UN WOMEN country representative in Bangladesh Shoko Ishikawa warned that stopping women migration could create worse situation as putting a ban on free mobility would lead to an increase in smuggling and trafficking of women from Bangladesh.
Taking into account Bangladesh’s bad experience in Saudi Arabia, she suggested sending women workers to the alternative destinations, especially in the East Asian countries where there is a huge demand for caregivers and other domestic helps.
In an exclusive interview with New Age, Shoko Ishikawa called for keeping the migration channel open to women workers and simultaneously improving channels for making migration safe for women migrant workers.
‘It is a right of everybody to be able to move in safe condition,’ she said, adding that the prohibiting women from going abroad could not stop actual demand for women workers in the destination countries.
‘When it is banned, it makes migration more risky and migrant workers get more vulnerable,’ she said, adding that there is a need for making migration safe as it had been happening for centuries.
Shoko Ishikawa said that Bangladesh put huge emphasis on overseas labour migration and women migration in particular and she added, ‘I appreciate the efforts on the part of the government to attend to the rights of female migrant workers.’
She noted that UN WOMEN has been working closely with ministry of expatriates welfare and overseas employment and trying to make migration a positive and empowering experience for women.
‘Women should be free to avail of any opportunity they can. We need to build their skills, enable them to take the opportunity of overseas migration and also make sure they are protective so that they could enjoy dignified experience of migration,’ she said.
Shoko Ishikawa stated that her organisation provided a number of advices to the government of Bangladesh to modify the ways of migration and facilitate move of female migration.
UN WOMEN supported the EWOE ministry to look at new opportunities for women migrant workers, particularly in the East Asian countries — in Japan as well as in Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
‘We need to identify which destinations are relatively safer and we would have to look at areas of works such as caregiving, for which there is a huge demand in the countries facing increased number of aging population and where there is a lack of professional caregivers,’ she observed.
Shoko Ishikawa said, ‘If we can upgrade the skills of the domestic workers they can be turned into professional caregivers. What is necessary is that they get certified level of skills.’
She cited that one of the hospitals in Bangladesh created a school of training and grooming caregivers before they were sent to Japan. ‘They have collaboration with Japanese institutions where they can understand the need what caregiving in Japan is about — the cultural and language aspects as well as the industry requirements.
Therefore, it should be linked with the receiving country’s technical need, development of soft skills and building the training programmes accordingly.
‘The programme can be replicated with migration to other countries like Taiwan and Korea in mind,’ she suggested.
Asked about the challenges and opportunities of female migration, she said that ‘there is a great potential in female labour migration and the experience women can gain from exposure abroad, learning new skills in the process.’
‘I think it is safe and well managed migration that we should facilitate and migration in general is very positive in term of sending remittances back home,’ she added.
She noted that experienced female migrants felt empowered being able to control the money they earned and the fact that they were able to contribute to the wellbeing of their family.
‘So migration can be a positive experience. It can be an opportunity for women in Bangladesh, particularly because they cannot find much opportunities here at home,’ said Shoko Ishikawa.
But it can also be a challenge.
Shoko Ishikawa said that women migrant workers were being made vulnerable in the countries they were working. Because of many restrictions they faced in term of mobility, in terms of long working hours, in terms of abuse they faced at the hands of their employers and the lack of support mechanism when they were isolated for a long time from their families back home.
They do not have means to be able to seek support to get out of their challenging situation.
So there is a lot we would need to do and the government of Bangladesh should also take account of the situation in order to protect their migrants, she said.
Asked about forced return, she said that it had to be justified and maybe there were real reasons for forcing someone to return if there were clear wrongdoings by migrant workers. ‘Not all the forced migration are done on logical grounds. I think it has to be examined case by case and we need to look into the reason why a person has to be forced out of a country where he or she had gone to work.’
Shoko Ishikawa suggested that the terms of forced returns and the causes of forced returns should be clearly spelt out in the bilateral agreement or MoUs signed by sending and receiving countries of migrant workers.
UN WOMEN works with recruiting companies to make them aware and more gender sensitive. It has developed some self-assessment tools for the recruiting companies to check recruitment processes.
On how they provide orientations how they monitor the migrants they have sent abroad, she said, ‘There is also a standard example of contract, which has some clauses to protect the rights of migrants. We are trying to work with the ministry to make some clauses mandatory within BLA/MoUs.’
To reduce vulnerabilities, Shoko Ishikawa suggested strengthening of pre-departure training and making the female migrant workers more aware of their rights and responsibilities. She also stressed on good support system in the countries of destinations.
She said that as domestic workers from Asia and Africa were facing similar experiences in GCC countries those sending countries should take collective steps to protect their migrants.
She said that civil society organisation networks in the destinations can provide supports to the women migrant workers.
The UN WOMEN was trying to create connectivity of CSOs and NGOs between both countries to extend their supports to the migrant workers.
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