Female migrant workers: No one should face abusive treatment
Women workers travel abroad for employment when they find no jobs back home. Most of them are poor, many selling all their possessions and property to go in search of their fortune. But it is most unfortunate that they go abroad only to face abusive treatment, harassment and deprivation.
According to a paper presented at the consultancy meeting of Bangladesh Jatiya Mahila Ainjibi Samity (Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association) on Wednesday, from 1991 till September this year, 1.17 million (11 lakh 70 thousand) women workers have gone overseas. Of them, 73 per cent have gone as they have no means of livelihood in the country. The majority of them work as domestic help, caregivers, nurses, readymade garment workers and cleaners.
According to the records, 17.1 per cent of the women domestic help flee from their jobs due to sexual abuse. And over 37 per cent of the women workers who return back home, cannot bring back their due wages. And 47 per cent have no future plans. Of the female migrant workers, 44 per cent went to Saudi Arabia, where there is the highest amount of physical and sexual abuse.
Of the 1,687 complaints coming in from expatriate workers under the Strengthened and Informative Migration Systems Project, 90 were made by women, and 12 of these were related to physical and sexual abuse. Another study looked into the cause of death of 691 women workers returning to the country from 2017 to October 2021. According to the death certificates, 69 per cent o these workers died of natural causes (including various illnesses) and 31 per cent of unnatural causes (accidents, suicide).
An autopsy of the bodies may have revealed how these accidents occurred, who was responsible, but the families of the deceased are unwilling to go through this because of social reasons. And our embassies or the expatriate welfare ministry are not seen to be very active in this regard either. And so many murders are passed off as accidental deaths.
Women workers go abroad on the basis of bilateral agreements. So if they are abused or harassed over there, the host country must be held accountable. There must be proper and credible investigation into each and every incident of female workers being oppressed overseas
It is shocking that the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act-2013 (Amended 2023) has no separate provision regarding the sexual abuse of women workers. Did the lawmakers not conceive that female workers can be victims of sexual abuse?
It is the responsibility of the embassies to take care of the safety and welfare of the expatriate workers. It does not seem that they duly carry out this responsibility. The migrant workers have no end to grievances against the embassies. They even complain of facing unnecessary harassment at the embassies too.
A former official of the Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh was fired after the allegations of sexual abuse brought against him were proven to be true. The women sheltered in the safe home there were not even spared from his abuse. No legal action was taken against him. Who will go to seek recompense in this situation?
Women workers go abroad on the basis of bilateral agreements. So if they are abused or harassed over there, the host country must be held accountable. There must be proper and credible investigation into each and every incident of female workers being oppressed overseas. We cannot force our women workers overseas into insecure conditions. There must be a guarantee that in future women workers can go overseas safely and not face abuse.
We look to the foreign ministry and the ministry for expatriate welfare to take more active and coordinated measures in this regard.