We do not know what to make of the statement of the foreign minister that the number of abused female workers in Saudi Arabia is small. We are not sure either if we are on the same page of the English dictionary which describes the word abused in varied ways, all relating to mistreatment and deprivation of one individual by another. One wonders too whether he is abreast with the statistics and reports that have recorded the myriad instances of returning women workers’ account of horrendous experience of their stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
For the record, according to Brac Migration Programme, all of the more than 2500 female workers returning from KSA between 2018 and 2019 were subjected to abuse of all kinds including sexual abuse. And to jog one’s memory, in the first nine months of this year, 48 women workers came back home—in body bags. That is, more than five each month on an average. All of them had committed suicide!
When the minister counter poses to the journalists an abjectly ludicrous question as to how many of the three lakh female workers in KSA have died in that country, can we ask precisely how many dead female workers would be enough to move the foreign ministry to act, to do something to protect these helpless women from the constant abuse they are subjected to in almost all cases from the time they land in the employers’ home in Saudi Arabia? And would the ministry not act if there were no deaths? For those who have not suffered the pain it is hard to realise that for the family of dead migrant workers, one dead is one too many.
The foreign minister’s comments denigrate the women migrant workers, soil the memory of the dead workers and rub salt into the wounds of their family members. But more dangerously, it dilutes the gravity of the issue. Such a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the foreign minister would give a rope to the employers and a sense of impunity too.
It is just not enough to merely inform the authorities when such incidents occur, that being the normal reaction of the government as the minister gives us to understand. Justice must be demanded and the perpetrators punished for their heinous crime. In this regard we had suggested many times in the past that the government should reconsider sending women workers to KSA unless it can ensure their safety and security. These women workers may be indigents seeking greener pastures abroad but they are certainly not lesser human beings than any of us, certainly not their employers.