International Women's Day

Empower Asia’s migrant women in a changing world of work

Nenette Motus calls for gender-specific education, training and career advancement opportunities to better protect female labour migrants

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 8:09pm

According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, women now account for 42 per cent of the total number of migrants in Asia.

Popular destinations for female temporary labour migrants from Asia include the oil-rich Gulf countries and the fast-growing economies in Southeast Asia.

More women are also migrating to developed nations in East Asia, Europe and North America to meet growing demand, particularly in health care. Others, many of them overqualified, work as domestic workers, carers for children and the elderly, or as factory hands. Many are the primary “breadwinners” for their families back home, and their remittances generate significant revenue for their countries.

For many migrant women in low-skilled jobs ... technological advances are more of a threat than an opportunity

But, as a key theme of International Women’s Day on March 8 observes, globalisation and technology are changing “the world of work” and many migrant women are being left behind.

The theme – “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work” – is timely, given the benefits in terms of convenience, efficiency and comfort derived from innovation at home and at work.

But for many migrant women in low-skilled jobs with little or no social protection, technological advances are more of a threat than an opportunity. Factories and businesses invariably weigh the cost of technology against the cost of cheap labour from developing nations. When they decide to install new technology, female migrants – the most vulnerable and cheapest to fire – are usually the first to be laid off.

Women’s Day must support migrants

The solution must begin in the country of origin and involve greater access to relevant education and training, as well as career development opportunities.

But this alone is no panacea. Women with higher skills often work in less-skilled professions when they migrate, trapped in a supply chain cul-de-sac where they have to assume manual tasks. They are not given opportunities to familiarise themselves with technologies and cannot advance themselves. As automation increases, their livelihood opportunities will shrink.

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The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals contain important gender dimensions which must be reflected in policy and practice in migrant-sending countries, and respected in migrant-receiving ones.

We need gender-specific interventions to promote access to technology and “the changing world of work”. These must offer women not just more dignified migration opportunities in destination nations, but also better access to education, health and justice in their countries of origin.

Dr Nenette Motus is regional director for Asia and the Pacific at the International Organisation for Migration