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Women migrant workers : Some concerns

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Rifat Zafreen :
Women migrate to different countries for work purpose are said to be women migrant workers. They migrate in different ways depending on issues. Worldwide women migrate. If they come from a country which facilitates them with professional skills, training, migrating women with all these will have a stronger bargaining position. If they migrate legally, in a documented way to a country which has stronger human rights structure, labour regulatory framework, it could be hoped that women migrant workers would be fine there. Migrating in a documented way and working in a regulated part of economy, the rights of the women workers are ensured while for any contractual work or temporary migrants there is few labour rights and it prevails especially in the Gulf States. Yet, women still face issues of discrimination even after getting migrated under quite a formal and documented way.  
Migration of female workers from Bangladesh has increased by around 430 percent in last eight years since government has been exploring new destinations and opportunities for its female workforce. According to the data of the state owned Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), the number of female migration for overseas jobs, especially to Middle East countries has jumped to 1,18,088 in 2016 from 37,504 in 2012. According to the same source there are 3,68,411 Bangladeshi migrants working abroad till April 2017. The female migration for the overseas jobs was 56,400 in 2013, 76,007 in 2014, and 103,718 in 2015.
Majority of our female workers are employed in Saudi Arabia. They are also working in the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Singapore, UK, Italy, HongKong, Cyprus and other countries of the world. Our female workers thus are working in around 43 countries and the maximum number go to the Middle Eastern Countries. We are still exploring new labour markets for our aspirant migrants.
Their number is increasing every year. Jordan is the top Bangladeshi worker recruiter over the last five years, followed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Lebanon and Qatar. Jordan recruited 97,424, Saudi Arabia 89,902, the UAE 72,594, Oman 51, 631, Lebanon 46,468, and Qatar 22,582 Bangladeshi female workers from 2012 to 2016. The BMET data showed that between 1991 and 2016, the UAE was the largest Bangladeshi women recruiter as it employed 1,22,729 workers, Saudi Arabia 1,21,735, Jordan 1,09,948, Lebanon 1,02,565, Oman 55,403, Qatar 22,713, Mauritius 15,945, Kuwait 7,793, Malaysia 6,562, Bahrain 4,264, Singapore 1,116, and Hong Kong 1,307. A UN study on "External Market Analysis for Women Migrant Workers of Bangladesh" showed that around 95 percent of the Bangladeshi women travel abroad as migrant domestic workers mainly to the Arab countries.
The out-bound Bangladeshi women workers are mostly employed at the low-paid and hazardous jobs, which often put them in to vulnerable situation while there is a good demand for skilled and professional women, including nurses, caregivers, babysitters, drivers (taxi cab domestic), front desk attendants, receptionists and cashiers in the Middle Eastern countries, Europe and Asia. Statistics shows majority of our female migrant workers are engaged in household and cleaning jobs while those in Jordan are working in garment sector as well. In the Gulf States and other Middle East countries our female workers get paid of Tk 18,000-20,000 a month which is between Tk 55,000 and 65,000 per month in Hong Kong and Jordan. It was also revealed that skilled and semi-skilled workers earn higher salary and enjoy a much better living, working and social conditions compared to the illiterate and unskilled workers.
Research says female migrant workers send 90% of their income that male workers send that of 50% in the country. Our female migrant workers thus go abroad to change their fate and to earn foreign currency and thus help to keep the wheel of our economy active and moving. They are the integral part of our national pride.
Even after having such huge contribution many of these female migrant workers are not safe. They get deceived by the middle man to go to abroad or even after going and reaching there.
Many of them even get completely bankrupt, while many of them get sexually, physically and mentally tortured and harassed. Thus they face different types of challenges at home and their own workplace. In some cases these female workers do not even get their due and justified wage. Getting betrayed by the recruiting agencies many of the ill fated female migrant workers get bound to return home empty handed.
Though they sign agreement before going and even reaching there. Most of the time these workers do not even know what they are signing in as they are not even allowed to go through the agreement paper properly. Many of them do not know how to read or write that they somehow manage to sign their names on the paper. These workers in many cases lie about the torture they undergo while they face court under legal procedure, if taken.
Our government has taken different initiatives in stopping all these anomalies and oppressions on them.
The Labour Welfare Wing of the Bangladesh missions abroad monitor the status of the migrant female workers, especially those who work as maid servants and house help through communicating the concerned ministry, police department, immigration, legal aid providing organizations, employers and in some cases hospitals of the migrating countries.
Besides, to provide shelter to the tortured female workers, one Safe Home has been founded in Riyadh of Saudi Arabia, two in Zeddha and one in Oman. These Safe Homes provide them food, treatment and other required necessary things and even arrange tickets for their return.
Under legal steps penalty is ensured and even license get cancelled if any recruiting agencies are proved to be deceiving and cheating these workers.
Under Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseers Employment, Manpower, Employment and Training Bureau directed 68 training centres and recruiting agencies provide 30 days training and 3 days departure orientations to the female migrant workers before going abroad.
These orientations and trainings give them idea on personal management, financial management, reintegration etc and thus the female migrant workers get primary idea on their own skill, professional skill, different culture & environment, food etc which helps them adjust in a new country and new environment far from their own.
Migrant female workers can call directly to Friend Call Centre at +88 01784 333 333, + 88 01794 333 333 or +88 02-9334888 and inform about their complaints if they need any assistance.
This is a toll free call centre. According to their complaints, Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment ensures its all out support to them. UN Committee of Rights to protect the migrant workers' interest opines in 2017 that Bangladesh should take necessary steps to implement Law-Act in order to ensure the interest, rights and security of the migrant workers. The country has to have strength to control over the recruiting agencies. Government has to increase its interference and role in the recruitment process. And finally, the contribution of the migrant workers in the welfare of the socio economic status of the country has to be evaluated and focused properly, the committee opines.
Even after having such facilities, many of our female migrant workers get tortured and deceived. Infact in all sorts of agreements related to female migrant workers, whether the agreements are women friendly and humane are to be ensured. Besides, both the sender and receiver countries need to preserve the data verifying the actual information of these workers.
Information of which country our female workers are going to, which job they are going to have, through whom they are going to have their job, for which reason they are getting back if so, how much foreign currency they are sending and how far they are playing role in the family and economy, has to be preserved in the database and also posted in the website of the concerned Ministry. All these have to be monitored regularly.
Recruiting agencies also have a huge role to play. If the agencies perform their duty with utmost sincerity and honesty, there will be no problem or it would be very easy to tackle any situation to help and keep our female migrant workers safe, secure and honoured. We also have a great role to play.
In most of the cases society and even family do not want to accept the betrayed and deceived female migrant workers if they get back. Family and society have to be broad enough to get out of the typical and stereotype idea and mentality. Government has to promote exclusive and special programs and ensure different help services and advice to these returned female migrant workers to heal and boost up their social and psychological loss and challenges they face.
In the world labour market, the number of female migrant workers is half of the total and this number is increasing gradually since their participation has increased a lot. Many of these workers get into trouble of having security since they are unskilled.
To keep their interest and security intact Convention on Human Rights and Empowerment for Women can play a leading role in ensuring safety for our female migrant workers. Our world should be a world free of torture, repression and deception on women and so on women migrant workers. We can expect, long for, dream and act accordingly to have that expected and ideal world for us with all our sincere combined effort and desire.

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