Women’s rights groups have expressed concern over a new circular by the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare requiring prospective women migrants to provide information on their family background and evidence of adequate childcare arrangements as a condition for leaving for employment overseas.
The Colombo-based Women and Media Collective (WMC) said this is an infringement of a woman’s right to paid work as well as a direct measure to remove from men their accountability towards the welfare of the family and the care of children.
The Government, it argued in a statement, should invest in providing long term child care to families of women employed overseas.
Last week the Supreme Court turned down a ‘leave to proceed’ application from a migrant worker who said the new ruling which also includes securing a no-objection certificate from her husband was a violation of her fundamental rights and gender discriminatory. Sri Lankan women comprise 48.3 per cent of migrant workers employed overseas. The Central Bank estimates that in 2011, Rs 335,201 million was remitted by workers employed in the Middle East where the bulk of women are employed as housemaids. The Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau records that 67 per cent of women migrant workers are between the ages 25 and 44 years. These women are most likely to be married with children, the WMC said.
“The action of the Ministry sends out several extremely detrimental messages not only to working age women, but also to society in general, that the state has no hesitation in curtailing women’s right to work. The circular re-enforces patriarchal norms that lays the sole responsibility of the welfare of the family on women, clearly disregarding men’s responsibilities and accountability for the family. The fact that the circular is only applied to women is highly questionable, if the intent is to ensure that the concept of ‘the family’ is protected, since there are no such restrictions on men who also seek overseas employment as short term migrant workers. Further, it leaves open controlling and restricting the right of single mothers with children to seek employment overseas given the common perception that a family by definition includes both parents,” the WMC statement said.
The organisation has urgently requested the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare to review this decision to control women’s right to employment.
“If, as the Ministry appears to be doing positing, it is for the wellbeing of the families of migrant workers, the WMC strongly recommends that the government also introduces restrictions on overseas employment of men with infants or children,” it argued. The WMC demanded that the government, swiftly pushes through regulations that will invest a minimum of 30 per cent of all foreign exchange remittances of migrant workers for the provision of childcare assistance on a long term basis for women who need employment overseas to raise the standard of living of their children, who want to be able to build a house for the family and whose remittances have been the mainstay of state coffers for more than 30 years.