Alumni project tackles exploitation of migrant workers

Ellen, a 2011 ERSB  graduate, has been awarded a small grant to continue the work she began at the Burma School in 2011. For her fieldwork during the Burma School session, she spent six weeks in Irrawaddy Division studying young women who left their communities to find jobs in urban centers and abroad. She found that poverty and vanishing opportunities are forcing more and more women into unregulated and dangerous work, so she proposed a project to tackle these issues.

In many villages in Irrawaddy Division, Myanmar, large numbers of local youth, especially young women, are leaving their communities in search of jobs in large urban centers and abroad.  Most end up as domestic workers, although some are subjected to trafficking or lured into sex work. For girls who become domestic workers, unregulated and intimate working environments mean many experience human rights abuses, ranging from poor labor conditions, invisibility and lack of voice, to exploitation, trafficking, torture and sexual abuse. There are a variety of reasons these young women are leaving their communities, but they include poverty and disappearing opportunities in the village stemming from environmental degradation and shrinking space for traditional livelihoods.

During April and May 2012, Ellen ran trainings in eight villages in Irrawaddy Division, educating young women about their vulnerability to exploitation and equipping them with an understanding of the risks of migrating as well as alternative economic opportunities within the village. The activities empowered the young women with an understanding of women’s rights and strategies to take legal and other action if they encountered human rights abuses or exploitative behavior on the part of unscrupulous employers and agents. Ellen’s initial needs assessment also showed that women are often encouraged to migrate by their parents, so she also held separate trainings aimed specifically at them.

Ellen expects that her project will foster greater awareness within the communities about the risks of human rights abuses, exploitation and trafficking associated with migration for employment, as well as avenues for redress. She hopes that in the longer term this will contribute to a reduction in migration as well as better resilience to situations of vulnerability for those young women who do still choose to leave their communities.