Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Recruiting Female Workers in the Country of Origin: Deception and Abuse of Vulnerability

The recruitment stage in the country of origin impacts the entire experience of migration, and abuses
in this regard extend to male and female migrants of all skill sets. However, female migrant domestic
workers (MDWs) are impacted to a greater extent, given that they are recruited in a low-paying industry. This first section documents the experiences of MDWs from Nepal and Bangladesh prior to
their arrival in Lebanon. It puts particular focus on the personal, social and economic contexts of their
migration, and the structure upon which the relationship between them and the recruiters is drawn.
The aim of this is to explore the foundations upon which the decision to migrate to Lebanon to work
is made, and the availability of human trafficking channels in the process of recruiting the worker in
her home country.
1. Vulnerability in the country of origin and the reasons behind migration
Understanding the social and economic contexts behind migration helps shed light on the vulnerability
of the women involved, something which pushes them to migrate abroad. Estimates indicate that women make up about half of those who leave their country to work abroad.15 Poverty, unemployment, low wages, violence, environmental destruction and natural disasters are all principle factors that reduce job opportunities and push workers to migrate. For female workers, there are additional motivations, such as escaping the domination of the family and fleeing domestic violence.
The roots of this vulnerability extend back to the period prior to their migration to Lebanon, sinc the women tend to be the primary female breadwinners of their families and come from poor, rural areas. Our current study found that economic responsibilities and concerns play a fundamental and instinctive role in the decision of women to go and work overseas. All the participants in the study, from both countries, said that ‘earning money’ was the greatest incentive for migration, and they specified it as a chief and direct reason for their relocation. Our current study also shed light on the other reasons for migration, such as improving social circumstances, finding a good husband, and fleeing domestic violence or marginalization in society.

The survey found that 64% of the participants were married, 4% were divorced, and 6% widowed.
The overwhelming majority of them were the primary female breadwinners in their families. Moreover, rural women made up the largest proportion of the group, and they tended to be the least well-educated, the poorest, and lacking their own sources of income such as land or cattle, further depriving them of work opportunities. In addition to this, the male breadwinner may have stopped fulfilling his responsibilities, fallen ill, passed away, or simply stopped working. All these factors prevent women from providing for their families, pushing them to migrate. This was something expressed by Lona, from Nepal:

“My husband was working in Qatar when he developed heart problems. He returned to Nepal and came to require lots of medicine, and I had to keep up with my son’s school fees and provide for my husband.”

Likewise, frustration at the decline in wages in both Nepal and Bangladesh was a key reason behind
the migration of female workers, since the decreased wage levels prevent them from securing a decent living for themselves or their families, as Nita from Nepal explained:
“My elder sister saw how hard I was working here in Nepal; I worked in carpet weaving, and I set up my own portable stall selling straw objects in the street. I was trying to do lots of different things, but I continued to face financial difficulties. Then my sister told me she would take care of my children so that I could leave the country. My mother had died, and my father was ill and later also passed away. My husband had been working in Saudi Arabia for nine years; he only visited me once and wasn’t sending any money home. It was for this reason that I decided to go abroad – it was for the sake of my children.”
Alongside poverty and family responsibilities, one of the participants explained how she looked at migration as a way to improve her social and economic circumstances so that she could buy land, or build a house, with the aim of being able to marry. Fatima explained her reasons for migrating as follows:
“I wanted to help my family, save money and buy land or a house, in order to find a good husband. A woman who has money, land or a house is able to find a better husband than a woman who does not – he could be highly educated, and with a good social standing, even if she was neither beautiful nor educated.”
Another participant in the semi-structured interviews, Rozina, migrated to escape the domination of her violent husband, and to pay off his debts. She said:
“I came to pay off a loan to the bank that my husband had gambled away, and to provide for my daughter and my family. I spent a hundred dollars getting the term ‘married’ off my passport, so that my husband couldn’t prevent me from travelling.”
Sixteen percent of the participants in the survey carried out in Lebanon had migrated when under the age of 17, and had resorted to changing their identities on their passports in order to bypass the legal restriction on minors travelling for work, or because of the restrictions, imposed by both the Nepalese
and Bangladeshi governments, on the ages at which female domestic workers are allowed to travel.
Three women who had returned to Nepal said that they had been 19 years of age when they migrated for the first time to Lebanon, while another returnee said she had been 17. It should be noted at this point that this group of young female migrants were the oldest out of their siblings, and that their decision to migrate was partly motivated by the idea of visiting another country, as well as out of a
desire to provide money for their families. This was what Dargha, from Nepal, explained:
“I took the decision together with my mother. There were problems between my mother and my father so she decided to move with me and my two younger brothers to Kathmandu. I wasn’t educated. In Kathmandu I couldn’t find any work with a monthly wage higher than 1000 or 2000 rupees (approximately 10 – 21 US dollars), and that wasn’t enough for us. So I decided to travel abroad, despite the difficulties involved.”

 It is against this background of restricted choices that women take the decision to migrate abroad to find work, and, by and large, this decision is a collective one taken with the family. The family tends to choose the member of the family most likely to find work abroad because of linguistic or professional skills, or because of the gendered choices available such as domestic work. The importance of the collective decision lies in the fact that the whole extended family is likely to depend on the migrant worker’s expected income. It is important that we realise the inherent imbalance of power on an economic level, since it delineates the course taken to recruit the MDWs. It reflects the vulnerability that impacts the experiences of those women across all stages of the migration process, and it allows those who work in the recruitment of the migrants to use their vulnerability to extract profit.


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