Harassment of migrant women

Amir Mohammad Sayem

Many women go abroad from Bangladesh for jobs in different countries around the world. Of course, the number of women migrants from Bangladesh has increased in recent years. They earn money and send back to families living in Bangladesh. But it is often said that many migrant Bangladeshi women are harassed by the employers of host countries. Even if it is difficult to exactly say how many women have been abused abroad since many do not say of it, different studies show that the number is very high. A study conducted by the International Organization of Migration reveals that two in three Bangladeshi women doing jobs abroad face sexual harassment. A non-government organization, named Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program, also finds that as many as sixty-five percent of women are abused.

Of course, Bangladeshi migrant working women abroad are abused in several forms such as physical torture, sexual abuse, forced labour, no payment or the payment of less amount, and mental abuse. But studies including that of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program indicate that sexual exploitation and physical abuse are higher. In fact, among the returnees who were abused, some were found with broken hands, legs, teeth and victims of sexual abuse in the destination countries. Bangladesh migrant working women are mostly abused in the Middle East Countries, where ninety-nine percent of women go for jobs. But abuse is found in other countries including Mauritius. Moreover, a portion of women who are abused commit suicide, while many are neglected once they come back home.

But an important question remains on why Bangladeshi women doing jobs abroad are harassed. This may be because of several reasons such as attitude-based, vulnerability-based, inadequate activeness of the Bangladesh mission and a lack of steps of the host countries. Probably, the general attitude towards Bangladesh by some host countries is not good enough. This may be because Bangladesh has long been a less developed country, it failed to develop its global position in a better way and some other reasons. Besides, placing women in helpless situations especially human trafficking situations by some Bangladeshis middlemen who send them abroad, a lack of limited opportunity for victims to make complaints and fear of losing their jobs if harassment especially sexual is revealed to concerned authorities are a few important vulnerability-based reasons.

Of course, it is not that the government of Bangladesh has not taken any steps to hear complaints and tackle diverse problems Bangladeshi women face abroad. But there are very limited measures from Bangladesh in this respect. In fact, steps taken by Bangladesh mainly revolve around bringing back some abused women to the country. There is a clear lack of efforts to bring abusers into punishment. Also, there are meager roles of host countries in this respect. In the last few years, several occurrences of abuse including sexual were revealed but there is no notable attempt by the host countries to take any legal measures for bringing those who abused women into punishment. Indeed, as rights activists claimed, none of them got except one woman, even if the number of abuse is very high.

But it is undeniable that more needs to be done for making Bangladeshi migrants safe. The point is what needs to be done and who will do for ending such unacceptable practices. Obviously, it is the primary responsibility of the host countries to bring abusers into punishment. For this, respective authorities of the host countries need to play their responsible roles to ensure the rights of employees as per the guidelines of the International Labour Organization. Unless they do their jobs, it is indeed difficult to curb down such practices. Also, host countries need to ensure that every migrant woman is safe and has adequate access to justice and laws and take policy measures for migrant workers so that abusers are punished and employees’ rights are firmly established. Moreover, host countries should give safety and alternative jobs to women who reveal their event(s) of abuse.

Of course, Bangladesh cannot deny its responsibilities to ensure the safety of its migrant women in different countries including the Middle East countries. In this respect, government to government efforts through diplomatic channels that may be effective need to be strengthened with the aims of bringing abusers into punishment and managing alternative jobs or bringing back those who are unwilling to say abroad after the experience of abuse. Moreover, Bangladesh should ensure that other sorts of harassment including no payment or the payment of less amount of salary than that are supposed to get, termination of jobs without valid reasons and physical torture are well-addressed by the host government. Foreign missions of Bangladesh need to be more active on these by establishing a stronger complaint and monitoring cell for migrant employees in vulnerable countries.

Moreover, Bangladesh needs to ensure that no woman is trafficked to other countries and traffickers or fraudsters especially those who send women with offering a higher amount of salary than the actual ones and are involved with harassment with their foreign partners are punished. Even if some sorts of steps are taken against human traffickers, these are still meager. Sometimes, traffickers have good links with high-ups that help them evade possible punishment. Such a culture needs to be ended up so that none can traffic and send women abroad without making sure that they are safe. The recruitment process of female migrants needs to be strongly monitored. Also, women should be sent abroad based on a strong bilateral agreement rather than a memorandum of understanding with host countries.

Of course, abused women who come back to Bangladesh need to be reintegrated into society. In fact, abused returnees face diverse problems including a lack of entry to their husband’s home and misbehaviours and hostile comments of neighbours, relatives and other community members. For this, the expatriates’ welfare and overseas employment ministry should do more by taking reintegration projects for returnees. But, of course, awareness needs to be raised among the vulnerable groups of women to human trafficking and cheating by senders to foreign countries. In this respect, the roles of mass media, both electronic and printed, are obviously very significant. Moreover, some other actors such as non-government and community-based organizations can play some effective roles.

Not less important is that international organizations especially those working on workers’ rights and women’s rights including the International organization of Migration need to play more effective roles in the prevention of abuse and protection of abused migrant employees. But such organizations do not make sufficient efforts and, moreover, there are diverse loopholes in their meager efforts. Thus, such organizations should effectively deal with the respective governments about the issues of abuse of migrant employees, be more active in those countries where migrants are abused and work for the establishment of human rights and labour rights especially in the Middle East countries where these are still not adequate.