“Lives on the frontline: Reaching women migrant workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic”
In both countries of origin and destination, the social and economic development potential of labour migration – including contributions to gender equality –is tremendous. Yet, even before COVID-19, violence against women migrant workers was one of the most pervasive human rights violations that negatively influenced the migration experience of many women, preventing them from reaching their full potential.
Since March 2020, the increased socio-economic stress, economic and food insecurity, unemployment, and movement restrictions brought on by the pandemic have only exacerbated violence against women migrant workers, “The violence does not stop but in fact, is increasing,” said one crisis centre worker in Indonesia. Lockdowns and travel restrictions enacted to contain the pandemic mean that many women migrant workers are isolated with perpetrators at home or in workplaces, particularly domestic workers where the thin separation between the workplace and home got much thinner.
Accessing essential services and support has also become much more difficult for migrant women. To make matters worse, women migrant workers face stigma and hostility at both origin and destination countries as many believe they are responsible for spreading the virus. Under these unprecedented conditions, it quickly became clear that the worst fears of many service providers were coming true: “Unfortunately, our prediction that the number of calls would skyrocket during COVID-19 was right, it doubled, then tripled,” said one frontline worker in Viet Nam.
In this series of interviews, the Safe and Fair Programme speaks with frontline service providers from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam who recount their experiences of rapidly and creatively adapting their operations to support women migrant workers during the new COVID-19 reality, often with limited resources. “All these changes had to be done rapidly. There was no warning… [we] had to get it up and running immediately… The pandemic completely changed the way we operate the hotlines,” explained one frontline worker from Malaysia. Service providers from Migrant Worker Resource Centres (MRCs), civil society organizations (CSOs), crisis centres, shelters, health and quarantine facilities, hotlines and the police, talk about what they, their colleagues and organizations are doing to ensure that women migrant workers experiencing violence have access to the support they need in these challenging times: “I want to pass a message to a survivor, you are not alone, we are here to help you.”
Deputy Chief of Unit of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Bureau, Provincial Police Commissioner, Kandal Province, Cambodia
—Charlene Murray , Service Director
and Joanne Melisa Wong , Crisis Support and Hotlines Manager
The Women’s Aid Organization, Malaysia
Social Worker at Pasundan-Durebang Women’s Crisis Center, Indonesia
Programme Manager at Tenaganita, Malaysia
Volunteer at the Migrant Resource Centre, Lao PDR
—Jaya Anil Kumar
Case Manager, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, Singapore
Counsellor at a shelter, Viet Nam
Social Worker and 1300 Hotline Supervisor, Thailand
Assistant at the Protection House and Trauma Centre, Indonesia
—Staff and Volunteers
Myanmar’s Women’s Organizations Network (WON) and Migrant Monitoring Group (MMG), Myanmar
—Pacita “Bing” Fortin
Asocial worker at the Babaeng BiyaHero Psychosocial Support Team, Quezon City, The Philippines
—Dr. Ir. Harry Hikmat
M.Si Director-General of Social Rehabilitation of the Ministry of Social Affairs of Indonesia, and Rara Saraswati, Assistant at Rumah Perlindungon Trauma Center
Operating Social Worker, One-Stop-Crisis Centre, Nakornping Hospital, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Volunteer at a quarantine centre, Myanmar
Hotline operator for a shelter that supports women and girls experiencing violence.
Member of a peer networking group, Ou Bak Ror Tes commune, Kampong Seila district, Preah Sihanouk province, Cambodia
The series captures voices of those who are supporting women migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of the ILO-UN Women joint programme “Safe and Fair: Realizing women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region”, in collaboration with UNODC. During the pandemic, Safe and Fair is supporting front line service providers, especially those responding to violence against women migrant workers, to remain operational and deliver services safely, both face to face or remotely, through shelters, hotlines, quarantine facilities, migrant resource centers and trough updated referral pathways. All the initiatives supported by Safe and Fair are possible thanks to the leadership of the European Union, through the global EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls. Through this story series, the Programme aims to raise awareness about violence against women migrant workers as an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, shift the negative attitudes towards women migrant workers, and celebrate the contributions of frontline workers for women migrant workers during crisis situations.
More contacts of service providers are available in the Service Directory for Women Migrant Workers in the ASEAN region: https://bit.ly/services4wmw
For matters related to the Safe and Fair Programme, please contact:
- Deepa Bharathi
Chief Technical Adviser, Safe and Fair Programme
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Tel: +66 2 2881192 | email: [ Click to reveal ]
- Melissa Alvarado
Ending Violence against Women Specialist, Safe and Fair Programme,
UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Tel: +66 2 288 1152 | email: [ Click to reveal ]