British Council’s Issue-Based Project manager and gender and social inclusion advisor Shirin Lira said that women were migrating to other countries especially Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries for a better future for the last few years because of strong demand for women workers.
She said that those women migrants were living in hardship at rural areas and majority of women migrants were either widow, divorcee or abandoned by their husbands with responsibilities of children on their shoulders.
In an interview with New Age Shirin Lira said that the reality is that they desperately need to find jobs to raise their children and support the family. Often these women migrating for low- and semi-skill work, majority of them are working as domestic workers.
There are very little options for jobs that pay decent salaries at the local market, also there is an obvious lack in skill development for better jobs.
‘On arrival in the host countries, women are particularly vulnerable, often having both their phones and passports confiscated by the employers, leaving the migrants isolated and making reporting of any abuses extremely difficult,’ Shirin Lira observed.
The working and living conditions of female domestic workers is extremely poor, they have little or no access to phones, therefore contacting family members and friends becomes an issue. Moreover, there is allegation of treating them as slave, which comes with severe physical and sexual violence.
On return to Bangladesh, many migrants, particularly those that have had a traumatic experience, have difficulty with re-integration, she pointed out.
‘There is also this issue of exploitation before migration, particularly during pre-departure training, medical test, and issuance of passport by sub-agents, RAs and government officials. However, there is little data to understand women migrants’ need and no mechanisms in place for formal follow-up,’ she added.
There is a critical need to improve the work condition for women migrants through ensuring access to basic services and justice abroad.
She said that additionally, when the issue of exploitation of women migrants is highlighted, often the typical response and suggestions are made that female migration shall be banned without addressing the root causes of abuse as well as without taking actions to protect their rights.
Whereas without creating alternative job markets and developing skill for low- and semi-skilled women, exploitation and abuse will remain in the local market and it may result in increased irregular migration and trafficking.
‘Women, everywhere, must have equal rights and opportunity, and be able to live free of violence and discrimination. Women’s equality and empowerment are the integral part and parcel of inclusive and sustainable development,’ she explained.
She said that there was no doubt that migration increased women’s access to education and economic resources ensured better livelihood for their family members and children, which in turn could improve their autonomy and status.
However, women migrants often have less information, less education, and fewer options for regular migration, which put them at higher risk of exploitation and abuse.
‘Globally, gender norms and social norms in women migrants’ country of origin and destination also influence the outcomes of migration of women and girls, therefore it is critical to ensure that the protection of their rights throughout the migration cycle.’
Migration services shall also be taken at the doorstep of women so that they can take informed decision as well as to ensure justice for victims of abuse and exploitation.
Shirin Lira said that it is critical to adopt a national plan of action for women migration (migration and re-integration) to address the specific needs and situations of vulnerability of migrant women and girls in countries of origin, transit and destination.
She said that the government, legislatures, international organisations, development organisations, civil society groups and private sectors should work in collaboration and collectively to ensure safety, security, shelter and justice for women migrants.
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