting on how we as a global community can promote the protection of girls and women on the move so they can live free from violence and fear and celebrate their contributions and achievements. In this blog you will read about KIND’s first-ever Senior Director in Europe, Kirsty Thomson, and the protection needs of girls and women who have fled their home countries to seek safety. 

Focus: Meet Kirsty Thomson, KIND’s new Senior Director for Europe

Q: Welcome to KIND Kirsty! Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to this position? 

I’m delighted to have taken up the position as Senior Director in Europe for KIND. I’ve been a human rights lawyer in the UK for a very long time, directly representing and working with unaccompanied and separated children. I have specializations in migration, child protection, gender-based violence, human trafficking and family reunification. Over the years I’ve developed various legal projects in those areas including with children migrating alone. I then cofounded my own human rights NGO in the UK. I’ve worked in the UK and at the European level in a number of programs and advocacy and capacity building initiatives in these areas. I have worked alongside KIND since 2015 when KIND was first asked to bring its model to the UK. The NGO I cofounded then became one of KIND’s partners in the UK. Then I became involved in KIND’s development of its programs in Europe, so it felt like a really natural step to take this position.  


Q: What draws you to this work in human rights and child migration?  

When I did my law degree a long time ago, there really wasn’t a pathway to be a human rights lawyer, or at least not the kind of pathways that exist now, and certainly not to work specifically with children. My initial career path was to work in law and policy at the European level. But when I was 21, I worked in Nepal for a summer and witnessed how, due to the situation there, children were migrating or being trafficked, particularly into India. It was so stark what was happening. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe that law doesn’t have a role here; law must have a role here,” in terms of legislation, systems of protection, awareness raising, and direct legal assistance. From that point on, I’ve never looked back. Here I am over 20 years later, still working for the safety and protection of children on the move. There was nothing more compelling to me then, and there remains nothing more compelling to me now, than working to improve the protection of children who are migrating alone and ensuring that they access the rights and protections that they need.  

What I now know over 20 years later, having been a human rights lawyer for most of that time, is that our response to children migrating alone has to be really multifaceted. Yes, we need to provide direct programming and direct legal and psychosocial services, but we also need to share the experiences of these children and the challenges and gaps in their protection (that we identify through that work) with policy makers to impact change. We need to be feeding back this information and learnings to those working with and impacting children on the move, incorporating this into the provision of technical assistance and training to these actors to increase their knowledge and to advance a child centered approach. I have also learned that you need to collaborate with people and teams both inside and outside your organization. That’s why it is a total privilege to be now working with KIND; I can’t think of any other organization globally that encompasses that collaborative approach and that vision of protecting children on the move while also working to ensure their rights. With its amazing teams of people, KIND harnesses resources from non-profits, the private sector, and legal community, and you see the power of great people working together not only within their own organization but across teams in different sectors. I am privileged to now be working as part of KIND to deliver that mission with KIND in Europe. 

Q: Can you tell us more about your expertise in gender-based violence? What are some of the special challenges women and children face that either cause them to migrate or during their migration? 

As a lawyer, I have worked on hundreds of cases of women and children fleeing gender-based violence in different parts of the world. I have also developed and led a number of legal and advocacy programs on gender-based violence. I have contributed to policy and research papers, developed and delivered trainings, and been part of expert inquiries and working groups on various thematic issues such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and human trafficking.  

As long as women and girls are not treated as equal, either in law or society, they will continue to be disproportionately impacted by the increasing instability we see in the world today. Time and time again, I have seen this power imbalance play out in cases of harmful practices such as child marriage and forced genital mutilation. I have seen this in the women and girls I have represented who are fleeing conflict and have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The same factors that force women and girls to migrate also increase the risks of trafficking, violence, and abuse on their migration journeys. This continuum of violence continues in countries of refuge and becomes harder to break without a specialist multi-agency holistic approach like that of KIND.  

Q: What is the link between women’s issues such as gender-based violence prevention and child migration? 

One in three women has experienced sexual and gender-based violence, making it one of the most widespread and pervasive violations of human rights in the world today. This is unacceptable. If we don’t engage in prevention work, power imbalances continue, and girls feel they have no choice but to make dangerous journeys; the choiceless choice. Women and girls need access to the right services and support, the right information presented in the right way at the right time and legal pathways to enable safe migration. Perhaps then we can say that women and girls will have an actual choice.   

Q: Are there any women role models you have had in this work? 

I have had the privilege of working with many inspiring women and girls over the course of my career; from women who rose to the top of their profession to those I have represented as a lawyer and then gone on to work alongside as survivors at a capacity building and policy level. Courage, determination, hope and the ability to pick oneself up, and try again, forms part of all of them.   

Q: What is your vision for KIND’s work in Europe? What are your hopes for what KIND can do moving forward in Europe? 

Wherever KIND is working, its vision is to ensure that children’s rights and well-being are protected as they migrate alone in search of safety. For me, it is about staying true to this vision and building on the amazing work that KIND is doing in the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and Europe and the UK with its partners. Continuing to be strategic, to really think about where KIND can bring its vision, expertise, and tools to support the incredible work that individuals, organizations, and communities are already carrying out in Europe. That means continuing to do our work in partnership with a range of different actors, organizations, networks, and the pro bono legal community in Europe.  

The reasons that children are fleeing and the obstacles and challenges that children face migrating alone are similar, whether that child is migrating alone into Europe or the United States.  For this reason it really makes sense for KIND to work in Europe and complement and support the legal community and NGO community that are already there protecting children on the move…I am looking forward to building on the work KIND has done so far in Europe with direct assistance and programming,  strengthening systems and capacity building, policy and advocacy—and to build on that in a very strategic and considered way, going where we are most needed and doing it in a collaborative way with our current, and indeed future, partners in Europe.  

To learn more from Kirsty and about KIND’s pioneering work in Europe, see her bio here, and stay tuned for part two of our conversation with Kirsty.