Labour Migration

Less than 1% Pakistani women among overseas workers: ILO Study

To identify reasons for low Female Labour Migration in Pakistan, ILO-Islamabad has initiated a national study under its EU-funded REFRAME Project and organized a Tripartite Consultation to discuss the matter in detail and identify avenues for improvement.

Press release | Islamabad, Pakistan | 29 March 2018

ISLAMABAD (ILO News): While Pakistan’s Emigration laws provide level playing field to women and men, still women’s participation in labour migration is less than 1% which indicates to a challenge in the practices and procedures. The Overseas Employment Promoters expressed their willingness to explore more employment opportunities for women abroad – provided the Government is willing to support such initiatives. This was stated in a meeting of Experts organized by International Labour Organization (ILO) as part of a national study on “Women migrant workers from Pakistan: why there are so few?” in Islamabad.

Dr Hashim Popalzai, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis & HRD, in his message read on his behalf by Mr Kashif Noor, Managing Director Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment (BE&OE), said that Pakistan is the 2nd largest labour exporting country in South-Asia – with major outflows to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. However, women constitute only 0.21% of Pakistani migrant workers – despite that fact the there are no legal restrictions on women’s employment abroad. The Federal Secretary mentioned that his Ministry was working with the National Vocational & Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) to explore avenues for women’s skills development and their overseas employment.

Mr Kashif Noor further informed the meeting that there were no legal restrictions to women’s migration – however, only for housemaids and women above 35 years of age are allowed to migrate. He also shared that BE&OE was updating its website where all overseas job opportunities would be displayed and regularly updated – along with tips and advisories for safe migration. Mr. Noor reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to promote legal and decent overseas employment opportunities for women.

Mr Aqeel Awan from Pakistan Overseas Employment Promoters Association (POEPA), in his remarks said that Overseas Employment Promoters (OEP) do not encourage women labour migration due to the unclear policy of the Government on the subject. He also mentioned that the procedural requirements for sending women for overseas employment were much more than that of men. However, he assured the meeting participants that if Government gave them a green signal and if procedures were clarified and simplified, they could facilitate more job opportunities for women abroad.

The meeting deliberated on various means and steps to improve women’s participation in overseas employments. Participants also agreed that the legal process was quite difficult while illegal processes were easy and accessible – therefore, more women were using illegal means (fake marriages etc) – or mostly misuse the ‘Visit Visa’ facility to migrate, which cannot be stopped. The participants to the meeting drew consensus on the following issues:

  • Start negotiations with high-income European Countries to encourage Pakistani women for jobs – as women would feel safer working in such countries.
  • Highlight women’s migration issue in the ‘Labour Emigration Policy’ currently being drafted by the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis & Human Resource Development;
  • Fix targets for increasing overseas employment for women and;
  • Promote standard ‘contracts’ between overseas employers and Pakistani workers
  • Government should consider fixing minimum wages for the migrant workers in the Countries of Destination and;
  •  Engage Community Welfare Attaches’ in all countries to identify specific employment opportunities for women and regularly inform the Government about ‘Skills in demand’ in these countries.

The study is part of ILO’s “Global Action to Improve the Recruitment Framework of Labour Migration “REFRAME project, funded by the European Union (EU). The aim of this study is to improve the understanding and awareness of women’s labour migration from Pakistan and to better understand the various causes associated with these limited numbers. The study, based on desk research and interviews with relevant stakeholders and potential women migrant workers, will be completed by mid-May 2018 and will be broadly disseminated for general information and future actions.