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International Women’s Day: Migrant Women’s Role in Development

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International Women’s Day: Migrant Women’s Role in Development

by Juan E. “Jed” Dayang, Jr.

Female migrant workers have contributed greatly to development and poverty alleviation in their countries of origin.

According to the recent   New York Times article  “ women migrants have become a formidable force for development — and for the rise of women in developed countries whose careers depend on affordable child care” in the first 11 years of the 21st century.  Money sent by women migrants to their families through remittances also  “…appear to be more frequent, regular and reliable even in times of crisis.”

Based on the UN Population and Development statistics, 50% of  the 215 million international migrants in 2010  are female. In OECD countries, the percentage of women in skilled work has increased.

An anecdotal study in the case of Ghana yielded interesting data that women migrant workers and women recipients tend to send money for human capital investments such as food, education and  health care while male workers or recipients tend to invest remittances in land and electronics. However, there are still few rigorous studies made on the role of gender in migration according to the Times article.

The impact of remittances vary in different countries. UN Women’s studies in Albania, Dominican Republic, Morocco, and Senegal suggest that  women migrants’ role in remittance sent to their families has contributed to development.  In OECD countries, female African migrant workers sent lower average remittances compared to men due to lower education and income.

Female recipients also had an impact in improving children’s health in Sri Lanka.  In Mexico, females working in informal occupations decreased due to remittances. However, remittances offset the loss of income from female labour force.

Philippine Case

In the Philippines, 2004 statistics  have shown that seven out of ten migrant workers were women. Although, recent 2o11 data shows that the ratio between men and women migrant workers have evened out, Filipina women still comprise a big chunk of emigrants from the Philippines which stands at around 8.7M worldwide. Most Filipina migrant workers are employed in the service sectors as nurses, teachers, caregivers and household workers. The downside of the so called  “feminisation of migration” is the social costs of mothers and wives leaving their children and husbands behind.

Children left behind experience loss of maternal care and may suffer from the lack of attention from absentee mothers. Usually, migrant mothers leave their children with their relatives who substitute  as caregivers using the money the send home.  The positive aspect is that children are provided better material goods and enable them to attend better schools.

Female domestic workers are also vulnerable to abuse from their employers. For instance, several cases of  employers abusing their Filipina household workers are lodged and handled by the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and their consular officials on a daily basis.

What can governments do?

Some suggestions have been made to improve the plight of female migrants such as the introduction of  legal and social protections for domestic workers (e.g. bilateral agreements of the Philippines with Singapore and Hong Kong case), liberalized entry and exit rules in temporary labour migration through work permits, allowing children visiting their migrant mothers, and lowering remittance fees.

At the end of the day, recognizing the role of women in development and empowerment of women are key factors  in enhancing their contribution to development.



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