By Christian Benoni
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 (IPS/TerraViva) Female migrant workers play a critical role in promoting development in their home countries, but continue to face discrimination in host nations, even ones that have policies on the books designed to protect them.
“Most of the immigrant workers are undocumented and when they seek basic services like health care, they are met with negative attitudes from health staff. Some may easily die,” Bijaya Rai Shrestha, a returned migrant from Nepal, told TerraViva.
“There are women who are forced to do sex work, subjecting them to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. It is even hard for them if they have to seek treatment,” she said.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Marieta de Vos, director of the MOSAIC Training, Service and Healing Centre for Women, whose organisation runs a small clinic in Cape Town, South Africa that has been offering services to migrant women. She sees at least 50 in a month.
“We get women who need contraceptives, ARVs or pap smears. They don’t get them at all at public facilities because they are met with negative attitudes from health workers who are already overburdened,” she observed, adding that many health workers do not have the patience to deal with migrants who cannot speak English.
In addition, there are increased cases of gender forms of racism and xenophobia against women migrant workers in South Africa, a country that, according to Vos, has a policy that bans discrimination, and guarantees protection and security of migrants.
A recent International Organisation for Migration survey conducted in the country supports this. The study, ‘Towards Tolerance, Law and Dignity: Addressing Violence Against Foreign Nationals in South Africa’, also indicates that while foreign nationals remain subject to xenophobic violence, women are the most vulnerable group.
Emphasis at the CSW meeting has been on getting governments to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The international agreement, which came to force in 2003, also stresses the importance of migrants’ remittances in reducing poverty in their home countries.
U.N. studies indicate that migrant women workers contribute to the development of both sending and receiving countries – remittances from their incomes account for as much as 10 percent of the GDP in some countries.
For example, Lesotho, one of the most migration-dependant countries in the world, has over 240,000 people outside the country, most of them women, according to the gender minister, Mathabiso Lepono.
“When the women are not working as farm or domestic workers in South Africa, where they have migrated in large numbers, they are engaged in other activities like hawking or sewing, to earn more money to fight poverty in their families back home,” she said.
In many countries like Lesotho, remittances from migrant women are used to buy food, and pay for schooling and medical care, but there is also a need to help women learn to save and invest their earnings.
A U.N. study launched at the CSW, ‘Migration, Remittances and Gender-Responsive Local Government’, highlights the need for migrant women to ensure sustainability of their remittances through investment. It calls on governments to ensure protection of women migrant workers, and to provide policies that “link remittances with sustainable livelihoods”, at the same time building social capital.