International conference in Manila calls for the protection of women migrants’ rights

More than 400 participants from governments, trade unions, employers’ organizations, private sector, civil society organizations including women’s and religious associations, academe and international organizations covering 36 countries in 5 continents have joined together to call for the protection of women migrants’ rights.

Spearheaded by the Philippine government through the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), the government’s machinery for women’s advancement, the two-day International Conference on Gender, Migration and Development: Seizing Opportunities, Upholding Rights held last September 25-26, 2008 at Hotel Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay City came up with a Manila Call to Action that affirms that migration policies and practices, including their impact on gender equality, are a shared responsibility of sending and destination countries.

The Manila Call to Action serves as a substantive input to the upcoming Second Global Forum on Migration and Development chaired by the Government of the Philippines from October 27-30, 2008.

One salient point in the Manila Call to Action is the strengthening of the capacity of the governments “to screen and monitor employer/employee contracts and to address gender issues specific to migrant workers bearing in mind the multiple discrimination experienced by women migrant workers and their concentration in less visible jobs.”

The manifesto calls for an increase efforts to monitor and enforce decent working conditions and wages of both women and men migrants.

It likewise discourages sending workers, especially women workers, into vulnerable occupations in countries where they find themselves in situations where their rights and dignity are grossly violated.

The Manila Call to Action also calls for the recognition of domestic work as work in international and national laws. It states:

“Support the formulation and adoption of an international ILO convention on domestic workers and amend national legislation to specifically recognize their human, social, labour and trade union rights and protection on the same basis as other workers. Introduce effective monitoring and grievance/redress mechanisms to address violations. Ensure decent treatment, standard contracts and provide legal and accessible migration channels for domestic workers. Provide channels for assistance to domestic workers such as SMS system for fast transmittal of help messages to NGOS and government authorities.”

According to NCRFW Chair Myrna T. Yao, gender-sensitive, rights-based approach should be infused in the discussion of all migration policies and gender should be mainstreamed in migration practices.

More than fifty percent of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are women, reflecting the increasing global need for more women workers rather than men. The trend has prompted many to recognize the “feminization of migration” with the attendant acknowledgement of women’s vulnerability to abuse while working in foreign countries.

The international conference was supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Women and Gender Institute of Miriam College (WAGI-MC) and Lola Grande Foundation for Women and Children, Inc.