Each year, hundreds of thousands of Asian (and increasingly African) women migrate to become a domestic worker in Gulf Cooperation Council countries to make a living for their families. About one in three female wage workers in the Middle East (31.8 %) is a domestic worker, the large majority of whom are migrants.
The high demand for migrant labour gives many women the opportunity to make a living for their families. However, domestic work is by nature far away from public scrutiny and insufficient protective policies as well as unclear migration processes leave the often low skilled migrant domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation and indecent work conditions.
Bridges (formerly known as Shelter Me) is a partnership between GCC-based advocacy portal Migrant-Rights.org and Hivos. The programme aims to break the isolation of migrant domestic workers in countries of employment through a multi-pronged approach: recruitment reform, improving relationships between employers and migrant domestic workers (MDWs), reaching out to influencers in countries of employment, and supporting governments in countries of origin to act responsibly. Bridges also works to change perspectives towards migrant domestic workers and create an enabling environment for these interventions to take root.
More than 80 per cent of migrant domestic workers in the Middle East come from Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, which are all too familiar with the terrible working conditions their citizens endure. Some have even placed a moratorium on migration of their domestic workers to the GCC. However, such measures generally lead to more irregular migration and human trafficking.
The new flow of migrant labour is from Africa. In July 2015, Uganda signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia to send them one million migrant domestic workers for wages as low as $200 per month. This agreement was overturned six months later after claims of abuse emerged, but it points to what can happen in African countries with little experience in labor migration outside of the continent and without mechanisms for safe migration, ethical recruitment and proper pre-departure orientation.
Bridges wants instead to make recruitment more transparent and fair, and change the perceptions of domestic workers among employers, so that these women can migrate safely to seek work, be treated well and receive a decent wage for their work. But these interventions can only take root in an environment where there is a positive narrative about migrant domestic workers. So Bridges also conducts campaigns to create an enabling environment and changet he narrative on migrant domestic workers both in sending and receiving countries.
The programme engages non-traditional stakeholders, such as businesses and embassies, to reach out to as many employers as possible and thus indirectly bring positive changes to the situation of domestic workers. As part of our multi-stakeholder approach, we target recruitment agents directly or indirectly (depending on the context) to make the sector more transparent and fair, and we positively influence their practices on the ground through training sessions and hands-on tools.
The project will in the end also be a source of tools and learning on how migration can turn into a success for these women. Some of these are:
- the Help Desk for migrant domestic workers at Jakarta International Airport
- Scorecards on recruitment malpractices among migrant domestic workers is used to make the Indonesian government provide direct assistance to its citizens and to hold governments accountable for enforcing recruitment regulations and strengthening protections for migrant domestic workers
- The ‘Employers’ Guide’ with advice and guidelines to formalise the work relationship with domestic workers based on human rights and ILO decent work standards. This guide is distributed to businesses and international organizations, among others, in the Gulf region.
Bridges is an initiative of Hivos, Migrant-Rights.org and Migrant CARE, working with a broad network of local organisations, INGO’s and NGO’s in East Africa and Southeast Asia. Hivos’ expertise in developing multi-stakeholder programs and linking international players in the filed, combined with our partners’ varied expertise on migrants’ issues, makes this initiative unique. It is one of the first of its kind to work in the Gulf region with partners from both countries of origin and destination, targeting employers and domestic workers.
Migrant-Rights.org (MR) is the Middle East's foremost platform dedicated to advancing migrant worker rights. It produces resources for citizens, academics, media, local civil society organizations, as well as migrants. Migrant CARE defends the rights of migrant workers by exerting pressure on the Indonesian government to better protect migrants and to lobby for improved national and international regulations.