On International Migrants Day, Jebli Shrestha, GAATW's Programme Officer - Research, speaks out against the restrictive migration polices of countries of origin in South Asia and calls on governments to protect domestic workers' rights.
Migration for work has numerous benefits. Migrants fill labour force gaps in destination countries; countries of origin earn foreign currency; while workers gain personal development together with economic agency. However, migration policies of both destination and countries of origin, especially for domestic workers, are not centred on the rights of migrant workers. Instead they provide inadequate rights protection and deny further development opportunities for workers.
It is estimated that 40% of migrant workers in Gulf countries are women from South Asia, the majority are domestic workers, attracted by the free visa provision of destination countries. Despite this, governments in these countries shy away from providing conditions for decent work and a dignified life by failing to recognise domestic work as formal labour or provide protection for workers. This invisibility of domestic workers in the legal framework is reflected in the attitudinal issues faced by the workers within the household of their employers.
Similarly, countries of origin that benefit from remittances sent by migrant domestic workers also lack adequate measures that protect the rights of migrant workers. Many South Asian governments have imposed restrictive policies that have made migration for work for women riskier. Nepal's ban on women under the age of 30 migrating for domestic work is an example.
Governments defend their policies as "protecting" women from abuses they face at destinations. However, the move to curtail women's freedom has been seen as a reflection of cultural practices in the region where women's sexual purity is linked to the family's honour and, in a larger context, that of the nation's.
Such policies ignore root causes of women's migration for domestic work. Long-standing discrimination and inequality play an important role – the majority of these workers are rural women with lower levels of education and limited economic options. Many also decide to migrate to escape unhappy or unwanted relationships and violence, to access opportunities for development and sometimes for just an opportunity to see the world beyond. Many women view abuses and exploitation at destination merely as an extension of experiences at home.
Nepal's example shows that restrictions on migration have not discouraged women from travelling to Gulf countries to work as domestic workers – indicating the ineffectiveness of such policies in "protecting" women. If anything, restrictions have made their journeys more dangerous and their migration experiences worse.
For example, barriers and restrictions form the basis of business models of unscrupulous agents that aid women to move for work. Even when agents act with good intentions, women travelling in contravention of government restrictions may find themselves in situations of risk during the journey or at destination, and may lack state protection should they need it.
Regulated open channels for migration and enhanced measures for protection of rights of migrant domestic workers at destinations ensures safer migration. An important step both for countries of origin and destination would be to ratify and implement obligations specified in the International Labour Organisation's Domestic Workers Convention 189.
The economic and political influences of countries of destination allow them to shop around in the Asian region for the lowest cost workers, and disregard the rights of domestic workers to a living wage and other labour rights. Ensuring migrant workers' wage protection and fair remuneration is critical. This would only be possible if countries of origin refrain from undercutting each other by providing workers at lower wages.
Development of domestic workers also requires countries of origin to invest substantially in the workers – at the very least in quality skills and language training – so they can adapt to and perform their tasks. However, understanding of rights – as a woman, as a worker, as a migrant worker – is equally imperative. Women must be able to recognise when their rights are violated and to take action against it. It is the responsibility of both countries of origin and destination to guarantee a safe environment to migrant domestic workers through policies and laws that uphold their rights as workers and ensure effective implementation.
On Human Rights Day, a global alliance of migrant rights and anti-trafficking organisations names the top three human rights setbacks over the last twenty years
Lack of national laws and implementation of existing laws; the conflation of sex work and trafficking; and growing right-wing and anti-migrant movements have posed the biggest challenges to the realisation of human rights for migrant and trafficked women over the last two decades, says the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) on Human Rights Day.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on anti-trafficking, women's rights and migrant rights around the world named the most pressing obstacles to the fulfillment of migrants' rights – helping to identify the main factors involved in human trafficking and exploitation of migrant workers. The survey took place at GAATW's International Members' Congress, which brought together representatives from GAATW's Member Organisations, as well as partners and allies, in September 2014 to review progress in anti-trafficking and migrant rights work and plan future goals.
Lack of laws addressing trafficking or the failure of governments to implement anti-trafficking laws were identified as major setbacks in recent decades. Even where laws are in place, many NGOs said there was too much emphasis on the criminal element of anti-trafficking, rather than focusing on the protection of human rights. For example, one participant said that in Malaysia there is a "lack of implementation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act. The legislation is very crime centred, absolutely no human rights framework." The participant felt that there was "no political will" in the country to protect migrants' rights. GAATW believes that any government policy on trafficking must centre the human rights of all workers, including migrant workers and those working in informal sectors, such as domestic work.
Many NGOs stated that the rising prominence of right-wing political parties and movements, particularly in Europe, is a major challenge to human rights work. Racism, xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments promoted by right-wing bodies are leading to "stigmatisation of women who are on the move", putting migrant women at increased risk of violence, and increasing the criminalisation of migrants. Outside of Europe, one participant said that "a right-wing government in India... is pulling back all the gains of the last two decades." GAATW is particularly concerned about persistent negative framing of migration in the official discourse, which feeds these discriminatory views and ignores that migration results from state policies and state's labour market needs.
