GFMD and global partnership for women's safe migration
The foreign ministry of Bangladesh recently briefed the heads of diplomatic missions in Dhaka on the upcoming 3-day ninth summit of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) to be held on December 10-12, 2016. The theme of this year's summit is: "Migration that works for Sustainable Development for all: Towards a Transformative Migration Agenda." Bangladesh government expects that talks at the summit will allow Bangladesh to deal with migration issues bilaterally with other countries, in a more systematic manner. It is also most likely to open new opportunities of migrants from Bangladesh; the country's economy relies heavily on the remittances that migrant workers send home. Bangladesh ranks seventh in the list of the world's top remittance-receiving nations. According to the Bangladesh government, remittances amounted to as an incredible $15.31 billion in fiscal 2015 -- the highest in the country's history, accounted for around ten per cent of the country's GDP.
This GFMD summit in a way mirrors the New York Summit on refugees and migrants, which was held on 19 September in the United States of America this year. The New York Declaration adopted by the UN Summit includes an explicit commitment to strengthen global governance of migration. These policy objectives can be addressed within three broad streams of human mobility, which can be envisaged for the Global Compact: Promoting migration and development; Addressing irregular migration; and Addressing forced migration/displacement (including displacement due to climate change).
The Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is intrinsically linked to the improvement of global governance of migration since it addresses the current institutional and legal shortfalls in this domain. Since GFMD is a voluntary, informal, non-binding mandate that is led by governments in their respective countries to advance understanding and cooperation on migration and development and to foster practical and action-oriented outcomes, best practices suggest that the Bangladesh government should co-ordinate with grassroots civil society organizations to achieve these aims.
In March 2016, civil society groups, working on migrants rights, launched the Bangladesh Civil Society Coordination Committee (BCSCC) to facilitate GFMD 2016 in Bangladesh. "The BCSCC feels that the event provides a unique opportunity to push the issue of rights and dignity of migrant workers", says Professor Dr CR Abrar, executive director of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RAMMRU). Syed Saiful Haque of WARBE Development Foundation says, "The GFMD is expected to push forward issues and highlight concerns not covered, as of now, by official processes."
Women migration and global partnership
The number of Bangladeshi female migrant workers has been on the rise. According to the June 2015 statistics of Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), a total of 37,304 female workers had gone to different countries in 2012 and the number rose to 76,007 in 2014.
"The number of women migrating internationally has been growing at a faster rate. Among other stakeholders, the mass media including print, electronic and social media should cover the challenges include discrimination, exploitation and abuse that women migrant workers face, and figure out ways of solution," says Ms Sumaiya Islam, director of Bangladeshi Ovhibashi Mohila Sramik Association (BOMSA). The increase in female migration has several explanations, among them being a labour demand in low paying service sectors of developed economies, mostly as domestic labour.
On the other hand, gender discrimination, poverty and violence within Bangladesh push some women to migrate abroad and some to being trafficked against their will. According to the study of BOMSA, Manikganj is the district with highest percentage of women migrants. Family network works the best for migrant women in Manikganj. Official records reveal that 21.42 percent women migrated in various labour receiving countries in last 5 years. Unofficial record would certainly be much higher if considered.
On the other hand, women and adolescent girls of Bangladesh are increasingly becoming more and more victim of human trafficking. The main vulnerable characteristic of a 'potential' victim is a strong desire to improve livelihood by travelling away from their home and Climate refugee or internally displaced people searching for shelters. According to a study of UNICEF, over one million women and children were trafficked out of the country in last 30 years and many of them were forced to become prostitutes, domestic helps, camel jockeys and beggars. Approximately 400 women and children in Bangladesh are victims of trafficking each month.
Ms. Morzina Begum (28), one of the victims of trafficking of Gazipur said, "What measure can you take against dalal when he is from your family or from your own community? We are helpless. I wish I could teach him a good lesson, but I do not have any way to punish him."
Women migrating of their own free will and with adequate support can help alleviate poverty through raising the productivity, education and health profile of their communities and immediate family. However, gender inequality permeates the processes and networks of migration and, ultimately, adversely affects the positive economic and social outcomes. According to Jabed Ahmed, additional secretary at the expatriates welfare and overseas employment ministry, Bangladeshi female migrants became the main victims of physical and sexual abuse at their workplaces abroad. "We have observed that young female domestic workers became victims of sexual abuse abroad while the elderly ones were subjected to torture." He adds that the government was finding it difficult to keep Bangladeshi workers safe when they went abroad and that these workers were frequent targets of abuse and exploitation.
To lay the groundwork for migrant workers' rights, professor Dr CR Abrar feels the best step the government can take is to ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention 189, which mandates 'decent work' for migrating domestic workers. According to ILO, decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.
But implementing the provisions of the Convention means our embassies abroad need to employ labour officers who can respond to emergencies. Maintaining and manning a well-publicized emergency hotline number will help migrants-in-need get in touch with labour officers who can then take up worker and human rights violations with the host countries. Sumaiya Islam further recommends that the government promote skill development within the country so that women migrants could be encouraged to get in-country training for relevant jobs, and also attend foreign language classes to gain proficiency in the languages used in destination countries.
Like other areas of international relations, migration is best guided by a set of common principles and approaches. But such guidelines need to be gender-sensitive to ensure parity, especially in wages, and safe migration for women. Given that both MDGs and SDGs have given greater emphasize on developing global partnership; the GFMD has the potential to create a global platform where honest discussion and joint action by Bangladesh and destination countries on safe migration, can improve the lot of migrant workers,
The writer is a journalist and author of
several books on climate change, migration and women's empowerment