UN Women grounded in the vision of equality enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, works for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls; the empowerment of women; and the achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security. Placing women’s rights at the centre of all its efforts, UN Women leads and coordinates United Nations system efforts to ensure that commitments on gender equality and gender mainstreaming translate into action throughout the world. It provides strong and coherent leadership in support of Member States’ priorities and efforts, building effective partnerships with civil society and other relevant actors.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were an estimated 10 million international migrants in ASEAN, of whom nearly 50 per cent were women. While women and men migrant workers in the region strive to protect their livelihoods and their health, many women migrant workers are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the economic and health impacts of the pandemic. A number have faced cuts in pay and retrenchment. Those who remain employed may be forced or coerced to continue work in unsafe conditions, or without sufficient protective equipment.
In normal circumstances, women migrant workers are at risk of multiple intersections of discrimination and violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, age, migration status or other sex- or gender-associated characteristics. The emergency situation results in increased risk of violence and harassment against women migrant workers perpetrated by employers, partners, law enforcement officials or front line service providers. “Social distancing” measures, particularly when implemented through movement restriction and quarantine procedures, may increase the risk of violence against women migrant workers. Women migrant workers may find themselves trapped with those who perpetrate violence against them.
Moreover, movement restrictions and quarantine procedures restrict women migrant workers from seeking assistance and accessing social networks and support services. The above mentioned increase in violence and harassment, and changing nature of labour rights violations, come at a time when violence response services, migrant support, and legal aid are hard to access.
Recognizing these challenges in normal times and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union is supporting a regional programme, “Safe and Fair: Realizing women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region” (2018-2022). Safe and Fair (the Programme) is implemented by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Safe and Fair is part of the multi-year EU-UN Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls. Officially launched on 20 September 2017, the Spotlight Initiative brings focused attention to the issue of violence against women and girls, moving it into the spotlight and placing it at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Safe and Fair delivers technical assistance and support with the overall objective of making labour migration safe and fair for all women in the ASEAN region. Safe and Fair engages with ASEAN Member States’ government authorities; ASEAN institutions; workers’ organizations; employers and recruitment agencies; civil society organizations; community-based organizations; families and communities; research institutions and academia, media networks, youth, and the general public and supports programming across ten countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam).
The programme works in close cooperation with governments and social partners to achieve three inter-linking specific objectives: (1) Women migrant workers are better protected by gender-sensitive labour migration governance frameworks; (2) Women migrant workers are less vulnerable to violence and trafficking and benefit from coordinated responsive quality services; and (3) Data, knowledge and attitudes on the rights and contributions of women migrant workers are improved. The programme strategy mainstreams three cross-cutting topics: women’s voice and agency; rights-based approach; and broad engagement of stakeholders.
Since 2019, the Safe and Fair have hired a roving team of “VAW and migration technical specialists” who are responsible for enhancing capacities of national stakeholders on coordinated quality service provision to address violence against women migrant workers. With the COVID-19 emerging needs, Safe and Fair seeks to hire an “EVAW, migration and COVID technical specialist” to work in close coordination with and complement the support provided by the roving team.