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UN Urges Better Protection for Female Migrant Workers in Asia


The number of women migrant workers in Asia has risen rapidly in recent years. The United Nations is now looking for ways to improve protection for these women, calling on states to apply U.N. labor conventions and to improve international cooperation.

"In Asia, women now account for more than half of those who travel abroad for work," explains a narrator. "Their economic contributions are significant, yet the extent of these contributions is rarely recognized."

"I work 14 hours a day to support my children at home," said a migrant worker. "Sometimes things are very hard. I'm so far away from home."

These are voices from a video presentation prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women. The presentation's message is striking.

It says that as of last year, some 94.5 million migrant workers, nearly half the world's total, were women. The proportion of women among migrant workers has been rising rapidly, especially in Asia following the regional financial crisis that began in the late 1990's.

The U.N. agency, known as UNIFEM, warned in Bangkok Thursday that such women face rising levels of abuse and violence. Jean D'Cunha is the UNIFEM regional program director for Asia.

"They are being recruited into women-specific skilled and unskilled jobs, but the largest concentration of women migrant workers is at the lower level of the job hierarchy, in domestic work and prostitution, where they suffer gross human rights violations," said D'Cunha.

D'Cunha says women working abroad in Asia represent a long-term trend. UNIFEM figures show that in Indonesia, for example, 80 percent of all migrants leaving to work abroad in 2002 and 2003 were women.

"Migration, including women's migration for work, is becoming a long-term, enduring structural feature of the Asian region," continued D'Cunha. "In the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, the numbers of women migrant workers outstrips the numbers of male migrant workers."

She called on the region's governments to protect these women by applying the U.N. Convention on all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and to improve regional cooperation on the issue.

UNIFEM will sponsor a conference in Bangkok next week, with senior officials from most of the Southeast Asian nations, aimed at strengthening protection for female migrant workers.