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VOL 23 NO 333 REGD NO DA 1589 | Dhaka, Saturday, October 22 2016
Posted : 22 Oct, 2016 00:00:00 AA-A+
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The life back home migrant women live
Arafat Ara
The life back home migrant women live
Amena Khatun tells what life is like on retun from abroad.


Amena Khatun, in her early thirties, lives in Majidpur village under Jessore's Keshabpur upazila. Once she served as a domestic help in the United Arab Emirates. On return home, she has planned to open a boutique house with what she earned during those days abroad. But the amount is too small to do it. So, she has turned to different organisations for a loan at an affordable rate of interest. But it's not that easy. She has nothing to show as collateral against such a loan. Now seemingly the entrepreneurial skill she learnt is dying down in the absence of proper patronage.

"I had worked for five years abroad. After meeting my family expenses, I had saved a small amount of money every month, as I had a plan to open a boutique house back home," said Ms Khatun, mother of a girl child.

But it seems a distant dream. The amount of money she has is meagre. "There is no other option left for me except taking a loan. But the rate of interest is high. Besides, I have neither land nor any other asset to show as collateral for securing the loan," she said.

It is a big problem for people like her, as they neither have adequate money nor assets which they can show as collateral against any bank loan for setting up any business enterprise.

Migrant women like her are hardly getting any facilities back at home so that they can exploit their skills and remittances for improving their lot further.

Every year a significant number of women migrants return home. Some of them have deposits and working experience. They want to do something for financial solvency. But in the absence of opportunities they can't utilise their hard-earned money in an effective manner. Some of them also have no good idea about how to use their remittances to generate income.

Women workers who return home after falling victim to abuse at workplaces need extra care. They need healthcare facilities as well as psychological and financial supports.

While visiting some villages in Jessore and Munshiganj it was found that migrant women from those districts earned a significant amount of money by working overseas. A large portion of their earnings was spent for meeting family expenses.

They also wanted to invest their money for income-generating activities. They sent the money to their husbands or other family members. In most cases the husbands or family members spent the money in non-productive sectors.

A number of them said they had savings but not enough to start a business. They need financial supports for doing business. Many of them are now looking for loans at affordable rates of interest.

Some of the women also said if they could get jobs related to their experiences like housekeeping, cleaning, babysitting etc, it might help them improve their lot further.

Rina Aktar (32), who is also from Majidpur village just 40 kilometres off Jessore district town, is facing a similar problem as Amena does. She wants to set up a goat farm. But the fund crisis is holding her back.

"If I got access to the required fund and the technical support on goat farming, I could start my own project," she said.  

 She said she already contacted a village money lender and some banks. But the rate of interest was high and the conditions set were hard to meet.

Ms Aktar lives in Keshabpur Sadar with her three children. She came home from Oman just six months after joining. She was physically tortured at her employer's house.

Now she is in big trouble as she needs a large amount of money for her treatment and maintenance of her family. "So far I could not consult my doctor because of the fund crisis," she said.

Rights Jessore, a non-government organisation (NGO), has been working on migrants' welfare in the south-western region since 1991. Its executive director Binoy Krishna Mallick said they were coming across different types of cases every month involving migrant women.

Women were coming to them seeking help in settling their healthcare, financial and legal issues, he said.

Migrant women are getting importance in their families gradually. If they are engaged in income-generating activities and get other necessary supports in their social and economic reintegration on return home, that will entail their further empowerment.

A study of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on 'Gender and Migration from Bangladesh' reveals that woman domestic workers are at the risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuses including rape, confinement, underpayment or even non-payment of wages.

The study also says Bangladeshi migrant woman workers face problems like social stigmas on return home. They are in need of socio-economic support as well as psychological support.

There are very few approaches to effective social and economic reintegration of returning migrant women. The private and public sectors are doing it alongside NGOs, it also says.

Bilkis Begum, a grocery owner in Duhuri village under Louhajang Upazila of Munshiganj, said she was not well-accepted by her in-laws after coming back home.

Her husband refused to accept her as he thought she was abused sexually by her employer. "Not only husband but also some of my neighbours and relatives also underestimate me and do not talk with me easily," said the mother of two.

