Rupa (pseudonym), with a dream of having a happy married life, came to Dhaka with her beloved leaving her family in the village. After a few months, he refused to marry her and abandoned her with bruises on her body.
Rupa returned to her village and was backlashed by the villagers. Now, she is thinking to go to Saudi Arabia as a domestic worker just to escape the taunts and backlash of society.
Gender-based violence pushes women to migrate abroad as domestic or garments workers. Many women face violence in the host country after migration. From start to end, migrant workers face violence at all stages of the process.
Along with male migrant workers from the 1980s, semi-skilled and low-skilled women from Bangladesh have started to contribute to the global labour market which is contractual.
After a ban imposed by the then government, in 2013, the ban was lifted on the migration of semi-skilled and low-skilled female migrants.
The Overseas Employment Policy of 2006 documented the equal rights of men and women to migrate for employment abroad. The policy stated about gender equality and women migrant workers more comprehensively in line with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
In 2019, 104,786 women migrated abroad, according to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET).
Shamima (pseudonym) a 22-years-old widow with a child is being pressurised by her in-laws to go abroad and earn money to support the family, whereas she wanted to remarry. Abused by her in-laws, Shamima decided to go to Jordan as a domestic worker just to escape the violence and earn money to secure her son's future.
Our government has adopted the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act in 2013 which ensures the safety of migration and protection of workers in terms of "safe migration". The term "Safe Migration" refers to migration as a safe process of a cycle—from departure to return. It also refers to the accessibility of the services offered by the government – from pre-departure procedure to return.
Yet patriarchal mindset, where mostly women are victims and subject to abuse by the powerful, puts pressure on women to migrate. Women are tortured and the migration decision is often imposed on them.
They are also manipulated by local agents and sub-agents who lure them with false hope of getting a higher salary and better lifestyle more than the job offers. Licensed recruiting agencies have undocumented agents/sub-agents who take the liberty to exploit migrant workers and often take a huge amount of money in the name of visa, passport, smart card, and health clearance certificate.
Many times, women fall victim to forgery and fraudulence when they start the migration process. It is not unknown that Bangladeshi women migrant often comes to the news as a victim of forced slavery and other rights violations.
Wage Earners' Welfare Board (WEWB) has different service for migrants which includes legal help, safe home service, bring the women migrants' home. In bringing women migrant workers home BDT 64,00,000 has been spent in the fiscal year of 2018-2019.
But there are no opportunities for social and economic reintegration offered by the government. Though considering the importance of women returnee migrants Bangladesh government started to emphasize projects and implementation on the social and economic reintegration on Wage Earners' Welfare Board Law 2018. But even as pondered none among these two—social and economic reintegration, are included in any projects yet.
After coming back from the destination countries, the returnees often face discriminatory behaviour. Hafsa (pseudonym) (24) failed to make her fortune in Saudi Arabia and returned wounder only after three months later with an ailment. Her husband blamed her bad character divorced her upon her return.
Her brother had beaten her to death and threatened to kill her if she ever thinks to come back to her parents' house from her husband's. Being helpless, she now thinks to go back to Saudi because she has no house to live in and no place to sleep.
If proper social reintegration was accessible, Hafsa would live a better life in her house. She would be accepted by her society and family.
Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a grassroots organization working on migrants' rights and protection, have 15 spouse groups of migrant workers and 42 migrant forums of returnees in Narsingdi, Araihazar, Comilla, Faridpur, and Munshiganj who are working to creating a better environment for returnee migrants for the acceptance in the society.
Many migrants come back with different skills like construction work, sewing, cooking foreign cuisine, etc. But lack of opportunities and stigma about returnees lead them to live an isolated life or think of remigration as a choice.
According to the working experiences of the returnees, the Bangladesh government should make opportunities to take assistance and create opportunities. Only the social and economic reintegration support system would help them revive their economic and social condition.
Grants and support skim for them have to be taken door-to-door steps to make the offers more comprehensive.
Civil society collaboration, cooperation needs to be enhanced to ensure their access to service and access to justice. Social and economic reintegration would create agencies to empower women migrant workers which would reduce violence in progression.
Migration has the scope to improve the social and political entity of women by establishing their place in society.
The traditional norms of women in society would change drastically from victim to empowered women migrant workers. Such empowerment would introduce more equitable social and family norms which would recognize women's contribution to establishing their rights ensuring their access to justice, information, and resources.
Shakirul Islam is Chairperson of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a grassroots organisation working on migration