A rapid globalization in the world has a permanent facet in migration and population mobility, Nepal is no exception. Economic migration or migration for employment has dominated the movement of people in Nepal. Labour migration trends are influenced by gender dynamics. In 2011, there were over 237,000 Nepali women working outside of Nepal, about 12 percent of the total number of the 2.2 million Nepali migrants. According to the Kathmandu-based Center for the Study of Labour and Mobility, Nepali female labor migrants work in countries such as India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, primarily as domestic workers and caregivers. Only smaller percentage of women travel abroad for skilled work, most of these immigrants leave Nepal to do unskilled work at cheaper rated, such as domestic help, construction site labourers, factory workers, etc. Some of the women travel as legal immigrants and others often take a risk and entry without a permit.
While migration can provide new opportunities to improve women’s lives and change oppressive gender relations, it can also perpetuate and entrench traditional roles and inequalities and expose women to new vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities are more sever and acute among women migrants in unsupervised and unregulated sectors like domestic work which includes violence, exploitation, abuse leading to labour rights violations.
SRHR of women migrant workers are subject to regulation by both countries of origin and destination. These regulations begin even before their deployment, with the requirement of medical screening for various conditions and diseases including pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. About 60 governments have established pre-departure and post arrival medical screening of migrant workers. On the other hands, not all countries have done the same for providing health and rights information and education to migrants. Female migrants who are classified as semi-skilled or unskilled workers often have limited access to health services and information. They face multiple barriers in accessing SRH services including language. Also, they have to deal with the negative attitude of employers towards ill or pregnant workers and with fear to termination from the job due to illness and pregnancy.
Currently, there are no sustainable pre-departure, post-arrival and reintegration programs in Nepal that address SRHR of women migrant workers. These information are provided by few organization. Once, they migrate to other countries, they have even less or no access to SRHR information. International agreements like International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) which has comprehensive coverage of SRHR commitments and has an entire separate section on migration, it actually does not provide specific recommendations to address SRHR of female migrant workers. However, CEDAW has mentioned the health of women migrant workers and urges countries or origin to “deliver or facilitate free or affordable gender and rights-based pre-departure information and training programs which includes information on general reproductive health including HIV & AIDS prevention.
In 2015, a Nepali migrant worker- Nirmala Thapa was retried in Malaysia for getting an illegal abortion. Nirmala Thapa was 24 years old, who worked as an operator at a Sony factory, terminated her 6 week pregnancy in Oct-24. She was arrested along with her doctor, while she was recovering post operation at a clinic. Abortion is allowed in Malaysia since 1989 but only when the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life or her physical and mental health. Nirmala was sentenced to a year in prison but has since been out on bail and living at a migrant workers’ shelter. Now, she has returned to Nepal. However, she is facing difficulties to re-establish in her community and sustain daily life.
In order to ensure SRHR of women migrant workers, origin and destination countries must ensure the provision of comprehensive SRH services and education at all phases of the migration cycle and facilitate the establishment linkages and referral networks with migrant friendly SRH service providers. To achieve this, governments from origin and destination countries must work together with civil society and other stakeholders in creating an enabling environment for female migrant workers to make life choices and exercise their Sexual Reproductive Rights.