The number of outbound women workers has increased by more than 10 per cent in the first six months of the current calendar year amid allegation of different types of workplace exploitation.
According to the data of Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), a total of 62,638 women domestic helps went abroad with jobs during the January-June period of the current year. The figure was 56,771 in the same period of last year.
Of the total, about 67 per cent or 41,287 women went to Saudi Arabia, followed by Jordan 15 per cent and Oman 10 per cent in the six months of this year.
Migrant rights activists, however, stressed the need for creating more employment opportunity for women abroad. The workplaces should be made women-friendly, otherwise female workers won't benefit from migration, they added.
They also said workplace harassment still happens in job destination countries. So, women workers keep returning home especially from Saudi Arabia.
The government has taken measures including strengthening the selection process and pre-departure training of workers to help curb harassment. It may help protect women domestic helps, they added.
When contacted, Shariful Islam, head of BRAC's migration programme, said it is tough to say whether the condition of women workers has improved or not in Middle East.
"But both the countries came under pressure after migrant rights activists raised the issues at different forums since last one year," he said.
Rights campaigners should continue their activities to help bring about effective changes in this sector, he added.
According to Mr Islam, some 650 women returned home in the last six months from Saudi Arabia, the largest destination for women domestic helps from Bangladesh.
Besides, he said, on average 500 women stay at safe home on a regular basis in the Arab country.
The data available with the welfare desk at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and rights activists, more than 1,500 domestic workers came back home from Saudi Arabia in 2018.
They faced exploitation like denial of wages as well as sexual and physical assaults. A good number of them suffered psychological trauma.
Apart from Saudi Arabia, women workers also returned home from other job destination countries because of such harassment.
WARBE Development Foundation secretary general Faruque Ahmed said they are still receiving many workers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lebanon and Jordan.
"So, I think the situation did not change for domestic helps abroad," he said, adding that the government should not bring back the women until ensuring justice.
He also suggested sending women to alternative jobs as it is very tough to monitor domestic helps in Middle East.
The Saudi government has brought changes in the Musaned system (female worker recruitment system) following bargaining from the Bangladesh side.
Now employers cannot engage women domestic helps to more than one house. And they have to pay wages to women regularly, officials said.
Sumaiya Islam, executive director at Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra (BNSK), said Bangladesh should strengthen its bargaining power to ensure the rights of domestic helps abroad.
Women also should be efficient enough to talk about their wages and other benefits with their employers, she said, adding that BNSK will also take some training programmes to enhance self-protection of outbound women workers.
Since 1991, over 0.86 million women went abroad with jobs, the BMET statistics showed. During the period, more than 31 per cent went to Lebanon, followed by UAE 26 per cent and KSA 15 per cent. They are mainly working in 18 countries across the globe.
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