By Deputy Editor Thea Lim
Time Magazine reports on women migrant workers who have been raped, and the resulting pregnancies:
While globalization has turned much of the world into a wide-open labor market, it has also created complex human and societal dramas. Women account for up to 50% of the world’s 100 million–strong migrant-worker population — and there is no effective entity to protect their rights and dignity. In 2008, Indonesians working abroad, commonly as domestic staff in the Middle East and parts of Asia, contributed about $6.8 billion to their national economy via remittances, according to the World Bank. And while statistics are difficult to come by, there are increasing reports of many who are physically abused, raped and — in some cases — killed by their employers…
…female migrant workers are raped and then dumped on the streets by their employers, who refuse to give them their passports after discovering that the women are pregnant. The women are then arrested by police and placed in jail. Sometimes they are deported before the child is born.
Normawati says there are dozens of children who were abandoned by migrant workers in homes throughout Jakarta and surrounding areas.
I really appreciate the way this article draws attention to the intersection of gender and workers’ rights. The article focuses on Indonesian women working in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but their stories are an illustration of a wider problem — those hit hardest by callous economic policies are almost always poor women of colour.
But it must be said that I do not care for the way Time Magazine characterises the women migrant workers. The article doesn’t interview any actual migrant workers; as a result both the mothers and the children they leave are painted as voiceless victims, when there is definitely a lot more to their existence than that. (For example, the women are referred to as “raped migrant mothers” – not “women who were raped while doing migrant work.” Potentially a small difference, but the first phrase reduces the women to the word “raped.”) As well the article repeatedly emphasises how these women have ABANDONED their children; leaving the reader with a rather crude and over-simplified picture of women in unimaginable situations, forced to make terrible choices.
And while the article points out that countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan provide insufficient protections for migrant workers, it’s the same story everywhere.
Perhaps another bone to pick with the article is the way it localises problems that pervade the entire world, especially industrialised countries – like the exploitation of migrant workers, violence against women, patriarchal prejudice towards children born of rape – to the Middle East and Indonesia.
For example, Canadian organisation Justicia for Migrant Workers works to protect the rights of migrant workers in Ontario and beyond. J4MW tries to protect workers from both their employers and the Canadian government, whose policies sacrifice workers’ rights for “economic stability.” Their Campaigns page will give you an idea of the kinds of rights violations workers are facing.
Below is a list of other organisations that work for migrant worker rights. I found most of them by asking around and random google searches; if you have more you’d like to add to the list, leave them in the comments! I had trouble finding any organisations that specifically represented women migrant workers and their issues, which is probably pretty telling.
Damayan Migrant Workers Association Holds Health Fair & Gender Rights Training (North Star Fund Blog) (US)
Damayan Migrant Workers Association (US)
United for Foreign Domestic Worker’s Rights (Southeast Asia)
Migrante International Website (Philippines)
Migrante International Blog (Philippines)
Immigration Advocates (US)
United Farm Workers (US)
Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (US)
Thanks to Jane, Angela and Sunny for their help!