Business and Women’s Human Rights: Women Migrant Workers

Business and Women’s Human Rights: Women Migrant Workers


Poverty, war, natural disasters and
environmental ruin, unfair cultural practices and violence against women are
just some of the factors that are pushing women to migrate to other
countries in search of employment and a better life However, women are not only being driven to leave their homeland due to unfavorable conditions but are also attracted to the possibility of achieving economic independence Some countries are displaying a demand for women workers based on stereotypical
beliefs about women’s suitability for certain tasks, based on ill-conceived
beliefs of women’s submissiveness, appropriateness for simple repetitive tasks, being inexpensive to employ and easy to control Consequently, women
migrant workers tend to be limited to occupations such as working on the
assembly line in factories, in sweatshops, and cleaning and serving in hospitals,
restaurants and private residences Once women do decide to embark on a
journey of migration, they are prone to experience serious rights violations at every state of the migration process Some women will experience
discrimination even before departure due to their country of origin having
imposed bans or restrictions on migrating based on sex, age, marital status, pregnancy, age of children or maternity status During transit, some women face sexual and physical abuse from the agents or
escorts before reaching their country of destination Arriving in the country of
destination is when women’s expectations can be quickly destroyed, often simply due to a lack of proper information on the migration process and on employment opportunities Unprepared women migrants can immediately find themselves in
countries that have formal legal restrictions or bans on female employment in certain sectors In addition, informal discrimination is
justified based on religion or tradition in the country of arrival, resulting in the funnelling of female workers into the informal sector The informal sector is largely made up of jobs over which there is little or no official control In certain jobs they may not even be defined as employees under law, thereby being deprived of legal protections that are available to recognised employees An example is regularly seen in factories that manufacture and supply the
products to multinational corporations Due to the absence of any binding contracts, workers may face forms of discrimination such as working long hours without overtime pay, working in overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary
conditions with limited access to health services and undergoing mandatory
HIV/AIDS and other testing without consent, suffering sexual and physical
abuse and food and sleep deprivation But protection for women migrant workers is growing A number of international treaties relevant to women migrant workers’ rights are now in place And foremost amongst them is CEDAW In 2008 CEDAW adopted General Recommendation No. 26 which provides guidance on how states should meet their obligations to protect and promote the human rights of
women migrant workers GR 26 details the specific sex and gender-based human rights issues that migrant women workers face in their countries of origin, both before departure and after they return, in transit countries and in destination countries GR 26 also categorises state obligations
to prevent discrimination and respect the rights of women migrant workers in the country of origin, transit and destination Furthermore, GR 26 defines
different categories of migrant women and identifies the multi-layered facets
of discrimination and how this invariably impacts women migrant workers Governments must enact laws prohibiting discrimination against women migrant workers and must address gender stereotypes and ensure protection for these women Understanding CEDAW helps gender activists to ensure better protection for women migrant workers

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

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