E-discussion on: Domestic Workers Count Too
Please note that the e-discussion has now been closed. To read the consolidated reply, please click here.
Domestic Workers Count Too: Visibilising and Protecting Women Migrant Domestic Workers through Legal and Social Protections
In collaboration with UN Women in New York and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the EC-UN Joint Migration and Development Initiative (JMDI) is pleased to present this e-discussion on “Domestic Workers Count Too: Visibilising and Protecting Women Migrant Domestic Workers through Legal and Social Protections”. This discussion is formally launched today on 8 March 2011 to celebrate International Women’s Day. Dr Jean D’Cunha, UN Women’s Global Migration Adviser, together with Maya Gurung, a domestic worker and member of Pourakhi (an organization of returnee women migrant workers in Nepal) guest launch the e-discussion.
Please access the background paper to this discussion here.
Worldwide, many migrant women and girls, especially from developing countries, are employed as domestic workers. Conservative estimates from the ILO suggest that there are at least 112 million domestic workers from twenty-nine countries in the world’s five regions – Asia, Africa, Oceania, the Americas and Europe. Despite its importance to development, domestic work is not considered formal employment because of its private nature and because it carries the low value of women’s unpaid care work, often perceived as innate to women’s nature and being. As a result, domestic workers are subject to a range of social and legal human rights violations.
Maya Gurung, a domestic worker and member of Pourakhi, a Nepal-based organization founded in 2003 to advocate for women migrant workers’ rights with support from UN Women, has kindly agreed to co-launch this e-discussion by sharing her experience. She writes:
I am Maya Gurung from Nepal, a returnee women migrant worker [who was employed as a domestic worker in] a Gulf country. Before going into foreign employment, I worked in a day care center in my village. I was forced to migrate for work to pay off debts. I left behind my young son and daughter, husband & in-laws and went to a Gulf country as a housemaid after paying US$ 500 to [an employment] agent.
I went to the Gulf country via New Delhi without any papers, training, or the address of my employer. When I reached the airport, I was taken to an agency where I was informed that I would be given 35 dinar (US$ 125) per month. My employer kept my passport and other documents. I had to take care of a big, three-storey house with five family members and many relatives who would stay there. My main duties were cleaning, washing and ironing clothes, preparing food and taking care of children from early in the morning to late at night (5 am to 1 am). I was not allowed to rest and my only meals were leftovers from my employer’s plate, which I could not eat. So I survived on bread and black tea for 15 days.
After that I was placed by my agent with another employer. I used to receive only 10 or 15 dinar (US$ 50) per month instead of 35 (which I would often spend to make phone calls to my children). After 11 months, I left with nothing. I found out that my fellow villagers/relatives were also living in that country. One of these relatives was an employment agent, so I used to live with them and cook, clean and attend to other Nepali housemaids. These fellow villagers never paid me a penny, or tried to find any work for me…Desperate, I made a complaint to the police for help as I had no access to an embassy. Instead of justice, I was convicted and sentenced to a jail term of 2 years….
Finally, I came in contact with a Nepali worker who facilitated my deportation with the help of the Nepali Embassy in Saudi Arabia. I returned to Nepal after serving 14 months in prison….my bills were piling up when I was approached by Pourakhi. Pourakhi provided me with a shelter and paralegal help….Now I am a Pourakhi member, I see a ray of hope in my life. I have been working in Pourakhi's training center for the past three months…. I was able to share my experience at the Global Forum for Migration and Development in Mexico in 2010 with the help of Pourakhi and UN Women. Since then, I feel much more empowered and confident. Now I feel that I have to help Pourakhi advocate for the rights of domestic workers and women migrant workers.
Maya’s story illustrates the abuse, discrimination and exclusion from legal and social protections faced by many domestic workers. Empowering workers like Maya involves catalysing a gender-sensitive policy and institutional environment and strengthening the capacity of women migrant workers to claim their rights and celebrate their economic and social contributions to development.
We would like to address the following questions during this e-discussion:
- What are the key obstacles to formulating and implementing legal and social protections for domestic workers?
- How can international agencies, policy-makers, civil society organizations, academics and activities working for domestic workers, address these obstacles?
- Can you identify and briefly discuss good practices in formulating and implementing legal and social protections for local and migrant domestic workers?
- What factors contributed to the success of these good practices?
- How can existing good practices be up-scaled, modified and replicated elsewhere? Please provide examples.
We warmly encourage members to forward this message to your networks and invite them to contribute also. The e-discussion will run for three weeks from 8 March to 30 March 2011. Please participate by emailing email@example.com or by posting your comments online in the Migration4Development forum here. Please note that responses are not automatically shared but go to the facilitation teams for compilation.
The results of this e-discussion will be presented in a consolidated reply. We look forward to a rich and active discussion. Thank you for your participation!
The M4D-net Facilitation Team, UN Women and IOM