Social costs of women’s migration

One of the major problems faced by women migrants is emotions tied to the separation from their families and children in particular, which they believe prevents them from giving proper maternal care to their child. In addition, employers of migrant workers in the domestic sector often prevent them from communicating with their families.

Furthermore, most women migrant workers and caregivers who leave their homes to care for others abroad also have their own children and elders to look after back home. Migrant women usually either pass on this responsibility to other female relatives or, with their higher foreign earnings, hire lower-income domestic workers to manage their own households. This phenomenon is known as the ‘global care chain’, an international system of care giving stratified by class and, often, ethnicity (Hochschild and Ehrenreich 2002).

Many domestic workers end up running two households, their employers’ as well as their own, from afar. Notably, women spend 70 per cent of their unpaid time caring for family members, a contribution to the global economy that remains largely unrecognized (UNDP 2006).

Difficult working conditions and inability to participate in any social and cultural activities outside of their workplace isolates domestic workers from their new societies and prevents them from learning about their rights. Consequently, the aggregate result of concern for their families back home, feelings of emotional deprivation and isolation have sometimes led to serious cases of mental depression and even suicide (Hochschild and Ehrenreich 2002).

Data on sexual exploitation of women domestic workers are not readily available due to difficulty in collecting information from women who have been sexually exploited. Many women are prevented from pressing charges for sexual abuse or to speak publicly about these issues because of cultural norms that fault women for any sexual transgression, even if they are not at fault. In addition, many migrant workers fear for their safety and that of their families if they do press charges for sexual exploitation and or speak openly against their employers. As a result, many cases of sexual abuse and exploitation of domestic workers go unreported and hence unrecorded. Notably, members of the UN Women South Asia Regional Office in 2010 reportedly found during a scoping study that among returnee women migrant workers in India, the number of women who were sexually exploited was staggeringly high.

There are countless reports of women migrant domestic workers being sexually harassed, molested and even raped by their employers. This can be attributed to inadequate social and legal safety nets and limited by domestic workers of their rights. The resultant vulnerability to economic and sexual exploitation, with its attendant consequences of sexually transmitted infection (STI) and HIV, are strong factors supporting the need for more services and institutional protections for women migrant workers. In some countries, women are subjected to mandatory pregnancy tests each year. If the test result is positive, employers assume no responsibility and the migrant workers are deported.