Why Women Defy Nepal’s Travel Ban to Take on Domestic Work Overseas

BY ROJITA ADHIKARI– Phurpa Tamang, 36, has been struggling for almost an hour to find a mobile signal in the remote village of Sindhupalchok. He’s trying to make a video call to his wife, Kalpana, in Dubai.

When Phurpa and Kalpana got married around eight years ago, they were farmers. But couldn’t grow enough on their mountain farm in central Nepal to support the family each year.

She was aware of the stories of awful work conditions and abuse brought back by women who had taken jobs in the Gulf. But she felt she had no other choice. In 2014, she left for Dubai.

Now, she is grateful the stories didn’t stop her. She earns $420 a month working as a housemaid for a family that treats her well. She has learned to speak Arabic and has freedom to travel. The money she sends home has been enough to rebuild her family’s house, which was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake, as well as putting some aside for savings.

The job in Dubai has been so good for Kalpana that after taking a few months off to spend time with her family in Nepal, she risked breaking the law to go back. While she had gotten a permit to go to Dubai the first time, her second trip over there was planned after Nepal banned women from traveling to the Gulf for domestic work. For Kalpana, the promise of providing for her family was stronger than the ban, so she returned to Dubai undocumented.

Banned from Becoming Foreign Domestic Workers

 Figures from the Department of Foreign Employment of Nepal show that more than 176,000 Nepali women have been granted labor permits since records started in 2008, traveling mainly to the UAE, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus and Jordan.In response to reports of the abuse of maids in the Gulf, Nepal made it illegal for women to travel to the region for domestic work in 2016. Still, in 2017, more than 20,000 women were given permits to travel for other kinds of jobs, a 8.95 percent increase from the year before. And experts say the number of Nepali women working in foreign countries could be twice as high, as many travel out of Nepal undocumented to circumvent the ban.

Many of these women end up being exploited and return to Nepal worse off than when they left. But other women say migrant work offers them the chance to make good money and learn new skills – opportunities they could never have if they stayed home.

By working abroad to improve the lives of their families, Kalpana Tamang and women like her also benefit their country’s economy: The money they send home contributes to remittances that make up almost 30 percent of Nepal’s gross domestic product.

More than 42 percent of Nepali adult women are illiterate and most are jobless, according to the 2011 national census. But they can find work in places like the Gulf, since domestic work doesn’t require any formal education.

Women who are not able to make money in Nepal can make thousands in the Gulf,” Amina Maharjan, Livelihood Migration Specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), says. A woman who has never left her village on her own can now move to a foreign country to learn life skills and earn a decent wage, putting her in a position to make her own decisions back home. “This is the biggest change to the condition of women that Nepal has seen over the last decade,” Maharjan says.

It helps explain why so many women are willing to travel for domestic work, despite the horror stories. “Nobody can stop them going – they will go anyway,” Maharjan says.

Mahesh Prasad Dahal, secretary at the Ministry of Labor, says the government is working on signing bilateral agreements and memorandum of understanding with various destination countries with the aim of eventually lifting the domestic work ban. “Once we sign such agreements, we will again allow women to go [to those countries] as housemaids,” he says.

Nepal has already resumed granting work permits for women going to Jordan, after the two countries signed an agreement in October 2017. As part of the deal, Jordan agrees to make sure employers pay their domestic workers a minimum wage of $250 per month, cover necessary medical costs and don’t subject them to forced labor or confiscate their passports. The government says it will fully investigate reports of violence against domestic workers. For its part, Nepal set up support services at its embassy in Jordan for Nepali women who go to the country for work and suffer abuse.

Amina Maharjan, the migration specialist at ICIMOD, says more of these types of agreements are needed to make sure women migrant workers get the benefits of working in a foreign country without suffering the risks.

“When these women have earned some money and enhanced their skills, they will return to Nepal and start doing something effective,” she says.

Read the full article here: https://www.newsdeeply.com/womensadvancement/articles/2018/06/20/why-women-defy-nepals-travel-ban-to-take-on-domestic-work-overseas