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Migration and Women

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Published: 
Mon, 2012-11-26

INTRODUCTION

Demand for cheap labour has increased labour migration, a trend that has not been accompanied by universal fortification of migrant workers’ human rights.  There is a need to examine existing frameworks on migration, and to call for programs and policies that: ensure the protection of the rights and enhance the welfare of migrants and their families; by formulating formulation of a comprehensive, rights-based, gender-sensitive regulatory framework is required, anchored in the principles of the UN 1990 MWC, CEDAW, ILO Conventions (97, 143 and 189).

Women in migration

 The Women currently account for nearly 50 per cent of all migrants.  While previously women often migrated as a ‘dependent’, women are increasingly migrating as individuals.  An increasing number of case studies have pointed to the potential for female migrant workers to improve the living standard of their families.  Enhancing the socio-economic power of women workers, migration can lead to high income levels and decreased discrimination and gender-based violence[1].  Migration can also increase women’s access to information and education, help them to gain work experience and economic independence, combat the relegation of women to traditional roles and allow women to more effectively exercise their human rights.[2]  With the opportunity to become economic decision-makers, women’s roles are changing, within the family, the community, and the workplace. This is contributing to women's empowerment.

Nepal has witnessed an increase in the number of women migrating for employment.  Currently, the total volume of remittances accounts for 23 per cent of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product; the proportion of female contributors has reached 11 per cent of total donors.  

Despite the local and national economic value of remittances provided by Nepali female migrant workers, women’s migration for employment is still an issue of public scrutiny. There is dual value associated with women's migration for work. If women can make money and support family financially then they started being respected within the family, which discourages society who in any case does not accept women's stepping out from home for employment. but if they fail to bring back money and support family  then they get  doubly stigmatized by society and even by their family. They get criticized for failing to adhere to traditional practices, and their life becomes difficult to live. 

As, women's work has been gendered and stereotyped in the labour market, that remains within   domestic and other forms of service sector. Making women's work invisible, informal, low valued and potential for different forms of abuses. Similarly as women's work in service sector has not been considered as work they neither fall within the radar of labour right movement nor gets governed by labour laws. This is being evidenced in country with increasing number of cases of women returning being abused, exploited and tortured.  Compounded with existing social norms and values about women's work mobility this situation forces women to get more stigmatized abused and tortured when they return home.

The decision of the Government of Nepal to restrict the migration of women under 30 years of age, at the time of migration to the Gulf countries for employment, which is an outcome of governments protectionist approach, has further obstructed women’s right to mobility. This situation has also created ground for more stigmatization and abuse to those women who are below 30 and have migrated to gulf countries for work.

Migrants’ Rights Are Women Human Rights

The human rights of migrants and their families are established under international laws and standards promulgated by the United Nations (UN), International Labour Organisation (ILO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international and regional bodies.   States are responsible for protecting the human rights of migrants, whether the migrants are citizens or foreign workers, passing through the country in transit to another location or expecting to reside within the country for employment.   The most comprehensive framework for the protection of the rights of migrants and their families remains the UN 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (UN 1990 MWC)[3].

Statistics on Women and Migration

  • Migrant women account for almost 50% of all migrants worldwide;
  • An estimated 2.5 million Nepali women are currently working outside of Nepal in countries that include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, South Korea;
  • More than 80% of Nepali migrant workers move to Gulf countries for employments;
  • Approximately 1700 Nepali workers migrating for foreign employment are documented;
  • An estimated 90% of women migrant workers are undocumented;
  • The number of women migrants in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be 63,000, followed by Kuwait (25000), Quatar (18,000), Oman (10,000) and UAE (7,000); (Source: UN Women and NIDS)

(Sources: Ministry of Labour and employment and WOREC Nepal)

 

Issues Faced By Women Migrant Workers 

 

  • Recruitment by illegal brokers and agents
  • Lack of comprehensive pre-departure orientation  
  • Changes to or violation of their contracts upon arrival, leading to economic exploitation 
  • Abuse in the work place (verbal, sexual, physical, psychological)
  • Potential for consensual labour to become forced labour or trafficking
  • Lack of government support for exploited migrants in both the destination and the home country, including lack of safe houses, insufficient legal, medical and economic support, and lack of support in case of injury or death while working abroad
  • Social criticism, domestic abuse and conflict, and unemployment upon return

                                                         

  
 

 

 

 

 

Areas of intervention to change the situation

It is necessary to understand that women's migration for employment is benefiting women at personal level, state level and for the destination countries. With Globalization of free migration policies and adoption of structural adjustment programs social security are being cut in different countries. In these situation migrant women workers are the people who are taking care of elderly, children and household work. This is contributing to family income, women’s empowerment, and creating security and safety nets in the society in the destination countries where women work. Similarly women's migration for employment is contributing to women's empowerment, changes socio-cultural discriminatory values towards women and establishes women as economic agent of the family and society in the country of origin. This changes women's stereotypical role and largely contributes to women's empowerment. The work done by women is contributing to gross domestic product (GDP) of both countries. This needs to be understood clearly and create mechanism to make women's migration and work safe, visible complying with Human Right mechanisms.

 The government is responsible for protecting women's right to mobility protecting them from all forms of abuses, deception and coercion.  Restricting women's mobility reinforces traditional discriminatory values towards women. Reinforces stereotype and creates challenge to retain the gain which government has gained in area of women's empowerment. This facilitates traffickers, facilitates clandesentine routes. This contributes to human trafficking.

Similarly Government of destination countries needs to understand the fact that female migrant workers are contributing to their social security, economy and creating environment for the family of the country to work, to take care of their family and to contribute to national economy. It is very important for destination country to ensure that every migrant worker in country are workers and their rights of fair wage, social security and work in safe environment are protected. Following multi-level strategy response framework can be followed

 

Concluding observations by CEDAW Committee

To ensure the rights of Nepali women migrant workers, the CEDAW Committee suggested the following:

  1. Invesitgate the cause of women’s migration, ensure the provision of loan opportunities, create employment or encourage self-employment opportunities for women within Nepal
  2. Establish mechanisms to promote safe migration and to protect and fulfill women’s rights throughout the migration process;
  3. Enforce and monitor standardized and comprehensive pre-departure orientations and skill trainings;
  4. Sign bilateral agreements, with adequate provisions for the protection of migrant workers’ human rights, with the country of employment;
  5. Provide assistance to migrant women seeking redress;
  6. Create alternative livelihood opportunities for returnees and promote their reintegration; and
  7. Prosecute and punish the perpetrators

 

Government has to fulfil the due diligence to protect rights of migrating women and migrant women workers following the suggestions given by the international treaty bodies, ILO standard and respect women's right to mobility, work and work in a safe environment with fair treatment and wages!!

 


[1]WOREC Nepal: A study by WOREC Nepal on Migration 2004.

[2]IOM: Factsheet on Gender and Migration, 2009. URL: www. iom.int

[3] World social forum on migration (WSFM) 2012: URL: http://www.wsfm2012.org/about-us/what-is-the-wsfm

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