The International Labour Organization (ILO)estimates that there are currently 11.6 million documented migrant workers residing in South-East Asia and the Pacific subregion and nearly half of them or about 5.2 million are women. Many of those women migrant worker working in domestic work, entertainment, seafood processing, electronics manufacturing, garment manufacturing and construction sector. For instance, In Thailand, there are approximately 3.9 million migrant workers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam, who are playing a key role in Thai society.
Despite their positive contribution, the public support for migrants does not seem favourable.
A survey of the public attitudes towards migrant workers in Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and Singapore conducted by the ILO and UN WOMEN reveals that 40 percent of respondents believed that migrant workers are a “drain” on the economy and 53% believed that there is no demand for low-skilled migrant workers. In fact, migrant workers are making crucial contributions to Thailand as well as their countries of origin. Many countries in the region, including Thailand, rely on migrant workers for the functioning of their economies. Many of them fill local labour shortages where nationals do not want those jobs. In 2017, it was reported that migrant workers contributed between 4.3 – 6.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in Thailand.
Despite their crucial contributions to the economies and societies of both origin countries and Thailand, migrant workers, especially women, frequently experience negative attitudes, discrimination, exploitation, and sometimes violence during the migration process. These challenges are rooted in gender inequality and reflect the myth around migrant workers, especially women migrant workers.
The outbreak of Coronavirus is causing even further impact to migrant workers in many countries, including Thailand, as many of them have experienced violence, unfair job termination, and inability to access essential services. Women migrant workers, in particular, experience gender-based violence. As a result, women migrant workers are more at risks of exploitation, abuse and violence.
What is the cause of violence against migrant workers and how to solve it?
Lack of direct interaction with migrant workers, public attitudes towards them is often shaped by false information, negative or one-sided portrayals in the media. It results in misperceptions of the role they play in the society which can condone discrimination and even violence against women migrant workers. The ILO-UN Women study reveals that 77 percent of the public in Thailand believed that crime rates had increased due to migration. In reality, there is no evidence or information to conclude that migrant workers are more likely to commit crimes than local residents.
Consistency, the latest study made by the Safe and Fair Programme and UNICEF on the attitude of Thai youth towards migrant workers shows that 30 percent of the youth thought that migrants who have experienced violence should not receive help from the government if they have undocumented migration status.
Realizing that knowledge and understanding about women migrant workers among groups of people in different sectors are key to eliminate discrimination and violence against women migrant workers, and to achieve the SDG 5 – Gender Equality, SDG 8 – Decent Work, SDG – 10 Reducing Inequality, and SDG 16.2 – Stopping Abuses, Human Trafficking and Social Security, The joint ILO-UN WOMEN Safe and Fair Programme, as part of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, organized a campaign “Spotlight on Generation Equality”, to engage the youth as the agent of change.
Thammasat University (TU) is considered the first university in Thailand that has the policy to prevent and respond to violence against women. The university has organized activities to promote and raise awareness among students about gender equality and ending violence against women, such as holding special lecturing on gender equality, organizing a public forum to exchange views on violence against women migrant workers, and organizing “Spotlight Training Camp” for 50 young leaders. The latter event allowed students to work with women migrant workers directly and create a project to tackle the issues of violence against women migrant workers. The ideal proposal should be extended for practical use in the future.
New generation for social change
Zanii, one of Myanmar women migrant workers who participated in the project, said that most of Myanmar migrant workers come to work in Thailand with the hope for a better life. Her migration experience has been positive. However, “language” was a barrier for her, especially during the early days in Thailand. She did not understand Thai and unable to communicate with the employer or Thai colleagues and felt neglected for sometimes, but now her Thai is improved.
“It is my pleasure to work with students for formulating a project to tackle violence against women migrant workers. I have learnt that students have a good point of view and creativity toward problem-solving. I believe that the new generation or next leaders would make some changes for society in the future,”
Najira Aomsap, one of the TU students participating in the project, said her views on migrant workers have changed after participating in the “Spotlight Training Camp”. After she talked and worked with women migrant workers, she realized that they suffered from violence more than she thought. She hopes her project could help ease the problem and be extended in practical in the future.
“Youth and migrant workers are often excluded from taking part in solving important social problems, but the Spotlight Initiative provides freedom of thoughts and allows young people to work with women migrant workers to propose solutions, which is the heart of sustainable development that leaves no one behind.”
Deepa Bharathi, Chief Technical Adviser, Safe and Fair Programme, ILO, said the campaign focuses on the collaboration of women migrant workers and youngsters to work on solutions that will eradicate violence against women including women migrant workers. Conceptual work on sustainable development created by participants and TU students will not leave any behind.
“Thammasat University students joining the project have obtained awareness, knowledge, and abilities to help stop violence against women migrant workers as well as to change attitudes of people towards migrant workers. It will eliminate the root cause of discrimination and violence against women and women migrant workers. The move will help strengthen sustainable development.”