New programme to boost the rights of women migrant workers in Asia and the Pacific


When Huong Nguyen experienced a traumatic assault during her time as a migrant domestic worker in Taiwan Province of China, her employer helped her contact the police and provided her full salary. “When he tried to rape me, I used a pencil to fight back and ran away. My employer was very supportive, others are not so lucky,” said the 44-year old, now back in her native Viet Nam.

Nguyen's experience of assault during migration is not unique, however the support and services she received afterwards are not always readily available. Many women migrant workers experience high levels of abuse and exploitation directly linked to their vulnerable status and conditions of employment. They may also face numerous barriers in accessing services that respond to their needs.

These gender-specific issues are the target of a new programme titled “Safe and Fair”, which is part of the multi-year Spotlight Initiative by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations to eliminate violence against women and girls globally.

Elisa Fernandez, UN Women Head of Office in Viet Nam speaks. Photo: UN Women/Phuong Anh
Elisa Fernandez, UN Women Head of Office in Viet Nam speaks. Photo: UN Women/Phuong Anh

“Poverty, discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, immigration status and unequal access to education and information contribute to women migrant workers’ vulnerabilities to violence, trafficking and labour exploitation,” said Elisa Fernandez, UN Women Head of Office in Viet Nam. “The project presents the opportunity for both regional cooperation and country-level commitments to improve the situations of women who find themselves vulnerable to violence throughout labour migration.”

The Safe and Fair programme will focus on women migrant workers in the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The five-year, EUR 25.5 million programme, funded by the EU and coordinated and led by the International Labour Organization and UN Women, aims to promote gender-responsive labour migration policies and governance frameworks, ensure access of women migrant workers to quality response services, enhance availability and ethical use of reliable data on women migrant workers, and improve attitudes towards them and their work.

The programme is currently in its inception phase, and consultative dialogues with migrant women, their organizations, as well as government officials and various service providers have taken place in Thailand, Cambodia and most recently, in Viet Nam across April and May 2018.

Chang-Hee Lee, Director of the ILO Country Office for Viet Nam speaks. Photo: UN Women/Phuong Anh
Chang-Hee Lee, Director of the ILO Country Office for Viet Nam speaks. Photo: UN Women/Phuong Anh

Chang-Hee Lee, Director of the ILO Country Office for Viet Nam, stressed that when women’s movements are safe and fair, their migration will be a positive force for development and a catalyst for increasing equality. “The Safe and Fair project wants to support this opportunity to strengthen migration governance and address the challenges by investing in women migrant workers in the ASEAN region,” he said.

The recent technical consultations in Viet Nam generated practical recommendations that will shape the Safe and Fair programme around the key aims of addressing women migrant workers’ vulnerabilities to violence and trafficking, strengthening rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to violence against women and labour migration governance and supporting access to essential services by improving the frameworks that govern labour migration and ending violence against women; improving access to information and services for women migrant workers and opportunities for them to network and organise; producing data and evidence on the experiences of women migrant workers; and campaigning to generate a better understanding of the contribution of women migrants.

Migration presents opportunities not only for the migrant, but also for the countries of origin, transit and destination. Whether migrating through regular or irregular channels, women, who represent half of the 20.2 million migrants that originate from the ASEAN region, face the risk of violence from recruiters and employers, as well as from partners and others. Irregular workers and those engaged in domestic labour are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, violence, forced labour and trafficking due to their precarious, often undocumented immigration status, as well as the physical and social isolation they frequently experience.

Furthermore, survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking face many barriers in accessing essential and quality services such as health care, legal, justice, police and social services, even when they are legally working in destination countries. These barriers may include simply not knowing where to go for help that will be supportive and non-blaming, having services reachable nearby and open during evenings or weekends- outside of working hours, and services available in her language. The Safe and Fair programme will work to lift those barriers by improving the effectiveness of services and cooperation between relevant agencies, so that migration journeys are safe and empowering, particularly for women. 

Click here to learn more about The Spotlight Initiative.

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