Justice still out of reach for thousands of women migrants from South Asia

Landmark report calls on governments in South Asia to develop a co-ordinated response, better policy and develop standard operating procedures so that women can migrate safely for work

Date: Monday, June 4, 2012

For immediate release

New Delhi - Migration of Women Workers from South Asia to the Gulf is a first of its kind report that offers new insights into the processes and problems associated with the migration of women workers from South Asian countries to the Gulf region. Released by UN Women and the V.V Giri Labour Institute, the report analyses the current situation in five major sending countries of South Asia – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and six major receiving countries of the Gulf region – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

It details the positive economic aspects of migration in South Asia but also highlights the areas where women continue to experience injustice, violence and inequality while migrating. The first ever report to propose a regional approach to the issue of women migration, the report states that the migration of women from South Asia to the Gulf region is likely to keep increasing in the future. It is also likely that women migrants will continue to encounter discrimination and exploitation at different phases of the migration cycle, in both sending and receiving countries.

The report shows that increasing numbers of female migrant workers are travelling abroad:

Women are half of international migrants, comprising 49.6 per cent of 190 million migrant workers

A majority of these women migrate alone as domestic workers to make more money or to support their families

An ever-increasing proportion of migrants from South Asia migrate to the Gulf region, where the demand for domestic workers, especially female workers is high.

In 2010, about 6.45 million international female migrants originated from South Asia. Nepal sent the largest share of international women migrants (68.2 per cent), followed by Sri Lanka (49.8 per cent) and India (48.7 per cent) in 2010 as well.

In 2010, Saudi Arabia was the Gulf country that received the highest proportion of Indian migrant workers

The report finds that women, however, suffer injustice when migrating.

The kafala or a sponsorship system between the employer and employee is the mode of labour recruitment and management in the Gulf region. Work relationships in those countries are, therefore, very individualised, and make women workers highly dependent on their employer, thus, often socially invisible

Insufficient pre-departure orientation makes single women migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuse, as they are often duped by agents or employers

Domestic work remains, in many cases, outside the purview of labour laws, making women all the more vulnerable when they migrate as domestic workers or service providers

“Most of the low-skilled women migrants are caught in a web of marginal existence, on account of being women and low-skilled migrants working in the confines of the households where the piercing eyes of labour law do not reach,” explains Anne F. Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UN Women South Asia.

The report finds that:

Lack of information and proper documentation on women migrants severely inhibits the development of measures that can empower women migrants/p>

Migration does have several positive economic and social benefits due to remittances sent home but discrimination and exploitation are major concerns

Migrant associations offer a strong link between governments and female migrant workers

Migration policy is often not gender sensitive, and does not focus on the right of women to migrate for work

Good pre-departure orientations reduce the vulnerability of women migrant workers

The report recommends the following solutions:

Making policy discourse more sensitive to the needs of women migrant workers

Co-ordinated regional interventions by sending countries and countries of employment

Standard operating procedures for gender sensitive labour migration management

Joint response by UN agencies and intergovernmental bodies

“The impact of the migration of women workers is much broader than its immediate economic aspect. There is great potential of such migration to bring forth the social and political empowerment of women, and reshape gender power relations,” says Dr Sasikumar, lead author, VV Giri National Institute.