by MARIA ALETA O. NIEVA, abs-cbnNEWS.com | 10/01/2008 8:34 PM
Female migrant domestic workers are often the most vulnerable to abuses and violations due to the gender-specific nature of their work. These violations come in several forms, and the bad experience most likely leaves the victim scarred for life.
Sharu Joshi Shrestha, the Regional Programme Manager for Migration of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Nepal, said the violence experienced by women migrant workers also affects the victim’s family, community and country.
“If we do not address violence against women migrant workers, and the only thing we talk about is maximizing benefits, then we’ll be losing a larger part of realities, and we have to pay the cost,” Shrestha said.
Shrestha presented her paper “Combating violence against women migrants and their families” during the parallel sessions at the International Conference on Gender, Migration and Development: Seizing Opportunities, Upholding Rights” held last week in Manila.
Shrestha shared some of the voices of Nepalese women migrant workers who were deployed around the world to show the magnitude of violence against foreign women workers.
The following are some of the experiences of women migrant workers, which she cited in her presentation:
• "My employer who was HIV Positive raped me and now I am not only a rape victim but also a HIV Positive";
• "I wanted to talk to my family and children but my employer did not allow me to make any phone calls until the end of my contract";
• "I was locked in my bedroom from 9 p.m. to the next morning by my employer fearing that I will have sexual relationship with her husband";
• "I didn’t get salary as per my employer’s promise but I was compelled to work there for 2 years because I have to pay off my loan with interest which I invested for going foreign employment";
• "I was forced to leave my home because of domestic violence. But even in the foreign country, violence chased me and I fell victim to my employer. No matter which country, rich or poor, women have to face violence everywhere";
• "I never experienced sexual and mental abuse while working in Kuwait, but once I came back home, neighbors use to say that I must have slept with my employer and I am a 'loose' woman. In each of their comment, I felt like I was mentally raped";
• "I was admitted to the mental hospital in Korea and was administered drugs/medication for mentally-challenged people for seven years simply because I was unable to explain my position to the police as I could not speak the local language. This has devastated my life as I have lost my sanity and am still trying to recover from its impact" (The woman who was admitted to the mental institution just happened to lose her wallet after eating in a restaurant. She couldn’t explain and convince the restaurant people about what happened due to the language barrier. The restaurant called up the police who in turn turned her over to the institution).
“It’s high time for the international community to address violence against women migrant workers. No matter what we say about the risks, labor migration is booming, increasing,” Shrestha said.
Statistically, data show that the number of women workers is increasing, which she says constitute 50% of the total international labor force.
“Most importantly, the largest portion of migrants is female employed as domestic workers, which are often unregulated in both country of origin and employment,” said Shrestha.
Despite the dangers posed by the phenomenon of migration, people are still compelled by economic circumstances to take their chance abroad.
“Money speaks. Remittance has power. It attracts the migrant worker, their families, banks and government. So no matter if there are other risks and new challenges, people are moving, they are going abroad. So we really need to address how we can minimize the risks of foreign labor migration,” she stressed.
Seven forms of violence
She identified seven forms of violence—sexual, economic, physical, mental, cultural, discrimination on the basis of race and of sex—committed against female migrant workers.
“Mental... this is a very much challenging form of violence because you cannot see how much you are harassed. You cannot see the magnitude of how much you are humiliated. You cannot see how much it has affected your heart,” she said.
Aside from the six forms of violence, women migrant workers also experience other violations of fundamental rights such as the right to work, right to information, right against harassment/violence and right to access justice.
“The consequences and impacts of violence is worrisome,“ she said.
She stated that violence against women migrant workers affects the progress and development of women and their family. It increases the social cost for the family, community and the nation due to family breakdown and absenteeism. Also, it disempowers women, deepens feminization of poverty and bonded labor.
It also hinders women to gain maximum tangible benefit from their employment and entrenches the nexus between trafficking/human smuggling and migration as well as promotes impunity, and violence and crime as a norm.
Women migrants' rights
Given the problems often faced by women migrant workers, Shrestha recommended that the development and implementation of rights-based policies, legislation and programme in line with international human rights standards, specifically addressing the issue of violence against women.
Shrestha said that five years ago, Nepal did very little to respect the rights of women migrant workers. The country even imposed a ban against women migrant workers going to Gulf countries that forced 70,000 Nepalese women to risk Saudi Arabia while 25,000 others took their chance in Kuwait.
“After the UNIFEMs intervention, they not only lifted the ban. They not only amended the foreign implement act. Now they have come out with rights-based approach to protect the rights of women migrant workers,” said Shrestha.
She added the need to unite, organize and strengthen the capacity of women migrant workers and their networks, and facilitate national and regional learning and sharing on issues about violence against women.
“Before, none of the (Nepalese) women migrant workers were coming out to share their experiences because they were tagged as loose women. But with UNIFEM’s intervention, the network of migrant women workers really capacitated them, and they are now rescuing women in Kuwait and other countries,“ she said.
Consult, involve women
Women migrant workers must also be involved in the planning and implementation of policies or programs in order to effectively address the issue of violence against women.
Furthermore, the government should initiate talks with other governments and promote bilateral agreements or memorandum of understanding with specific provisions that address violence committed against women and other issues.
“Many times there is a lack of bilateral agreements. If there is, I don’t know. Some people say many times they are superficial and the gender component is completely lacking. Governemnt-to-government and bilateral talks are crucial in these issues of migrant workers. Women migrant workers are not just beneficiaries. They are economic actors, they are contributors, so that has to be respected and included in government-to-government talks and bilateral agreements,“ Shrestha said.
Her other recommendations are:
the establishment of embassies in both sending and receiving countries to better respond to specific concerns of women migrant workers;
mandatory provision for shelter house, 24 hours hotline, service for psychosocial counseling and legal remedy both in countries of origin and employment;
establishing mechanisms at national and regional levels for effective monitoring and implementation of support services for women migrant workers;
collective bargaining from countries of origin;
adopt a standard employment contract;
facilitate monitoring on the status of women migrant workers, including undocumented ones, through data collection;
develop effective reintegration packages and create alternative livelihood opportunities in the country of origin;
set up legal and financial literacy programs;
include sessions on violence against women in pre-departure orientations;
intensive media campaign focusing on issues for awareness and proactive response; and,
step up advocacy for the ratification and implementation of the United Nation Migration Conventions, adoption of the CEDAW (Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) General Recommendation on Rights of women migrant workers.