Government urged to respect women’s right to safely migrate for work of their choices

On the occasion of International Women's Day, Amnesty International Nepal and Aprabasi Mahila Kamdar Samuha asked the government of Nepal to ensure protection of women’s right to choose amongst the available forms of employment overseas.

NL Today

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Kathmandu: The right to travel and work abroad for women in Nepal must be respected, Amnesty International Nepal and Aprabasi Mahila Kamdar Samuha (AMKAS) said today while observing the International Women’s Day. The government of Nepal must ensure protection of women’s right to choose amongst the available forms of employment overseas and to decent working conditions.

For more than two decades, the successive governments in Nepal have experimented with introduction, repeal, and re-introduction of different kinds of restrictions on the mobility of Nepali women ranging from blanket bans, age-based bans, country specific bans, and sectoral bans.

In 2020, seven stringent pre-conditions were introduced on Nepali women from travelling to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to work as domestic workers. The preconditions included the existence of strong laws for protection of migrant domestic workers, existence of bilateral agreement with the destination countries that ensure basic rights such as wages and leave, inclusion of domestic migrant workers in the social security mechanism of the destination country, provision of occupational safety and health, working hours and additional benefits for extra work, and a 24-hour insurance coverage at the workplace.

“While these pre-conditions seem innocuous, they are impractical and very difficult to fulfill. Consequently, this has forced women seeking foreign employment opportunities to use irregular channels, and this has made them vulnerable to trafficking and forced labour. It does not solve the current problems and only aggravates them further,” said Bijaya Rai Shrestha, the Chairperson of Aprabasi Mahila Kamdar Samuha (AMKAS).

Due to the frequent and arbitrary change in policies, the lack of bilateral labor agreements with prospective destinations and the current stringent conditions, women continue to be compelled to use irregular channels for foreign labor migration making them more susceptible to trafficking, exploitation, and abuses. Often, women cross the open border to India and/or use other back-channels or use visit visas. As a result, their undocumented status effectively increases the risk of abuse and exploitation at the hands of their recruiters and employers, and severely limits their recourse to justice.

According to the government sources, women comprised close to 10 percent of the total migrant workers in the last three years.  The actual number of Nepali women migrant workers could be much higher than what the official data shows as many women have migrated through irregular channels due to the restrictive policies. The lack of decent work opportunities, patriarchal social norms and gender inequality are the main reasons that motivate women in Nepal to migrate.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to leave one’s country. Article 23, likewise, guarantees the right to work, right to free choice of employment, the right to just and favourable conditions of work, and the right to protection against unemployment. The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 guarantees right to equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sex, right to employment, and the right to fair labour practices.

“Respecting and ensuring the right to work for women in Nepal requires a more nuanced approach that does not arbitrarily restrict women and pushes them towards more vulnerabilities,” said Nirajan Thapaliya, Director of Amnesty International Nepal.

“Nepali authorities must ensure safe migration of domestic workers by removing any prohibitions or conditions that prevent them from departing from the airports in Nepal. The authorities should also ensure that diplomatic missions are adequately resourced and increase their ability to support women domestic workers facing exploitation or abuse, including by providing a hotline, shelter as well as financial and legal support to those in need.”

Amnesty International Nepal and AMKAS urge the Government of Nepal to formulate a clear and consistent policy that not only respects Nepali women’s right to work and choose employment abroad but also ensures decent working conditions for them. The authorities must embrace gender responsive considerations while formulating policies and keep women’s agency and well-being at the center of their planning.