While all Migrant Workers are vulnerable for mistreatment, exploitation and forced labor, female migrant workers are particular vulnerable for all kind of abuses. These vulnerabilities are related to their informal work-position (as Domestic Workers) as well as other violations and sexual discriminations.
Where women in general are discriminated against in destination countries, women migrant workers are often worse off. The jobs that women migrant workers go into tend to be extensions of the female traditional role of care giving and housework. Customarily, they secure jobs as nannies, domestic helpers, hotel and restaurant staff, cleaners, sales girls, sex workers, factory workers or technical interns in large factories.
The demand for domestic workers represents a form of “replacement mobility” for female nationals who are freed from their household responsibilities to take up better positions. Although there are middle-level professionals such as nurses and teachers, the majority of female migrant workers are working in 3D jobs –dirty, difficult and demeaning. “If migrant workers are concentrated in SALEP-jobs (Shunned by all Nationals except the Very Poorest), migrant women are concentrated in the most vulnerable of these jobs.
The immigration rules and regulations of a destination country can be biased against women migrants in several ways: (1) The terms of the entry, residence, and employment are often such as to ensure that women migrant workers represent a cheap, temporary and regulated work force; (2) Migrant workers may not be allowed to change employers or to change the type of employment.
This means that the migrant worker is bonded to the employer for as long as the worker is in the country of employment; (3) The imposition of levies or security bonds on employers hiring women migrant workers. Such monetary requirements, especially if the sum is high, can have the effect of prompting employers to reduce the wages of domestic helpers to recover the cost of the levy and to restrict their freedom of movement to ensure that they do not forfeit the security bond; (4) Women migrant workers may have to undergo compulsory periodic medical tests, including tests for pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. If she is found pregnant or is tested positive for any of these diseases, she deported immediately; (5) Women who have been trafficked are often treated as “illegal migrants” and dealt with as criminals rather than victims of a crime committed against them; and (6) There is often no grievance machinery available to migrant workers who have suffered exploitation and abuse.
Even when women migrant workers are subject to exploitation, most refrain from filing legal complaints because of their lack of knowledge of the legal system of the country of destination. Many do not trust the authorities and, in fact, are afraid that if they file complaints against their employer they will be deported. Of course, if they have irregular migration status, they are even more likely to want to avoid the authorities.
Migrant women are often engaged in individualized labor in isolated work environments. Their workplaces, in particular, other people’s homes, brothels, small factories and sweat shops, are away from public eye and therefore from official monitoring or inspection.
They tend to be socially and culturally cut off from support structures that fellow migrant workers can offer. They may not have any day-off, they may not be permitted to write their family or use the telephone, and their cell phone may have been confiscated by the employer. Their contact might be severely limited with people other than the employer and his/her family.
Women migrant workers are vulnerable no only because they are foreigners and female but also because their work is often viewed as demeaning. Xenophobic attitudes when coupled with traditional gender biases represent an important explanation for the frequency and severity of discrimination and abuse cases.
An important reason for the vulnerability of women migrant workers is that they are in sectors where workers are normally not organized and therefore have little or no bargaining power or representation vis-à-vis employers or the public authorities. Only two countries in Asia (Hongkong and Japan) have legally registered independent migrant trade unions.
In some countries, migrant workers in domestic service are specifically barred from joining trade unions. In Malaysia, for example, while migrant workers in other sectors are allowed to join unions (although they are not allowed to hold union posts) migrant domestic workers do not have such rights. They are not even allowed to join social clubs. In addition to their employment contracts, women migrant workers are made by their employment agencies to sign a statement of undertaking that stipulates among other things that they “will not make any arrangement to form a social club or to participate in any activities of such club established in this country.”
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