When it is more than remittance earning

Shamsul Huq Zahid | Published: September 23, 2018 21:11:17

There exists a mixed picture as far as sending of female workers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is concerned. Both outflow and inflow of these workers have been going on for the past few months amidst growing concern over their physical safety and security.

Allegedly abused and tortured at their workplaces, hundreds of female workers returned home during the past few months. For obvious reasons, the returnees do not narrate their full stories and experiences. Yet what little they divulge is quite disturbing.

Such disturbing developments notwithstanding, female workers from Bangladesh have not stopped leaving home for taking up jobs in the KSA and some other Gulf countries. The government, too, appears unconcerned and has been granting hundreds of female workers the permission to leave.

Unofficial estimate puts the number of Bangladeshi female workers who left for the KSA until now at about 0.2 million. However, the total number of returnee workers is not available. At least 1000 female workers returned home from the kingdom during the first half of 2018 to escape alleged torture and sexual abuse by their employers.

The outflow of workers is now far less than before.  Many workers, actually, are now rushing to get out even faster than they got in that country.

There is no evidence that the relevant authorities in the KSA is doing enough to deal with the problem. Reports indicate abuse of female workers there is still rampant. Some other countries sending female workers in the KSA have been encountering similar problems. The Philippines, Indonesia and India are among the countries that are sending a large number of female workers to the KSA.

Following allegation of maltreatment and abuse, the Philippines put certain restrictions on sending workers to the KSA. But when the Philippines was mulling imposing the restrictions, the KSA slapped ban on hiring Filipino female workers. Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, reportedly, is actively considering some restrictions on the movement of its female workers to the Middle Eastern countries.

Besides, physical tortures and abuse of all sorts, there allegedly exists a very cruel system of female workers' illegal auction by their employers in the KSA. Under the system, employers sell their housemaids to others. The practice is very much akin to slavery.

There is no denying that female workers from poor developing countries like Bangladesh, lured by the prospect of higher income, go to distant land. Even a couple of decades back, it would have been difficult to find a poor rural woman willing to go to any Arab country taking up employment.  Their families would not allow them to make such a venture. But the situation has changed. A big chunk of workers involved in manufacturing, construction and farming are women. Once they have come out of four walls, not many people put objection to their going abroad taking up employment.

But no government worth its name can avoid its responsibility towards the people it is allowing to go to distant lands, work, earn money and send the same home to support the country's balance of payments (BoP). The responsibility turns out to be even more in the case of women workers, the majority of whom work as housemaids, in an alien environment.

In fact, most incidents of torture and repression originate from the mismatch between the expectations of both employers and female workers. The problem in relation to communication between the employers and the workers is a major one. Besides, the workers are not at all familiar with the culture of people they are serving. Since most female workers come from rural areas they are also not accustomed to urban and modern living conditions.

However, allegations of sexual abuse by the employers or by members of their families are also common.

So, the government should not view the female workers as tools of earning foreign currency for the country. Prior to despatching them abroad, the female workers need to be selected on the basis of their aptitude and ability. The selected workers should be made familiar with culture and living conditions of the countries of their employment. More importantly, they must be equipped with minimum language skill so that they can communicate with their employers. 

The government's failure to do what have been mentioned above would only result in increasing the number of tortured and exploited female workers returning home. One can hardly ignore the plight of the returnee workers. As reported in the media, the families of a few returnees have declined to accept them for fear of social stigma. What an irony! These unfortunate women went to unknown lands for the sake of their families' happiness. Now they have become unwanted.

Poor rural families do have lots of problems, economic or otherwise. Migration of female workers to any country must not add a few more. The government should look into the issue rather proactively.



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