HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KATHMANDU: Increased incidents of sexual, physical and mental exploitation of Nepali housemaids in gulf countries and reports of underage girls being sent on forged passports prompted the government to restrict women bellow 30 years of age from working as housemaids in those countries, but rights activists say it violates women’s right to equality.
Government sources said the new age bar will apply only to those women who want to work in informal sectors that are not covered by the host countries’ labour laws. The job of housemaid falls under Kafala system prevalent in gulf countries which allows the employers to hold their employees’ travel documents, restrict them from changing jobs and returning to their home countries at their will. Most of the Gulf countries have not signed ILO conventions.
“We decided to put age bar because mature women can better protect themselves. Other South Asian countries also have similar provision. The Gulf countries themselves suggested to have such provision,” said Kumar Belbase, Minister of Labour and Employment. Bal Bahadur Tamang, President, Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies shares government’s views.
Saru Joshi, Programme Specialist, UN Women, Nepal, however, said they were against any kind of restriction on women. “The more prudent step will be to strengthen security network, to offer choices, make the workers aware of the risks, strengthen NRN associations and adopt integrated approach,” she added.
Minister Belbase said the government was trying to create enough jobs within the country because banking on remittance was not good for the country.
Advocate Pushpa Bhushal said the new age bar was against women’s right to work and right to equality. “Government should focus on protective measures rather than restricting them from seeking foreign employment,” she added. Joshi said if the government implemented the new age bar policy without bringing employment schemes for women on 18-29-year age group, women workers could fall prey to unscrupulous elements and could be trafficked to Gulf countries via foreign countries. “In most of the Gulf countries, families have overriding authorities over the court on some matters. Many Nepali workers do not know this,” Joshi added.
UN Women conducted an interview recently with 608 women who returned from Gulf countries where 94 per cent women said they would not leave the country if they had an opportunity to earn at least NRs 10,000 a month.
Economist Chiranjivi Nepal, however, said sending women to Gulf countries was almost like rendering them slaves. “These countries have not even granted voting rights to women. Work is dignified only when people are treated equally,” he added. According to government estimate last year 23,000 women had gone to work in Gulf countries, half of whom were for informal sector jobs. The share of women workers’ contribution to remittance is expected to be around 11 per cent.