Research shows that the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 caused huge losses to both human and infrastructural assets, which was worsened by the country-wide famine in 1974. The consequences of the economy in shambles marked by the war, joblessness, scarcity of food, and eventually famine were more severely felt by women than men. An increasing number of women with abject poverty began to participate in economic activities outside their homes, defying social barriers like restrictions on women's mobility.
It proves that poverty and hunger have pushed the women to work beyond their homes. Thus gradually thousands of women garment workers migrated from rural areas to the cities. The women migrant workers are a major source of a large amount of foreign exchange earnings these days. It helps move the wheel of national development of the country. But, unfortunately, these women migrant workers are being deprived of their due rights and they face many hostile situations.
There are 153,000 Bangladeshi women migrant workers working in 51 countries, according to an estimate of 2011 of BMET (Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training). One in 35 persons is a migrant worker in the world. We do not have the actual number of people of in-migration, out-migration and net-migration. Bangladesh Bank estimates that in 2011-12 the migrant workers sent US$ 12.07 billion to Bangladesh. It is 12 per cent of the GDP.
In our country, many people, especially women, are being deceived, harassed and even killed during the process of going abroad by syndicates, in which an unscrupulous section of recruiting agencies are allegedly involved. As a result, the migration market has long been facing obstacles. The important issues like due wages of the migrant workers, reducing migration cost, enforcing the relevant 'code of conduct' for the recruiting agencies of Bangladesh, removing all the restrictions imposed on women's migration and increasing the number of men and women migrants, improving working environment, preventing discrimination, deprivation, sexual harassment and violence against them, upholding the right to health services, the right to vote in national elections from abroad etc should be given top priority to ensure safe migration.
Ambassador William Lacy Swing, director general of IOM (International Organisation for Migration) said, "Finding humane and effective solutions to the complex challenges of crisis-related migration flows requires strong partnerships between international organisations, state and non-sate actors, including NGOs, media and private sector. We all share a responsibility to protect the human rights of all people on the move."
On behalf of the civil society, Syed Saiful Haque, chairperson of a development foundation urged the political leaders and activists to enhance their noble intention and include safe migration issue in the manifestoes of all political parties. Experts observed that media is an important channel for information that can empower people to effect positive changes concerning the migration issue. The media informs the prospective migrants and vulnerable communities on the impacts of migration, and how the issue should be dealt with by the government, recruiting agencies, middle-men, the sending countries and the receiving ones. The media plays an effective role in creating pressure groups to bring the government and policy makers to the table to ensure the rights of migrants. Better media coverage means better response.
Society needs to play its due role in developing positive outlook on women's migration. Women can be encouraged to migrate with spouses. Successfully migrated women ought to be empowered. They should participate in decision-making, become capable of changing the traditional gender roles in the family and the society. Migration may end up being lost in a wrong direction, if the women face complicated problems. The changes we need in the policy concerned include an increase in the rate of women's safe migration: a gender-sensitive migration policy. Women need to be trained to become skilled migrant workers to get dignified jobs. We should make awareness among the people that migrant women are not weak in any sense. We should help them invest their remittances in profitable business in their home-country. If women are cheated, trapped or trafficked, it is the state's responsibility to rescue them and provide them with free legal support. We should evaluate their contributions to the economic development at the family, society and national level.
Experts have observed that the linkages between media and migration refer to a large number of issues relating to international migration. Today international migration has become a global phenomenon. The media should contribute to the process of integrating migrants. Journalists must portray the facts and figures on migration. Close attention should be paid to the way in which information on issues relating to migration and integration are conveyed and analysed. A specific human resources policy should be put in place in the media, taking into account the multicultural dimensions of society.
In Bangladesh, the migration sector has not been given priority in any annual budget or any human resource development programme under the ADP. Experts, trade union leaders and representatives of civil society organisations have recommended to, both at home and abroad, recognise domestic work as the real work and ensure human rights of the domestic workers as real workers; ensure job security for them; fix working hours, rest days and holidays; create good and friendly working environment to ensure health and security at their workplaces; offer them legal support; ensure human rights and adopt gender-sensitive attitude towards women domestic workers; pay equal wages to women workers as male workers and provide them social security; and implement CEDAW to protect the rights of women migrant workers.
The government should work with the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh and solicit cooperation from other organisations working on migration issue. We should have a time-befitting migration policy to ensure equal human rights of migrant workers. Above all, rights of the migrant workers are, in fact, human rights. We need to encourage women's participation in decision-making, mainstream development and empower them through ensuring gender equality. The integration of four ministries is a must in fulfilling female migrants' needs and demands, and keeping the promises regarding migration. These ministries are overseas employment ministry, foreign ministry, labour ministry and the ministry of information. Specific attention needs to be given to connecting migration with the global development agenda in the post-2015 period, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire.
Bangladesh`s cost of migration is twice or thrice as much as that of Pakistan, India, Nepal and other countries. Bangladesh missions abroad need to employ trained, skilled, experienced and well-behaved diplomats and employees to offer necessary services to the Bangladeshi migrants.
Rationally speaking, although migrant workers have contributed a lot to the national economy of Bangladesh for a long time, what have they got in return? Unfortunately, it is a matter of great regret that the list is long when it comes to cheating, harassment, sufferings, deprivation, injustice and even premature deaths! We have become used to reading in the newspapers about violence against female domestic workers. They are very poor and cannot pay the cost of lawsuit against the oppressors. Poverty makes these women helpless and voiceless merely because of the fact that they are born in a male-dominated society. Society in general should come forward to put behind the bitter ordeals the women of Bangladesh face either as a domestic help in her own country or as a migrant worker in a distant land.
The writer is a journalist. email@example.com