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Migration bans do not protect the rights of women, only push them into taking more risky options

by Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women | GAATW_IS | Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women
Tuesday, 8 March 2016 03:29 GMT

In a 2011 file photo, a migrant worker sits as she waits to have her passport done at an immigration office in Tangerang, Indonesia's Banten province. In 2010 about 280,000 Indonesian women, went to Middle East countries to work as housekeepers and babysitters, immigration data showed. REUTERS/Beawiharta

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reject restrictions on women domestic workers' migration, and instead guarantee them rights and access to justice

Stringent border control has often been used as a measure to stop human trafficking and members of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) have raised their voices against such misguided, ineffective and discriminatory measures.

Today, on International Women’s Day, GAATW is calling for an end to restrictions placed on migration of women domestic workers in some parts of the world! These bans have been justified as a way to prevent trafficking, exploitation and abuse. Not surprisingly, such policies have made women vulnerable to abuse rather than making their migration safe. Instead, states need to empower women to exercise their rights by focusing on non-discrimination, access to education and training, protection of their citizens abroad and creation of more safe and legal migration opportunities.

Since the early 2000s, with an increase in women’s migration and the expansion of the care industry, there has been an increase in reports of the exploitation and abuse of South Asian women working in the Gulf States. As a response to such reports, many South Asian countries have sought to prevent trafficking and exploitation through partial or total bans on women’s migration, especially for ‘low-skilled’ work. These bans have done little to protect women and have, at times, actually made women’s situation even worse.

In 2015 GAATW and the ILO published a joint study, exploring the effects of different bans on women’s migration for domestic work in place in Nepal. The study found that the bans limit women’s economic opportunities in their most productive years and prevent them from supporting themselves and their families. They also placed women at greater risk of abuse during their journey, and gave them less control over their migration experience. These bans do not address the motives that prompt women to migrate, such as lack of income-generating opportunities at home, the social pressure to migrate or the desire to explore the world. Second, they push women to seek irregular migration channels through the help of smugglers and traffickers, thus making them more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and debt bondage. Third, a ban on migration means that women miss out on the same skills training, pre-departure training and knowledge of their human and labour rights, as the migrants who travel through the state-approved recruitment agencies.

Bans on women domestic workers’ migration are also a form of discrimination and contravene states’ obligations under international treaties. Most Asian countries have signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which obligates States to take steps to eliminate discrimination against women on the basis of gender and to realise women’s rights through equal access and opportunities. CEDAW also has specific provisions related to non-discrimination in work, including the right to equal employment opportunities and selection criteria for work. The Convention specifically calls on origin countries to ensure the lifting of discriminatory bans or restrictions on migration ‘on the basis of age, marital status, pregnancy or maternity status. They should lift restrictions that require women to get permission from their spouse or male guardian to obtain a passport or to travel.’ (CEDAW General Recommendation 26).


Based on GAATW’s decades-long work in supporting and listening to migrant women workers, today, on International Women’s Day, we call on concerned countries of origin to:

  • Reject policies on restrictions and lift any existing restrictions on women domestic workers’ migration. Migration can be a positive experience in whole or in part, and may enable women to achieve goals they would not be able to achieve in their home country. Banning women domestic workers from migrating to protect them from harm is a disproportionate response to the challenges women face and does not recognise their strong impetus to migrate, nor the rights of all people to leave their own country.

  • Ensure the availability and accessibility of skills training before departure. Skills and language training will help women better understand what will be required of them and communicate with their employers in the destination country, the authorities and social service providers in case of need, and facilitate access to justice to ensure their rights. Skills training centres should be available not only in the capital city, where women have to incur additional costs for travel and accommodation, but also throughout the country.

  • Ensure that embassies in the countries of destination have trained female officers, or officers trained in the specific challenges faced by women. Where appropriate, more missions and embassies in destination countries should be opened.

  • Open migration channels to more countries. Migration to countries with a better track record of protecting the rights of migrants may lead to more positive experiences. South Asian nations need to sign bilateral agreements with destination countries that would guarantee a certain wage and the right to annual leave.


Further, we call on all countries of destination to:

  • Ensure that migrant domestic workers have the right to organise, join trade unions or form their own trade unions.

  • Take all measures so that migrant domestic and other workers can effectively access justice and uphold their rights.


The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is a network of over 100 NGOs across the globe, who provide assistance to women, migrants and trafficked persons and promote their human rights, including the right to migrate abroad and be protected from violence and abuse. GAATW opposes any anti-trafficking measures which adversely affect the human rights and freedom of movement of people.