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It's time to understand and appreciate women migrant workers. Safe and Fair

We are ALL equal. It’s time to understand and appreciate women migrant workers

There are currently 11.6 million documented migrant workers residing in South-East Asia and the Pacific subregion and nearly half of them are women. Many of those women migrant workers are working in domestic work, entertainment, seafood processing, electronics manufacturing, and garment manufacturing, among other sectors. For instance, in Thailand, there are approximately 3.9 million migrant workers from Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Viet Nam, who are playing a key role in the Thai society.

Despite their crucial contributions to the economies and societies of both origin countries and Thailand, migrant workers, especially women, frequently experience negative attitudes, discrimination, exploitation, and sometimes violence during the migration process. These challenges are rooted in gender inequality and reflect myth around migrant workers, especially women migrant workers.

According to a UN study conducted in Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, the public support for migrants is largely driven by the personal relationships that people have with migrant workers, rather than the demographic characteristics of migrant workers.

The negative attitudes towards women migrant workers can be eliminated by social inclusion, interaction with migrant workers, and engagement with migrant communities.

It's time to understand and appreciate and women migrant workers. We are all equal.

MYTH

Attitudes that women’s work is of lower value than men’s work, unfortunately, are prevalent. They place women migrant workers in social positions of inferiority, resulting in pay at rates often below what workers in other sectors receive. This is especially true for those in the informal economy, such as in domestic work. With limited social protections, including limited access to services when violence happens, women migrant workers can face higher risks of exploitation and gender-based violence. Furthermore, some domestic workers face the restriction of movement imposed by their employers, resulting in isolation and restricted ability to seek help when it is needed. Though illegal, some employers terminate their jobs if they are pregnant.

Migrant workers are making crucial contributions to Thailand as well as their countries of origin. Many countries in the region, including Thailand, rely on migrant workers for the functioning of their economies. Many of them fill local labour shortages where nationals do not want those jobs. A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and ILO estimated that migrants contribute between 4.3 to 6.6 per cent of gross domestic product in Thailand.

While many migrant workers experience social exclusion and discrimination, there is support for public behaviours to enable inclusion. 62 per cent of the public in Thailand say that women migrant workers should be allowed to bring their children with them when migrating. 58 Per cent say they had spoken or would speak out against someone who was saying offensive things about migrants.

While negative perceptions of migrant workers still persist, there is wider public support for migrant workers, especially migrant domestic workers who are predominantly women. 69 per cent of the public and 74 per cent of employers of domestic workers in Thailand support for providing the same labour rights to migrant domestic workers as other workers.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Stronger law enforcement should be in place to eliminate violence against women migrant workers.

Positive public support exists for policy initiatives aimed at supporting women migrant workers, especially related to ending violence against women. 83 per cent of the public support stronger law enforcement to eliminate violence against migrant women, and 85 per cent support migrant women having access to shelters if they experience violence.

Domestic workers should have better labour conditions.

Domestic work takes place in informal, private settings and thus it is very important to formalize domestic work to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers. The public in Thailand strongly support improved labour conditions for domestic workers (80 per cent). Majorities also support the recognition of care work as a formal profession.

Public education and media can shape attitudes towards migrant workers.

In the absence of direct interaction with migrant workers, public attitudes towards them are often shaped by false information, negative or one-sided portrayals in the media. This results in misperceptions of the role they play in the society which can condone discrimination and even violence against women migrant workers.

News media are influential and impact the public’s attitudes as well as policy-makers’ agendas. Use non-discriminatory terminology when reporting stories about women migrant workers. Terms such as “undocumented” and “irregular” can be used rather than “illegal”; “migrant” can be used rather than “alien”; and “domestic worker” should be used instead of “maids”, “helpers” or “servants”. Public education and media on countering prejudice and valuing diversity can shape attitudes towards migrant workers, as well as change discriminatory social norms and stereotypical behaviours.

Migratory-inclusive policies should be in place to support women migrant workers.

In contrast to many negative attitudes towards migrant workers in general, the public in Thailand express positive support for potential policies that are specific for women migrant workers. 71 per cent of the public support maternity leave for women migrant workers, and 69 per cent support equal labour rights for domestic workers.

The more we understand each other, the more we appreciate.

Engaging with migrant workers on a personal level can foster a better understanding, trust and familiarity between the communities and migrant workers, as well as support for their rights and assistance for them in times of crisis.

It’s time to understand and appreciate them migrant workers

We are all equal.