KATHMANDU; Nepal is considering lifting the ban on women migrant workers going to Gulf countries for household work. The Ministry of Labour and Transport Management (MoLTM) is preparing a safe migration strategy after Minister Mohammad Aftab Alam’s visit to Israel and the UAE in August.
The Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) under MoLTM has banned sending women to Gulf countries — the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait — since the last four years citing those destinations as unsafe for Nepali women. But, Nepali women go to those countries via neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh.
DoFE has not officially banned those countries, said Uma Shankar Joshi, director. “Actually, we have not banned Gulf countries for women, we haveonly adopted a non-encouragement strategy,” he said. The decision was taken under Foreign Employment Act which allows DoFE to stop issuing permits for countries where Nepalis are not safe, he added.
According to Joshi, the department is issuing permits to those women who have male guardiand in the destination countries. “We have no objection to issuing permits if the worker sector is organised,” he said, “Household work is not safe there.”
Nepali women working in Gulf countries are facing problems like low wages, torture and sexual harassment.
However, Minister Alam is planning to send housemaids to Gulf countries. “If we cannot control illegal outflow, it could be wise to encourage them to go through the legal process,” he said.
The government cannot discriminate against women so I am planning to lift the ban, he added. Minister Alam spoke on the same lines at the Non
Resident Nepali conclave in Dubai last week. Around 30-40 Nepali women reach Gulf countries through illegal routes each day.
MoLTM plans to mobilise labour attaché to safeguard women migrant workers. “The safety factor is a serious issue and we have our focus on it,” said Alam. “We will make an action plan for safeguarding Nepali women in Gulf countries.”
Gulf countries are the major destinations of Nepali blue-collar jobseekers and 1.3 million Nepalis are working there in legal status. Of these, the status of around 2,00,000 Nepali workers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait is illegal. According to DoFE, only 15,000-20,000 Nepali women are in legal status.
Earlier in May, UAE had sought 1,00,000 housemaids from Nepal but the then Maoist-led government refused the proposal. “We cannot compromise on the safety of our sisters,” then Minister Lekh Raj Bhatta had said adding that it would be a Herculean task to safeguard Nepali women working in houses having language and cultural differences.