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Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...

GAATW Logo

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Rights
at home, abroad and on the way...

Women: Agents of Change or Victims of Abuse? Reporting Women’s Labour Migration

Across South Asia women leave their homes in the hope of improving their economic and social status and securing better lives and livelihoods. South Asian countries actively promote migration as an employment option and a foreign exchange earner but at the same time they fail in their responsibility to protect the rights of their migrant workers and citizens. Both countries of origin and destination have weak labour laws with many female-dominated jobs falling outside the purview of labour laws and regulations.

The media play a crucial role in shaping public perception about migrants and influencing migration policies. In South Asia migration is a hot topic for the media, however, most reports tend to be unbalanced and sensationalised. While men are portrayed as workers and active agents seeking to improve their lives, women are too often presented as vulnerable, passive victims of abuse. Migrant women’s immense contribution to their family and society, as well as their strength, courage and resilience in the process of migration, are rarely highlighted. In response, many South Asian countries enact protectionist restrictions on women’s mobility rather than measures to protect and strengthen their rights.

What are the factors that propel women to risk their lives in order to seek better opportunities in the Middle East and elsewhere? Are these motivations merely economic or are they also an attempt to escape oppression in families and communities? Have we ignored success stories of migrants who have made a better life for themselves and their families? Who and where are the heroines of migration rather than only ‘survivors of trafficking’? How can these narratives of journeys, adventures, and courage be told in ways that validate the women and their lives?

With some of these questions in mind, in October 2015 GAATW-IS organised a four-day workshop with print journalists from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, to discuss how the media can report on women’s labour migration in a rights-based, strength-affirming way. In 2016 we provided a small stipend to selected journalists to produce and publish several articles that highlight the positive side of women’s migration or, where abuse and trafficking had occurred – women’s strength in overcoming these obstacles. Throughout 2016 GAATW-IS and our advisors provided guidance and support to the journalists. In total 33 articles were published in local print press in the four countries in English, Nepali and Odia.

The articles highlight how migration, although often prompted by dire economic need, can be an empowering experience for women. Migration helps them send children to school, buy a piece of land, build a house or leave an abusive relationship. In some cases, migrant women become the main breadwinner in the family, which gives them more respect and power in decision making both in the family and the community. However, as some of the articles show, governments need to do a better job at providing predeparture orientation and training, as the current system leaves many women unprepared for the job and vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The patterns of women’s migration are changing too. Although media reports usually focus on women who migrate to the Gulf as domestic workers, there are other life trajectories that need to be told. Women also work abroad in manufacturing, retail or as technicians, where they have more labour protections and earn better. Other women migrate to developed countries to study or improve their professional skills, but also to escape the confines of patriarchal attitudes and gender inequality in their home countries. Upon returning home, migrant women have different needs that, unfortunately, are often not met by governments. NGOs play an important role here in offering reintegration assistance to returnee migrants, as well as psychosocial support and skills building to trafficked women.

Here we would like to share some of the published articles in the hopes that they will inspire others from South Asia and beyond to look past the sensationalistic stories of abuse and trafficking and see the potentially transforming effect that migration can have for women. 

 

Migrant work as economic emancipation and social empowerment

Zahrah Imtiaz, The Daily News, Sri Lanka

SL1

In a community which frowns at a woman's decision to work outside of her house, women in Eastern Sri Lanka have managed to bypass this by migrating to Middle East countries to earn their dowries. In a strange twist of fate, these women break through conventional barriers to economic empowerment, to meet yet another traditional requirement for a woman of marriageable age - entitlement to a handsome dowry… 

Where women are the breadwinners

Adil Sakhawat, The Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh

BD1

Women from Singair are successfully employed in different countries, mostly in the Middle East, working to turn their lives around and making hefty contributions to the country’s foreign exchange earnings every year. Once, women in Singair could not even go to their neighbouring village without their husband’s permission. Now, they contribute at least as much as their husbands — if not more – to their family income. They are not just contributing financially, but also actively taking part in the decision-making process with their male counterparts… 

Dancing was this community’s ticket to a better life

Kunal Purohit, The Hindustan Times, India

IN1

As the battle over reopening dance bars in Maharashtra continues, far away from the arc lights of Mumbai’s bars is a community feeling the greatest impact of the eight-year ban. The bars gave women from the Nat community an opportunity to quit sex work. Many women came to Mumbai and started earning well enough to ensure their sisters and daughters got a good education and never had to enter the trade. Their families started living better too — bigger homes, not the kaccha mud-thatched houses they once lived in. And the income meant women had control over their own life…