Ms Bilkis returned home one year back after serving as a domestic help in Saudi Arabia for four years. The people around her sometimes show much curiosity about her life abroad. It is a very awkward situation. "My children feel embarrassed, when people ask why their father divorced me," Bilkis said.

"I am not facing much difficulty with meeting my family expenses as I run a grocery shop. My two sons also are studying. But neighbours' attitudes sometimes hurt me very much," she added. She says the society still cannot accept migrant women easily.

 Pervez Siddiqui, manager (Advocacy, Media and Communication) at BRAC, said social reintegration is very necessary for woman workers as their families and societies sometimes do not receive them easily.

 Mr Siddiqui, who is also a migrant rights activist and filmmaker, said he saw a good number of women in trouble in their families and societies after their migration. But they are contributing a lot to poverty reduction in the country.

"The government and rights organisations should highlight women migrants' contribution to the economy. They also have to undertake awareness campaigns to change the mindset of the people about women overseas workers," he said.

According to statistics of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), the outflow of woman workers is increasing every year.

A record number of 103,718 female workers found jobs abroad in the calendar year 2015 as Saudi Arabia recruited a significant number of domestic helps from Bangladesh. The number of female migrant workers was one-fifth of the total overseas jobs (555,881) for Bangladeshi workers in 2015.  

 But there is no BMET data showing how many female workers coming back home every year.

Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme (OKUP), a non-government organisation (NGO), reveals that about 66 per cent of Bangladeshi female migrants return home with different types of health complications caused by physical torture.

The study covered 1,173 respondents in December 2014. Of them, 12.04 per cent women came back home with sexual and reproductive health problems, 7.41 per cent with mental trauma and 2.78 per cent with HIV infection.

The OKUP has also some reintegration programmes for returning women migrants, says its chairman Shakirul Islam. They do counselling and arrange health treatment for sick migrant women and also provide legal support, if necessary.  

Sharing his experience, the rights activist said returning women could be turned into good human resources through reintegration programmes. The country can benefit from it in many ways by using their skills and earnings.

He also mentioned that his organisation runs two factories in Narayanganj and Narsingdi for their economic reintegration. A total of 30 returning women are working there.

Earlier also they provided training on livestock to 250 women in Faridpur district. Some of them were given funds to set up farms, he added.

 "We are trying our best to address overall socio-economic problems of women migrants, but it is not enough as it is a big sector. Government and other organisations have to come forward with reintegration supports," he also said.

It is very frustrating that the government is yet to adopt any policy for reintegration of the migrant women. Even there is no database on them at the ministry. The government should immediately take such moves, he observes.

Women hardly benefit from the schemes of the Probashi Kalyan Bank (PKB). Most of them even do not know about the schemes. The rate of interest on reintegration loans and collaterals are very tough for less-educated or illiterate women to comply with, he also says.

Some private banks have a few schemes for the returning migrants on their economic reintegration. But those are not that much feasible for them, according to him.

Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) former secretary general Abul Bashar said they also had no reintegration programme but they had a plan to start an income-generating programme for returning workers.

They would train up the returning workers in different trades and help get jobs at home and abroad, he said. Local industries, he also said, could recruit the workforce as they have experiences.

On the other hand, a section of rights activists say women migrant workers need trade-based skill training on their return home. They also suggest adoption of a strategy on health facilities for the workers at the existing hospitals.    

Sumaiya Islam, director of Bangladesh Ovibashi Mohila Sramik Association (BOMSA), said the maximum number of women have no idea about how to invest their money. If they get comprehensive training before going abroad, they can draw up a future plan.

"Not only pre-departure training, the female workers also need training after coming back home. They can be given training in trades which are in high demand,' she said.

 She also underscored necessary health facilities for them at the existing hospitals and trauma centres. If the government gives a directive, the hospital authorities will be careful about healthcare of the migrant women, she added.

On the other hand, acting secretary at the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry Begum Shamsun Nahar said they had no immediate plan for adopting a separate policy on reintegration.  

She said although they had no reintegration policy, women were getting such supports from different government and non-government organisations. They were also getting health and counselling services at the existing healthcare centres," she said.  

"We will look into it and see how better and easier the services can be provided to the migrants," Ms Nahar gave her assurance.

arafat_ara@hotmail.com

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