Women migrant workers experience a continuum of gender-based violence and harassment, ranging from insults to severe physical abuse, rape and sexual assault, psychological abuse, bullying and intimidation, according to a recent study report of the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women.
The GAATW report, launched from Bangkok on June 12, was based on a research among women migrant workers carried out by 30 organisations and individual researchers across 22 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The aim of the research was to document the nature of violence, harassment and exploitation that women migrant workers face, how they deal with such abuses, and their demands for change.
GAATW partner and Bangladesh chapter research coordinator Shakirul Islam told New Age that they found a segment of Bangladeshi domestic women workers decided to migrate abroad after being victims of gender-based violence at home.
Another segment of Bangladeshi women workers were forced to migrate abroad by their family members, he said, adding that these two types of migration took place against women’s willingness.
In the workplace, the female domestic workers are more vulnerable to abuse and fail to get redress as their job is in the informal sector, said Shakirul, also chairman of a migrant workers’ welfare NGO named Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme.
According to the GAATW study, gender-based violence cannot be considered in isolation from the patriarchal ideas about women’s place in society, the value of their labour, and the abuse that women experience throughout their lives.
Many female domestic workers told stories of sexual violence, often perpetrated by male family members living in the house.
One Bangladeshi woman said, ‘My employer’s son always came in whenever I was in the bathroom, kitchen, roof top, and veranda. He used to touch my breasts and other sensitive parts of my body. There was nothing I could do,’ according to the report.
In addition to sexual abuse, domestic workers frequently reported punishing working hours, substandard living and working conditions, and insufficient food. Many worked all the week, without a day-off, and had to continue working even when they were sick.
Women migrant workers described being pushed into precarious work with little choice because of lack of jobs in their countries of origin, debt, economic hardship and the breadwinner role falling to them.
Migrant women in Thailand garment sector reported being paid less than the legal minimum wage of 310 baht , or USD 10, per day, with some being paid as little as 160 baht, or USD 5, per day.
Women garment workers in Brazil said that due to piece-rate payment schemes, they had to work 18-hour days in order to make just enough money to survive – an amount still only two-thirds of the national minimum wage. They also highlighted that they were paid less than men for doing the same work.
The GAATW study said that the women workers wanted decent work, rights at work and rights as migrants.
According to Bangladesh’s Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, over 8.42 lakh Bangladeshi female workers have migrated abroad since 1992.
About 98 per cent of them migrated to Middle East countries as domestic workers, the BMET officials said.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone recruited over 300,000 female domestic workers from Bangladesh, the BMET record shows.
A good number of domestic workers are returning home from the KSA and other Arab countries as victims of sexual abuse, tortures and non-payment.