By Tiku Gauchan, Consultant, HI-AWARE
Dr Amina Maharjan, Livelihoods Specialist working on migration issues for HI-AWARE and other initiatives at ICIMOD, led a workshop session during the Training of District Project Coordinators programme held at Hotel Greenwich, Kupondole Heights, Kathmandu, Nepal, on August 20, 2015. The workshop was organised by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Nepal’s SaMi (Safer Migration Project).
The larger objectives of the workshop were to:
The DPCs are overall responsible for technical backstopping and quality assurance of the implementation of SaMi project in 18 districts.
ICIMOD’s Dr Maharjan—owing to her experience in working with migrant women and her expertise on migration issues, including her recent study visits to Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot—was brought in to provide suggestions for the coordinators on how best they could work on behalf of migrant women workers.
Dr Maharjan first provided a brief outline of how Nepali women were going abroad to find work, what the reasons for their migrating were and whether such migration helped them achieve some measure of independence when they returned home. All the coordinators agreed that women’s migrating abroad, if done in the optimal way, helped women in the long run.
Some of the trends Dr Maharjan highlighted were as follows:
So why are the women going abroad to work, with many of them actually circumventing government rules that bar them doing so, especially if they are under certain age?
According to Dr Maharjan, outbound migration among women is driven by the same reasons as they are for men: they are compelled to go abroad to make money for themselves and their families. And quite a large number are migrating as undocumented migrants.
The reasons that many women go abroad as undocumented workers:
The stigma attached to returnee women migrant workers in some communities (this does not apply to all communities, though; for example, in the Tamang communities in Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk, women who return from the Gulf countries and Malaysia are considered to have made something of themselves) is largely a manifestation of media reports. Dr Maharjan said that activists and experts who work on behalf of women migrants too had helped create this stigma, inadvertently, through how they portrayed the problems faced by women.
The conditions and ground realities that have led to women being abused and the stigmatisation that follows
Most media stories about women migrant workers focused on the harassment and sexual abuse faced by women workers abroad—because such stories hit home with the audience. Experts who work on behalf of women workers did provide many of the quotes and background for the stories—although most were doing so only because they wanted the government to be accountable for Nepali women migrant workers. In the end, though, a preponderance of such stories has led to the perception that almost all Nepali women migrant workers were being physically and sexually abused abroad.
This has led to a vicious cycle, wherein in many communities, it is preferred that women do not go abroad to find work; but because many poor families have no option for generating income, the women have to find a way to out of Nepal. The women cannot be openly seen to be preparing for life abroad (through information counselling and skills-training programmes, etc) and thus many leave home unprepared and undocumented. And the women who go abroad thus, without the required papers, often end up working in places where they can become victims of abuse.
Dr Maharjan then talked about how many communities stigmatise women who have been sexually abused.. This means that abused women then have a two-pronged problem on their hands: one, they have to overcome the effects of the abuse they have suffered; and two, they have to then live with the stigma, foisted on them by society, that they have been abused.
Furthermore, in some communities, all returnees are stigmatised as having fallen. The chief rationale used in stigmatising women migrant workers thus, the workshop attendees agreed, had to do with society’s notions of what it meant for women to have been subject to abuse—or even regarding the possibility that some of the women could have had sexual relations abroad. In many of these societies, an abused woman is relegated to being unmarriageable and even those women who have not been abused are considered to be unmarriageable.
The challenge faced by the DPCs (information gleaned from a brief group discussion held among the DPCs)
Some of the challenges that women who wanted to go abroad as migrant workers had to deal with pertained to the following:
Dr Maharjan’s suggestions to the DPCs
The workshop attendees agreed that going abroad to work presented an avenue for Nepali women to earn an income for themselves and return home to start a new life as an empowered, financially secure individual. There are thus immense benefits to women’s working abroad, concluded the group. The problem, said Dr Maharjan, lay in the fact that many women were still venturing abroad as undocumented workers—which sometimes led to their working in situations that could lead to abuse and exploitation.
The solutions offered by Dr Maharjan for the DPCs were the following: