How can we improve the lives of female migrant workers?

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16 February
22:01
17 February
11:10

There are many large and quite specific problems that could be addressed with regard to improving the lives of female migrant workers. 

In many countries, not just in the Middle East, children inherit their nationality and citizenship from their father. This means that the children of migrant unmarried mothers, children can literally become stateless if the father doesn’t claim the child. And if the father does claim the child, the migrant mother may lose the child. So a change in how nationality is inherited would make a big difference for women in some countries.

Some of the policies that would enhance the lives of female migrant workers are policies that would also enhance the lives of all migrant workers.

Some of the policies that would enhance the lives of female migrant workers are policies that would also enhance the lives of all migrant workers. Generally having more open borders is something that would enhance women’s autonomy. Many countries, for example, don’t allow migrant workers to escape from their one, two or three year contracts, and they don’t allow them to move voluntarily without those contracts. This traps migrant workers in locations and jobs that could be detrimental to their well-being and threatens them with illegality if they look for work on their own. Better working conditions and higher wages benefit all workers; if they are implemented as special protections for women workers, however, they can encourage employers to substitute male for female workers.

Overall migration policies that facilitate foreigners’ freer access to work permits and access to permanent residency and citizenship offer improved opportunities for women and indeed all migrants.

And in many countries claims are made – rightly, I think – that the most important policy that can improve the lives of migrant workers is unionisation.

There are also changes in migration policies that govern family life that would make a big difference to female migrants along with their families-- most notably the right to unify families. There are many countries in the world that do not allow labour migrants on short-term contracts to call family members to join them. That is a problem not just for women labour migrants but for men as well, and it’s a major source of emotional stress and strain for men, women, and children alike.

And in many countries claims are made – rightly, I think – that the most important policy that can improve the lives of migrant workers is unionisation. The unionisation of domestic workers in particular has been very high on the agenda of many women’s rights activists, and we see similar mobilizations among sex workers as well. 

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