The migration of women in South and South-West Asia lends itself to special attention, from a public health as well as from a human rights perspective. A study conducted in 2004 of 677 migrant women from Bangladesh to India and Western Asia shows that the women tend to be young (under 22 years of age), and often end up engaging in sex work in their destination country, either by choice or as part of “additional duties” forced on them by their employer (Blanchet and others 2004). It highlights that among the returning Bangladeshi women migrants, knowledge of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV and AIDS is extremely low and condom usage is infrequent, while STI symptoms are high. In addition, it finds that the women rarely seek treatment for their symptoms.
While limited studies have been conducted to document the health problems experienced by these women as a result of their migration, the existing literature shows that STIs, HIV and AIDS, unwanted pregnancy and depression and addiction are some of the most significant health issues (Blanchet and others 2004).
In India, women migrants comprise 48 per cent of the international migrants (Chatterjee 2006). A large number of them are low-skilled and semi-skilled female migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal who, as a result of their work status, take jobs mainly in unregulated sectors as domestic helpers, street sweepers and sex workers. These women face unsafe work and living conditions and lack of access to health care can pose a risk to their physical and mental health. A study by Jatrana and Sangwan (2004) examined the health experiences of migrant female workers in the construction industry in North India. It found that the health status of the women had improved after migration but that they had not yet started using modern health services for childbirth or for general health needs.
The reproductive health of female migrants and migrant workers in Asia has been an area of particular concern. Gardner and Blackburn (1996) point out that few reproductive health and family planning programmes have focused on migrants as a specific group.
Gardner and Blackburn (1996) also identify some major areas of concern regarding the reproductive health status of many migrants, refugees and IDPs:
- Safe motherhood is nearly impossible for refugees and IDPs, especially at times of emergency.
- Violence against women is widespread in refugee and IDP movements.
- Unsafe abortions are common among refugees and IDPs.