Governments criminalising sex work in the name of combating trafficking was also a top concern for NGOs. One representative from Mexico pointed out that criminalisation of sex work had increased over the years, while many others criticised the conflation of trafficking and sex work in government anti-trafficking policies and NGO advocacy work. Trafficking is not the same as sex work. Trafficking occurs across labour sectors: while some persons are trafficked into the sex sector, not all (or even most) sex workers are trafficked. GAATW has documented the harm done to sex workers, migrants and to people who have been trafficked by anti-trafficking laws, policies, programmes and initiatives that conflate these differing issues. (For more information, read GAATW's publications Collateral Damage, What's the Cost of a Rumour? and Moving Beyond 'Supply and Demand' Catchphrases: Assessing the uses and limitations of demand-based approaches in Anti-Trafficking.)
Other setbacks identified included gender and income inequality and a lack of funding for anti-trafficking work.
Despite these setbacks, participants recognised some gains for trafficked women over the last 20 years through the increased engagement of many anti-trafficking actors with the human rights framework and more recognition of the intersections between trafficking and migrant and labour rights.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a non-profit organisation that works to protect and uphold the human rights of migrating and trafficked women around the world. Representing a global network of 124 non-governmental organizations, we focus on the issues of migration, labour rights and human trafficking, with a special emphasis on women. Our activities involve research, communications, training and advocacy in order to hold governments accountable, increase access to justice for migrating and trafficked women and further the global debate on the issues.
For media enquiries, contact Jasmin Qureshi, Communications Officer, for more information:
Tel: +66 (0) 94056 7281
More than 400 women activists from the Asia-Pacific region call on governments to meet their obligations to uphold women's human rights this week, ahead of an intergovernmental meeting on gender equality convened by UN ESCAP in Bangkok, Thailand.
The collective statement comes from the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20, which from 14-16 November brought together feminist women activists to discuss and put together recommendations for the 20-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA). The BPfA is a global policy framework for the advancement of women's human rights and gender equality, and is currently undergoing review by States in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the framework next year.
Over the past few days, representatives from Asia-Pacific civil society organisations have been looking into whether reported progress by States has been sufficient, and what States should be doing to tackle the remaining challenges in the 12 critical areas of concern identified in the BPfA. The outcome document from the forum makes recommendations to the governments that will meet this week in Bangkok for the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment: Beijing+20 Review.
GAATW-IS is currently taking part in the 20-year review of the BPfA, a process known as the Beijing+20 Review. Alongside other NGOs in the Asia-Pacific region, we are advocating for women's human rights and gender equality, with a focus on government accountability. GAATW-IS is on the steering committee responsible for delivering the Civil Society Forum.
Find statements from the intergovernmental meeting in the Statements section of the website. There you can find:
Civil Society Statement on Agenda Item 5: Review of forward-looking policies to address challenges in achieving gender equality and women's empowerment, and opportunities for accelerating the implementation of the BPfA in the post-2015 era
The Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing+20 will take place in Bangkok, Thailand from 14 to 16 November 2014. There will be a Media Working Group in charge of distributing and disseminating information about the goings-on, discussions, and statement outcomes during the duration of this event.
We have put together a news item announcing the Forum (see below), it would be great if you can post this on your website and help promote Asia-Pacific CSO involvement in the Beijing+20 review.
To get the updates straight in your inbox subscribe to e-newsletter at www.bit.ly/apcsob20subscribe.
For those who would like to keep abreast of what's happening through social media check out the Social Media Toolkit which provides information on how CSOs can monitor and update themselves about relevant news and information about the CSO Forum.
The CSO Forum has its own Facebook - facebook.com/apcsob20 and Twitter - twitter.com/apcsob20. Follow these accounts for on the scene updates. And don't forget to like, share and use the event hashtag #APwomen to spread the word and get involved in the online discussion as we look towards the Asia Pacific Review of Beijing+20.
We are counting down the days to Friday 14 November when we welcome more than 400 activists to Bangkok for the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Beijing +20! Over three days we will discuss the progress made and the implementation gaps and strategise for accountability on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) across the region. GAATW is part of the civil society steering committee responsible for delivering this exciting programme.
Two decades after its adoption, the BPfA by consensus remains the most comprehensive and progressive global policy framework for the advancement of women's human rights and gender equality.
GAATW-IS is currently taking part in the 20-year review of the BPfA, a process known as the Beijing+20 Review. Alongside other NGOs in the Asia-Pacific region, we are advocating for women's human rights and gender equality, with a focus on government accountability.
You can follow all the news and outcomes from the Civil Society Forum (14–16 November) on Facebook and Twitter. #Beijing20 is the hashtag to use for this event. Please share the news and help promote our call for increased government accountability to ensure gender equality and the protection of human rights for all women.
Following the Civil Society Forum, GAATW-IS will bring our messages to the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, convened by UN ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) from 17-20 November. This is the intergovernmental regional preparatory event for the Asia-Pacific region, leading up to the international review at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York next year.