For many women, migration opens up opportunities for greater independence, self-confidence and status. However, at different stages of the migration process they can also be vulnerable to gender-specific discrimination and abuse.
Migrant women are typically young and poor. Often they live in fear of losing their jobs, do not speak the language of the host country, are unaware that their rights are being infringed, and normally do not know where to go for help. Having borrowed money to pay for the costs of obtaining an overseas job or perhaps having being duped by unscrupulous agents or employers, many also end up in a situation of debt bondage,
Women tend to work in unregulated sectors that do not always
recruit through legal channels — traditionally ‘female’ occupations such as domestic work, nursing
and personal care services, cleaning, entertainment and the sex trade. They also work in retailing and in labour-intensive manufacturing in small factories and sweatshops — often in poor working conditions, and receiving low wages without any kind of social security. Women are also more likely than men to face multiple discrimination, and various forms of exploitation and abuse — and they have additional risks of sexual harassment and
rape, and being dismissed from work due to pregnancy.
In Asia the largest category of female employment is domestic work. Domestic workers travel from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines to the Middle East, Hong Kong and Singapore. Many also come from Myanmar
and Cambodia to work in Thailand, though these are largely undocumented. Employed in private households these women can be very isolated and particularly vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
Although many women migrants have very little schooling, others can have higher
educational levels than their male counterparts. However, their
university degrees or other educational qualifications are not necessarily
recognized in the host countries. Unable to find work to match their level of skill, they often resort to jobs for which
they are over-qualified.
What the ILO can offer
The ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration establishes the most important principles for addressing the problems facing women migrant workers. It also gives a number of examples of 'best practices' which inform our technical assistance to countries of origin
We also have a range of training materials. The ILO Gender Promotion Programme, for example, in conjunction with the International Migration Programme, has prepared a series of booklets on 'Protecting Migrant Women Workers from Going into Exploitative Work Situations'.
Other ILO work in this area includes a survey of the protection of women domestic helpers under national legislation, and a technical cooperation project to address discrimination against migrant domestic workers in South East Asia.