Patron: President of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer

KCTOS: Knowledge, Creativity and
Transformations of Societies

Vienna, 6 to 9 December 2007

<<< Issues of labor migration in East Europe and post-Soviet Central Asia


Situational analysis of migrant women

Khujanazarova Nargis (Women`s Telecommunications and IT Training Center, Tashkent / University of Information Technologies) [BIO] and Tursunbaeva Saodat (International Foundation “Woman of East”)

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The collapse of the Soviet Union and its centralized employment system and development of market economy in the new independent states of Central Asia caused significant changes in the labor markets. Job opportunities in rural areas led to internal and external labor migration. Labor migration in the region gradually came to include all strata of the population, including all ages, sexes, professions, and social groups.

Labor migration within and outside the countries among women results in many positive as well as negative consequences. Mass migration improved the social and economic situation of the rural population, lowering the unemployment rate, making long-term changes in professionalism, stimulating market relations and improving the welfare.

Labor migrants acquire new skills accommodating themselves to the market-oriented economy conditions.

Simultaneously, negative consequences are growing: marginalization of a considerable part of the rural population (due to loss of migrants' social status and ties), deepening gender inequality.

Feminization of poverty leads to the feminization of migration which makes women vulnerable to rights' abuse including human trafficking. The outflow of the labor force reduces the economically active population in rural areas of the country and slows economic growth.

Women remain the main vulnerable group of labor migrants, due to their lower labor skills, existing gender stereotypes and the danger of sexual coercion. Many of them have suffered human and labor rights’ abuses, especially in the cases of illegal migration and human trafficking. The governments of the Central Asian states cannot effectively respond to these challenges due to the lack of cooperation, absence of reliable statistics and analysis in this field, poor legislative framework, low awareness of the rural population on their rights, shortage of experience and expertise of the relevant government and non-government actors in dealing with labor migration issues, as well as a shortage of resources for job creation in villages and small cities.

In Uzbekistan, informal migration from rural areas to large cities, particularly Tashkent, can be observed, as the growing rural population tries to compensate for the low non_agricultural employment opportunities in the rural areas by temporary and informal employment in cities.

The government bodies (Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, local government bodies, hokimiats etc.) and the Women’ Committee of Uzbekistan, that serves as a national machinery for advancement of women and promotion of women’s rights, have tried to initiate new programmes for employment development in rural areas, to develop small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as to stimulate local community leaders to prevent illegal migration.

A number of international agencies (IOM, UNODC, UNFPA, ILO, OSCE etc) have launched several initiatives in the sphere of combating trafficking in human beings and raising awareness. Among them, IOM has succeeded to establish an effective cooperation with local NGOs in prevention of trafficking in human beings and rehabilitation of the victims.

However, the necessity of a more comprehensive economic and legal approach to the problems related to labor migration has been recognized by the state and the society. As mentioned in the UNDP “Central Asia Human Development Report” (2005), “while the creation of long-term job opportunities at home should be a high priority in a longer term, easing opportunities to migrate to those who are unemployed … in the short and medium term” should be provided, since “many are illegal migrants with no employment rights.” Supporting the involved actors as well as vulnerable women and their families would help improve the legal status of women, target the issues of employment and reduction of poverty, and contribute to the protection of migrant workers’ rights in general.

Although there are many reasons why women work abroad (war and economic, social and political situations, etc.), labor migration is directly related to the global economic and political model that is a neo-liberal, increasingly militarized and perpetuated by the industrialized empires.

In the same way that men maintain their gender privileges in the private sphere through various forms of exploitation, industrialized countries do it in the public sphere by exploiting cheap labor that, among other things, are provided by the poorest countries, specifically those from the Asian, African and Latin American continents.

Migrant women not only have to go through the hardship of not seeing their sons, daughters and relatives, they also face many forms of violations that are rarely heard and addressed. Women contribute to their countries in a significant way, sending money home, and volunteering in communities that welcome them.

But since feminine work has been historically unseen, most of what migrant women contribute is neither reflected in the national wealth nor is it given value by society. Philippine migrant women, for example, contribute to a great extent to the total remittances, which in 2001 reached up to 6.2 million U.S. dollars.

Migrant women are more likely than men to be exposed to forced labor, sexual exploitation, forced prostitution and other kinds of violence. They are more likely to accept hazardous work conditions and low salaries that are many times below the mandated minimum wage. Many are exposed to serious health risks, such as women working in the maquila factories and other jobs with dangerous or unhealthy working conditions. Many women are not equipped with enough information to help them fight against sexually transmitted diseases, especially the deadly HIV/AIDS.

Although it is increasingly becoming evident that migration has a gender dimension, most migratory policies and regulations still do not address gender specific problems. It is clear that sending and receiving countries still do not concern themselves with formulating inter-state measures and mechanisms that will promote and protect the human rights and dignity of women migrant workers, as well as eradicate trafficking in women and girls. The article 16 of the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families states that migrant workers and their families are "entitled to effective protection by the State against violence, physical injury, threats and intimidation, whether by public officials or by private individuals, groups or institutions", it can be observed that this instrument does not consider the vulnerability of women migrant workers, especially in prostitution and sexual abuse cases. Curiously enough, International Laws have not come up with the legal definition of migrant. Many among migrants who do not have refugee or migratory worker status remain undocumented or remain irregular workers, making them more vulnerable to human rights violations. Another form of discrimination found in the law is this: on the one hand, violations of civil and political rights are recognized in the case of refugees particularly when these violations are a threat to their lives and security thus forcing them to run away from their countries on the other hand, the economic, social and cultural violations of migrant women’s rights that force them to run away from their places of origin are not recognized. In this regard, it looks like the principle of indivisibility of human rights has not been considered.


Patron: President of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer

KCTOS: Knowledge, Creativity and
Transformations of Societies

Vienna, 6 to 9 December 2007