Asia-Arab States and Africa Inter-regional meeting on safe and fair migration for women migrant workers

From 3 to 4 December 2019, in Bangkok, the ILO and UN Women hosted the inter-regional meeting, titled ‘Labour mobility between Asia and the Arab States: Sharing of experiences and progress under the Bali Declaration with specific focus on women migrant workers’.

Bangkok (ILO News) –From 3 to 4 December 2019, in Bangkok, the ILO and UN Women hosted the inter-regional meeting, titled ‘Labour mobility between Asia and the Arab States: Sharing of experiences and progress under the Bali Declaration with specific focus on women migrant workers’. Governments, employers and workers representatives, migrant worker leaders, civil society organizations as well as international development and United Nations agencies from Asia, the Arab States and Africa gathered to exchange knowledge, experience and good practices on labour migration governance. The meeting had a specific focus on looking into the safe and fair migration of women migrant workers in the Asia-Arab States migration corridor, and reflecting on the progress of duty bearers in relation to their commitments outlined in the Bali Declaration adopted at the ILO’s Asia Pacific Regional Meeting in 2016.

Five thematic panel dialogues followed by a group discussion sparked conversations and reviews centred around fair recruitment; protection mechanisms including measures to address trafficking in persons, and violence and harassment in the work place; organizing migrant workers into trade unions; reducing migration costs; improving access to information, resources, and services; and redressing employer-employee relationships that impede freedom of movement. The event was capped off by discussions about priorities and opportunities for expanding fair recruitment (particularly for women migrant workers), as well as forging multilateral and bilateral partnerships at the global, regional and national levels.

On the evening of 3 December, five women migrant workers from Indonesia, Myanmar and Viet Nam spoke about their migration journeys and what messages they now pass to future generations of migrant women. One woman, who had migrated from Viet Nam as a domestic worker, challenged countries of destination, saying: “I hope that countries of destination can change the process and allow us to change jobs when we are in situations that are abusive.” Another woman from Indonesia spoke about the personal transformation she was able to make while abroad: “Every Sunday I joined the union and took a computer course and paralegal trainings. I not only came back with new skills, but I was also able to pay for my university education.”

As H.E. Pirkka Tapiola, European Union Ambassador to Thailand, remarked: “We should not just be working at the macro level but remember that there are real stories behind the work we are doing.”

The event brought together over 100 participants in a dialogue about challenges and good practices from broad perspectives. Ruben Torres, General Secretary to ASEAN Trade Union Council (ATUC), reiterated the necessity of collaboration, saying: “Our partnership with NGOs and other social actors can assist with and empower migrant workers, which can be a key to solving problems we face in labour migration.”

According to the Background Paper developed for the meeting, based on ILO estimates, there were 23 million migrant workers in the Arab States in 2017. Approximately 23 million (39 per cent) of them were women. The ratio of non-nationals in the employed population in the GCC countries is among the highest in the world with an average of 70.4 per cent and ranging from 56 to 93 per cent for individual countries. Every year, more than three million Asians are estimated to leave home to take up employment in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Migrant workers from South Asian countries and the Philippines are concentrated in GCC countries. In 2016, about 3.5 million workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and South Asia were deployed in these six countries.

Of the 95.7 million male migrant workers globally in 2017, 19.1 million (20 per cent) were in the Arab States. By contrast, of the 68.1 million female migrant workers, only 5.3 per cent were found in the Arab States. While in other regions the sex composition of migrant workers is nearly equal, it is different in the Arab States, where 8 out of every 10 migrant workers are men. This also depends on the sectors analysed. Sectors mostly dependent on manual labour such as construction comprise predominantly male migrant workers, while a significant portion of domestic workers and those in the care economy are female migrant workers (ILO, 2018).

While the migration of these millions of women and men workers from Asia to the Arab States has contributed immensely to development by addressing diverse labour market needs in critical sectors in destination countries, generating billions of dollars in remittances for families and communities in origin countries, providing migrant workers to secure higher-wage employment; and enabling women to exercise agency, migrant workers in particular face a number of challenges ranging from labour exploitation, violence and harassment in the work place, forced labour and trafficking in persons. Women migrant workers often experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on gender, class, nationality, religion and other identities.

“We need to step up all of our programming on the needs of women migrant workers, including on ending violence against women”, said Michelle Leighton, Chief of Labour Migration Branch, ILO Geneva.

In order to maximize the benefits of labour migration, and ensure that the experience is both safe and fair, more effective and efficient governance mechanisms should be developed. Anna-Karin Jatfors, Deputy Regional Director of UN Women, ROAP, mentioned in her speech that: “Only where migration is a choice and it’s well managed, can it be women migrant workers’ expression of agency and vehicle for empowerment.”

Final Agenda

Meeting documents

Session 1: Introduction

Session 2: Fair recruitment, with a focus on women migrant workers Session 3A: Protection, with particular focus on women migrant workers (policies and good practices) Session 3B: Protection, with particular focus on women migrants in key sectors of work in destination countries (e.g. domestic work , construction, , among others)
Session 4: Progress made in redressing employer-employee relationships that impede workers’ freedom of movement
Note to the editors
  • The ILO recommends using the terms “labour migration”, “labour movement” or “labour mobility” instead of “labour export” as labour is not a commodity.
  • “Irregular migrant workers”, “migrant workers with irregular status” or “undocumented migrant workers” should also be used instead of “illegal migrant workers”.
  • “Domestic workers” should be used instead of “maids”, “helpers” or “servants”.
  • Your support of using rights-based language can prevent discrimination against irregular migrant workers and promote social inclusion.