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Govts urged to protect women workers

The Jakarta Post - May 4, 2012. "Activists from South and Southeast Asia and international agencies have raised deep concerns over rampant violence against women migrant workers in Malaysia and the Gulf countries, with a joint call on sending and receiving countries to settle the issue through dialogue."

"In a regional consultation meeting jointly organized by the Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobilty (CARAM) and UN Trust Funds on Thursday, it was stressed that all people had their universal rights to move to and stay in countries where they had found employment.

“Women migrant workers do not beg but work to earn a living, support their families and benefit their employers. Therefore, they must be free to get decent work and pay, to express their opinion and be free from torture, rape, slavery and other forms of exploitation,” said director of CARAM Asia Muhammad Harun-or-Rashid in his opening speech to the meeting.

Thaufiek Zulbahary, head of the migration, trafficking, HIV and AIDS program division of Indonesian Solidarity for Women (Solidaritas Perempuan), suggested that all sending countries should join forces to stop supplying workers if receiving countries continued to reject giving full protection to their migrant workers.

He urged the Indonesian government to use the 1990 UN Convention on the protection of migrant workers and their families, which it recently ratified as ammunition in its bargaining power, especially with Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, to end the violence against its migrant workers.

Project officer of Sri Lankan Community Development Services, Januka Tillakaratne, chairman of Bangladeshi Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Sakhirul Islam and Nepali-based POURAKIH and chairwoman Manju Gurung blamed the rampant labor abuse in the Gulf countries on the Kafala (sponsorship) system, which has been manipulated by labor agencies and employers to exploit their maids.

“Our workers have been denied access to legal proceedings and to international arbitration. They have been objects of exploitation, persecution and rape as receiving countries have no codes. Workers are excluded from labor laws,” said Sakhirul.

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been the biggest suppliers of migrant workers to the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Oman, while Indonesia is the biggest supplier for Malaysia.

Bharati Silwal-Giri, a gender specialist at the UN Trust Fund, commented that the Kafala and culture of violence had much to do with strong patriarchal systems among employers. “This has been supported by culture and religion.”

Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, the only Malaysian NGO giving legal advocacy to foreign migrant workers, blamed the continuning rampant violence against migrant workers on the rife corruption and impunity of government officers who were involved in all forms of labor exploitation in the country."


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