The change-makers

Dhaka,  Monday,   2016-09-17
Published : 17 Sep 2016, 00:05:24
Migrant women workers

The change-makers

Arafat Ara
Lima Aktar (35) from Manikganj district maintains a three-member family. She wants to go abroad again with a job. She had been serving as a domestic help at a Lebanese house for five years. As her employer died, she had to come back home.

"I was very well with my job in Lebanon. My employer paid my salary every month with extra benefit.  I maintained my family and also supported my parents' family and a nephew with my earnings," she said.  

Now she is planning to go again to Lebanon to do job at another house. "I'll seek more wage this time as I am now experienced," she said. If she can earn more, she will continue her children's education and buy a piece of land for raising a poultry farm.

Like her, many Bangladeshi women migrant workers are the main bread earners of their families back home. They are playing a commendable role in human resource development by supporting their children's education and contributing to creation of income generating activities for their husbands and other family members.  

Although the women workers face different hassles during their migration and after return home, this is not dissuading the fresh job seekers to go abroad. For, they need money to maintain their families and improve their living standard.

Over the last 10 years the outflow of women migrant workers from Bangladesh has been increasing notably. More than 0.5 million (5 lakh) Bangladeshi women are working abroad. Of them 0.1 million left in 2015.

Women workers from different districts are going abroad to change their fortune. In Manikganj district, women from almost every family are now working abroad. Their children are being looked after by their husbands and other family members. They are bearing all expenses of their families.

Poly, a 12-year old girl, from the same district, wants to be a police officer. She will not go abroad like her sister and mother, as their wages are poor.  She will also not marry early like her grandmother. She dreams of earning enough to maintain her family.

The girl is a class six student at a local high school. She is brilliant and always is placed among the top 10 of her class. Her mother Nazma Akter is working as a domestic help in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and sister Nurjahan in Jordan as an apparel worker.

"My parents also want to see me as a government employee. They always support me. So I am not facing any difficulty with achieving good results in my class," she said.

During interviewing her, her father was sitting in front of her. He also echoed the child and said he had no plan to stop her education, as his wife also desires so.

With this contribution of women migrant workers, they are now getting more importance in their families and societies.

"When I gave birth to a girl child, my in-laws underestimated me. They called me useless. But the situation changed, when I secured a job abroad and started sending money to my husband," said Tahera Begum from Dohar upazila in Dhaka district.

She is now getting more importance in her family. Her in-laws consult her before taking any decision.

Ms Tahera had been working as a domestic help in Oman for the last six years. She is bearing the main expenses of her family. Her daughter is now 10 years old and is being looked after by her husband. She is a student at a local school.

"After migrating I have repaired my house and taken lease of a piece of land where my father cultivates paddy and other crops. But still I couldn't deposit any amount of money, as my husband spends all I send home each month," she said.

Although there is no available data on remittances, sent by the women workers with the manpower bureau office, the amount is significant and increasing gradually, according to the sector insiders.

They say the women workers send their money home most of the time through their male relatives or neighbours. So, the full amount of money cannot be recorded in their names.

According to a study, conducted by the Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) and UN Women, the remittances sent by the women migrants were to the tune of US$ 44.42 million in 2009, US$ 55.05 million in 2010, US$ 61.15 million in 2012, US$ 74.47 million in 2012 and US$ 112.80 million in 2013.

Benjir Ahmed, president of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) said the outflow of women migrant workers was increasing with every passing year and the earnings from the sector were also increasing day by day.  

 "If we can send more female workers after imparting them skill training, it will help increase the flow of remittances and reduce the poverty level," he said. The association was also working to that end, he added.

According to a study on 'Female Migrant Workers' Remittances and Contribution to the National Economy of Bangladesh', a woman's contribution is more than her male counterpart, because a woman remit home on an average 72 per cent of her income while a man remits 45 to 50 per cent.

The study by Uttam K Das also showed that in spite of a low proportion of female migrants working abroad, the flow of remittances sent by them was having a significant effect on their families as well as the national economy.  

The regular flow of remittance from migrant women abroad helps address the financial hardship of 62 per cent of their families and the remaining 38 per cent are still in the process of overcoming it.

32.61 per cent of remittances from the female migrant workers are usually used for repayment of family loans, followed by 31.52 per cent spent on family consumption and 26.09 per cent invested in small businesses or used for purchase of farm land.

A small portion of the remittances is also used for the purpose of family welfare such as education of children, health care and participation in social events etc.

It is clear that the use of remittances for productive purposes rather than consumption and loan repayment may help improve the economic status of the female migrant workers' families.

An ILO study has also said apart from financial remittances, migrant women and men workers also send social remittances in the form of new skills learnt, aptitude and knowledge.

It has said these social remittances may enable women to boost socio-economic development in their localities by improving their health condition and also grooming up their children.

The women migrant workers are from poor families and they are going abroad, as their husbands or male family members do not earn. But many of them are not able to save money or utilise their earnings in productive sectors.  

Fulmoti Aktar, Marjina Begum and Monira Akter had been working for a long time abroad to bear their family expenses. On return home they are still struggling to survive, as their husbands had spent the entire amounts. They are now planning to go abroad again to maintain their families.

Fulmoti Aktar said she worked as a house maid in Saudi Arabia. She bought an auto-rickshaw for her husband. After some days he sold the vehicle and spent the money without any planning. So, she is now thinking of going abroad again.  

"There is no other way out, as I have no many to maintain my family," she said.

Marjina is also in the same situation. She sent about Tk 10,000 a month from Oman. Her family did not save any amount from it. Rather, her husband sold a piece of land which was bought with her income.

"I will go abroad. But this time I will not send money to my husband," she said.

"We saw the returning women migrant workers investing their earnings in diffident sectors like farming, small business, agricultural work etc. If they get support from the government and the private sector, they can use the remittances in a far more effective way," said Syed Saiful Haque, chair of the WARBEE Development Foundation.

But the amount of investment is small, as they spend their incomes for family maintenance. Sometimes, their husbands misuse their earnings. Besides, they face trouble abroad such as physical torture, sexual abuses, low wage and unpaid wages. So, the flow of remittances from the women migrants working abroad is not proportionate to the number of them there.

"If the government ensures safe migration, their contribution may be double the amount earned by their male counterparts, as they do not misuse their remittances," he said.

Mr Haque laid emphasis on proper skill training for them and reduction of fraudulent activities they fall victim to during their migration.

Syeda Rozana Rashid, researcher at Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), says women workers are investing in education and family maintenance. It is also one kind of productive investment as they are contributing to human resource development.

At the same time the government should come forward with income generating activities and awareness campaigns so that their remittances can be uses in a more productive manner.

She also says usually the wages of women working as domestic workers abroad are not that high, so the inward remittances from them are not increasing proportionately to the number of them there.

Jabed Ahmed, additional secretary at the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, has said they are now more careful about proper skill training for the women workers that helps them a lot in their successful migration.

"We'll take measures to reduce workplace abuses too. We'll continue our negotiation with the host countries about wages and other benefits for them," he said.

arafat_ara@hotmail.com
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