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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

STRUGGLES OF MIGRANT WORKERS

No societal respect for women earning remittance

This is the ninth of an 11-part series on the challenges faced by migrant workers

  • Many workers are abused abroad
  • Attitudes toward returnee workers change 
Update : 24 Mar 2024, 09:34 AM

Thirty-year-old Amena Khatun (pseudonym) went to Saudi Arabia in November 2022 in the hope of changing the fate of her family. She was forced to work for one employer for a long time and used to receive her salary regularly. Back in the country, her husband became sick and Amena couldn't return home thinking about the financial hardship she and the family would have to endure. She returned home last January.

But after her return, she started facing a different challenge. Her neighbors started labeling her as one who had gone to the Middle-Eastern country to be employed as a sex worker. 

According to data, women workers from Bangladesh went abroad for the first time in 1991. Every year, a large number of women go abroad for work. In the past 33 years, about 12 lakh Bangladeshi women have gone abroad as workers. Many of them have come back for various reasons. Many have been forced to return. And the number of such returnees is increasing in the case of the Middle Eastern countries. 

These expatriate workers said that most of them do not receive regular wages. They are abused and beaten by their employers. Their arms and legs are fractured and one cannot imagine the amount of torment they have to go through, several workers told this correspondent. They even go through sexual abuse. But upon their return, they face an unwelcoming environment where they are labeled as sex workers. 

Rabeya (pseudonym), a housewife from Masjidpara of Chapainawabganj, went to Saudi Arabia in 2022. She left her husband with their two children in the country. She used to send money to the country regularly. Her husband abandoned her when she returned home after one and a half years. Since then she has been running a grocery store and bearing the expenses of her two children. .

"Even though I am self-reliant, I still hear a lot of catcalling when I cross the streets,” the woman told this reporter. 

A research report by the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS) has also revealed such horrific stories.

According to the report, migrant workers are subjected to social ostracism by community members who make negative comments about them.

The report, Social and Economic Integration of Migrant Workers: Successes and Failures, also notes that 52% of the 313 female migrants interviewed believe that there has been a change in people's attitudes towards returnees.

The women returning home are considered low-class people. Their decision-making power is reduced in society and they are viewed negatively by community members. Women workers are often harassed and subjected to heavy criticism. None of these women have ever shared their stories with the authorities concerned. No formal complaint has been made in this regard either.

Another such migrant worker, who has worked as a domestic worker in Oman for five years, said that after returning to the country in 2016, she was socially harassed.

She said that some people have hinted that women workers are involved in immoral activities abroad. However, such accusations are far from the reality.

She said that her employer was a woman. She was kind and caring towards her workers and paid her salary on time.

The research was conducted in Jessore, Faridpur, and Chittagong districts between July and December of 2021. Most of these workers have returned from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Jordan.

The chief researcher of the project, Kamnirul Islam, said: "In general, migrant women workers in low-income communities should be considered as a means of empowerment because they have the ability to make decisions to a lesser extent than other women. However, after returning to the country, they lose this ability to a large extent. No one respects them anymore and they can’t raise their voices. Many cannot even get out of their homes despite not having any formal restrictions in this regard.”

Sanchita Talukdar, executive director of the Association for Social Development, which works with women workers, said: "Women's opinions are rarely prioritized when it comes to the decision to go abroad. The decision to go abroad depends on the opinion of the husband or others in the family. Women's hard-earned remittances are not spent as per their will either. Even the family often hesitates to appreciate their contribution.”

Farida Yasmin, advisor of Bangladeshi Ovibashi Mohila Sramik Association (Bomsa), said: "The issue of women's protection has not been discussed separately even after the immigration law has been amended in the country. The safety of women abroad has not been ensured. Their dignity is ensured when they return to the country. Labour plays an important role in the country's economy, and their interests should not only be focused on dollars. Their individual interests must also be considered. Their dignity in the society must also be ensured.”

Zahid Anwar, deputy director of Wage Earners’ Welfare Board of the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, said: "On the basis of the information received from the airport and non-governmental organizations, initiatives have been taken to rehabilitate some women, including providing them with training and employment. Some plans have been undertaken to present expatriate women positively in society and ensure that they are respected and have dignity.”

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