Women returnees from KSA now face stigma

Arafat Ara | Published: June 20, 2018 10:31:39 | Updated: June 21, 2018 15:07:41


Bangladeshi women stand in queues to buy advance train tickets to return home at Kamlapur central train station in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Aug. 31, 2016. Reuters file photo.


Dozens of women workers who returned from Saudi Arabia are not accepted squarely by their families mainly due to social stigma.
Some of them got divorced from their husbands.
Family members, including sons, have also denied them shelter.
Some have taken refuge at their relatives' houses, said the returnees who faced abuse and torture by their employers abroad.
More than 1,000 females returned home from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in the past six months because of workplace exploitations.
Of them, 121 came back in May.
The women were exploited in many ways -- be it denial of wages, sexual assaults or physical torture.
Shanta Rani, a widow, went to the KSA months ago.
The mother of two sons and one daughter was encouraged to go there to supplement the family income.
But her sons' attitude has changed upon her return. She was denied shelter.
"My sons didn't allow me into my home. They think I'm no longer a good woman," Shanta told the FE.
"You aren't a good woman. You're exploited by the employers. Many are staying back. Why have you returned home?" she quoted her sons.
Shanta, who hails from Rajshahi, is now staying in the capital with her teenage daughter.
"My daughter is now studying in class 10. To pay her tuition fee, I cook for rickshaw-pullers at a garage. I'm struggling with the peanuts I earn," she deplored.
Sakhina, another Saudi returnee, was split up with her husband when she was in the KSA.
Her husband alleged that she was engaged in immoral activities with her employer.
"Despite repeated explanations, I failed to convince my husband," she said.
"Union chairman and member also supported her husband. They also suggested divorcing me," Shakhina said.
"With my mother's little earnings, I'm now trying to meet the basic needs of my two children."
Sabina, another domestic help, now stays at her sister's house as her in-laws denied accepting her.
"I have been residing at my sister's house for the last 15 days. My husband and in-laws didn't welcome me home," she said.
They are feeling dishonoured after my comeback, Sabina added.
"My disabled husband can't earn. So, I went abroad five months ago to bear family expenses," she said.
"I can't describe in words how brutally the members of the employer's family attacked me when I demanded wage," she told this correspondent.
So many Ranis, Sakhinas and Sabinas became abandoned by their families and living in deplorable condition.
Shariful Islam, head of BRAC Migration Programme, said they identified several women jettisoned by their families.
"We found a woman waiting for her husband at the airport. But he didn't turn up to receive her," he said.
"We then phoned her father and brothers, but they too refused to accept her," he described.
The woman stayed at the airport overnight.
"Later, we sent her to a shelter home," Mr Islam mentioned.
He said it is a bad practice to neglect women migrants in their own societies and families. So, it needs to launch an awareness campaign to change this attitude.
Women migrants should always be honoured as they are going abroad for economic development of their families and the country as well, he observed.
The state should give long-term reintegration support to help them adapt to society, Mr Islam suggested.
The government should also rethink whether it will send domestic helps to the oil-rich country or not as long as their protection is concerned, he said.
Indonesia and the Philippines protest any kind of torture of their women at the KSA.
They also sent a limited number of woman workers there.
The KSA then decided to hire workers from Bangladesh.
More than 0.2 million females went to the Gulf nation since the signing of a deal in 2015.
Sources said more than 4,000 women returned home from the KSA in the past three years alleging workplace exploitations.
Of them, 2,641 women returned in 2017.
A good number of them are also waiting at safe homes and immigration camps in Saudi Arabia.
Bangladesh Obhibasi Mohila Sramik Association (BOMSA) said most of the women migrants are facing social stigma.
Husbands, who are careless and also have extramarital affairs, mainly put their wives into question, it said.
These women are badly in need of social protection.
The government should launch a project under the Wage Earners' Welfare Board (WEWB) on financial and psycho-social reintegration for these women.
BOMSA said private recruiting agencies also should help the women as they sent them abroad.
On the other hand, officials at the expatriates' welfare ministry said not all the workers returned home were abused by the employers.
Many of them wanted to come back home due to homesickness, they added.
When contacted, WEWB officials said they are willing to give all types of support to these women.
But they have no specific data of the workers.
Zahid Anwar, assistant director and public relations officer of WEWB, said they can provide necessary support if they get a list of the women returnees.
Benzir Ahmed, president of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies, said the association has no reintegration scheme as it has no welfare fund.
Some 0.7 million Bangladeshi women went abroad with jobs between 1991 and April 2018.
arafat_ara@hotmail.com

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