A leap of faith

Roshan Sedhai, The Kathmandu Post, Nepal

NP1

Countries in crisis like Iraq have been attracting a growing number of Nepali women in recent years because the working conditions and wages are better than in the Gulf. Balu Maya returned to Nepal having had worked as a caregiver in private households in Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital. She says that she accepted the job as the salary and perks that came with it were better than other opportunities in the Gulf. If things go as planned, Maya intends to go back to Kurdistan after a well-deserved break in Kathmandu…

Tale of women migrant workers

Zahrah Imtiaz, The Daily News, Sri Lanka

SL2As a single parent, foreign employment provided Kumarihamy with an income to buy a plot of land, build a house and also buy half an acre of paddy to cultivate when she eventually returned home. Most women who migrate, according to the Bureau of Foreign Employment, are in their late 20s and early 30s, are married and are driven by a desire to build a house, educate children, to overcome poverty or to escape an abusive marriage… 

The change makers

Arafat Ara, The Financial Express, Bangladesh

BD2If the government ensures safe migration, migrant women’s contribution may be double the amount earned by their male counterparts, as they do not misuse their remittances. Women are investing in education and family maintenance, which contributes to human resource development. However, there should be proper skill training for them and reduction of fraudulent activities so they don’t become victimised during their migration… 

Women on the move: In search of more gender balanced work environments abroad

Zahrah Imtiaz, The Daily News, Sri Lanka

SL3Amarasinghe is part of a growing number of professional Sri Lankan women who have made an independent decision to migrate, to further improve their careers or professional skills. ‘I have always thought that women and men should have equal opportunity but I know that this does not take place much in Sri Lanka. There is also more exposure and ability to progress further here,’ says Amarasinghe…

Female migrant Nepalis taking up jobs outside domestic confines

Roshan Sedhai, The Kathmandu Post, Nepal

NP2Kala works as a general technician for a private company based in Abu Dhabi. Her days are spent fixing ACs and general home appliances for a girls’ school. More than 90 per cent of the 13,000 women going aboard in the first 10 months of 2016 had taken up jobs other than domestic help. Today, a majority of Nepali women are primarily seeking employment in manufacturing, retail, hospitality and service sectors. Women employed in the industrial and service sectors work in a relatively open environment…

Odisha women work as ‘skilled workers’ against all odds

Rakhi Ghosh, The Daily Pioneer, India

IN2Among other women workers in her slum, Radharani gets more respect and importance in decision making both at home and at work. She has created her own identity as a mason in the city and has broken the gender norm. She has been in the profession for the last 20 years and now things have changed and people accept her as a paint mason. Earlier, it was not so easy, sometimes they did not entrust such work to a woman…

A changing fabric

Raksha Kumar, The Hindu, India

IN3Since 2009, soaring costs and labour paucity has been pushing textile companies away from Bengaluru into smaller towns. The trend has been so widespread that the garment workers’ trade union believes the industry may all but cease to exist in Bengaluru in a few years. The workers are happy to be back home, but there is also the fear that the industry’s geographical diffusion might weaken the labour union, which has been responsible for ensuring a minimum wage and addressing sexual harassment at the workplace… 

The life back home migrant women live

Arafat Ara, The Financial Express, Bangladesh

BD3

Every year a significant number of women migrants return home. Some of them have deposits and working experience. They want to do something for financial solvency but in the absence of opportunities they can’t utilise their hard-earned money in an effective manner. Banks want women to have land or other assets as collaterals, while private money lenders charge high interest rates. The only opportunities for reintegration of returning migrant women are provided by NGOs… 

The second chapter

Tsering Dolker, The Nepali Times, Nepal

NP3Shakti Samuha has set up a nationwide network to help bring victims of trafficking together and facilitate their reintegration into society by providing legal and psychosocial counselling, livelihood and skills development training, and support in income generation. The organisation provides information about safe migration and trafficking to women wishing to go abroad. Sunita Danuwar: ‘We don’t want to stop women from migrating, we just want them to do so in a safe and legal manner.’…