Remarkable growth creates new hope
Over the last decade, Bangladesh has achieved a significant growth in exporting female workers, reflecting a new area of socio-economic empowerment of the country's women.
The annual flow of female workers moving to other countries for jobs stood at over 37,000 last year, which was only some 1,200 a decade ago.
Official data suggests the figure may cross 50,000 -- nearly 10 percent of the annual labour migration -- by the yearend with the opening of two new job destinations -- Hong Kong and Qatar.
"This will obviously enhance women's economic security, mobility and decision-making capacity at homes," Anwara Begum, senior research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies told The Daily Star.
She said due to the exposure abroad, women gain more knowledge and confidence.
Begum and other researchers, however, warned that there had been a good number of cases of abuse of low-skilled female workers.
"It is therefore crucial that each and every female worker is protected when she works abroad, said Begum, who keeps a watch on labour mobility.
Officials of the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment say the government on several occasions imposed full or partial ban on female migration following incidents of physical and mental torture on women workers and even deaths amid weak monitoring and welfare arrangements by the Bangladesh authorities.
Migration experts say the authorities concerned are now encouraging female migration, but the training facilities and the welfare services in the destination countries are still weak.
According to the statistics of Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET), 95 percent of more than 2 lakh female migrants are working mainly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman and Bahrain as house helps whose monthly salaries range between $ 150 and 200.
These countries, except for Jordan, do not recognise maids in their national labour law. This means they are not guaranteed rights such as weekly day off, work hour limit, paid holidays and compensation.
The female workers at garment factories in Jordan or at fish processing factories in Mauritius come under the labour law, but they represent a very small percentage.
While there are legal loopholes in the destination countries, Bangladesh also does not have strong service system to help its domestic workers abroad, said Tasneem Siddiqui, chairperson of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit of Dhaka University.
She said the Filipino Embassy in Jordan provided services to their female domestic workers when they went to church on Sundays. Bangladesh mission abroad can do something similar once a month. But it would require more trained staff.
Recently Hong Kong has started recruiting female house helps after providing two months' training in Bangladesh. Their monthly wage is $ 500, which is much better than that of the Gulf countries.
Those going to the Gulf should also be provided with similar training. The present 21-day training for the Gulf-bound domestic workers was not sufficient at all, said Siddiqui.
"Migration of female workers will see a great leap if we can train caregivers and graduate nurses," she said, adding that Japan, the USA and Europe had huge demand for nurses and caregivers.
She said it was unfortunate that we were not tapping these opportunities, but relying largely on low-paying household jobs.