Voices of migrant women left out of policy discussions in Nepal

By Laxman Datt Pant

Voices of migrant women left out of policy discussions in Nepal

A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Nepal found that the voices of Nepali migrant women have systematically been left out of policy discussions with very little effort being made to rectify this omission. The study also recommends the introduction and implementation of a new foreign employment policy that adequately accounts for the desires and necessities of migrant women.

Analyzing the legal and policy frameworks that govern foreign employment for women migrant workers and migrant domestic workers, the study further discloses that bans and restrictions have failed to prevent Nepali women from migrating.

Commissioned under the United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funded Work in Freedom Programme between February and June 2020 and released last week, the study found that policymakers in Nepal lack a clear understanding about why migration bans are discriminatory and that decisions are made without consulting empirical evidence and without adequate study and an appropriate rationale.

“As a result of women seeking migration through informal channels, there is a lack of knowledge on the whereabouts, job conditions, living conditions, and general wellbeing of women migrant domestic workers. This makes it more difficult to respond to and understand the needs of migrant women abroad including in times of crises such as the global pandemic caused by COVID-19,” the findings of the study suggest.

  • Although the abuse of women also occurs in Nepal, stories of abuse and exploitation continue in destination countries
  • Bans have often been justified due to a lack of resources in Nepal’s diplomatic missions abroad to handle the volume of complaints filed by women migrant workers
  • Although many ministerial officials and elected representatives are aware that migration bans are ineffective, they do not want to repeal these for fear of political implications
  • Bans and restrictions have also been implemented without public consultation and with minimum transparency
  • Frequent changes in policy approaches demonstrate that decision-makers lack a long term, institutionalized plan for women migrant workers

It is high time that the authorities in Nepal design and implement a new plan of action for female labour migration and migrant domestic work, incorporate the voices and opinions of migrant women in the policymaking process and pursue further bilateral and multilateral cooperation on women migrant workers and migrant domestic workers with other origin countries in the region.

In order to reduce the pressure to migrate, the study recommends a focus on the promotion and advancement of decent working conditions for women in Nepal.

Other key recommendations include repealing and depoliticizing bans and restrictions on migration, convening a conference on female labour migration and migrant domestic work with a diverse array of stakeholders, pursuing further negotiation for bilateral labour agreements for women migrant workers and migrant domestic workers, and improving information dissemination and awareness-raising campaigns on labor migration and the foreign employment process targeting women and enhancing access to justice.

The existing discrimination could be ended by signing and ratifying key international instruments that ensure the rights of women migrants and migrant domestic workers by reforming domestic laws on trafficking and foreign employment with adequate consideration of gender and by introducing new legal frameworks on anti-discrimination and women’s work, the study further recommended.