Panel Discusses How Asian Migrant Women Are Vulnerable to HIV
Although Asian migrant women working in Arab countries generate significant economic benefits for both their home and host countries, many of them are at risk of HIV because of the unsafe conditions under which they migrate and live, according to a panel of experts organized by the United Nations Development Programme Regional Center in Colombo, Sri Lanka, The Hindu reports. According to the panelists -- which included senior government officials and representatives of civil society in Lebanon, the Philippines and Sri Lanka; representatives of key diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka; U.N. officials; and migrant welfare organizations -- it is critical that the HIV vulnerabilities of this demographic are addressed so that the economic gains of both home and host countries, as well as the health and rights of migrant women, are protected.
Ajay Chhibber, assistant secretary-general and director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, said that women account for 43% of the 54 million people who at any given time are on the move within Asia and to destinations outside the region. "Women often migrate under unsafe conditions, live under very difficult circumstances, and can be targets of sexual exploitation and violence," Chhibber said, adding, "With little or no access to health services and social protection, these factors can make them highly vulnerable to HIV." He said that an increasing number of migrant workers from Asia who have contracted HIV in various host countries in recent years have been deported, which causes economic loss for the workers and their families. According to Chhibber, "There is a need for strategic national, regional and international action to ensure safe movement and access to HIV programs for migrants and mobile populations." In addition, Chhibber said that addressing the HIV vulnerabilities of migrants is key to achieving universal access to treatment and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals' aim of halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.
UNDP Releases Summary of HIV Vulnerabilities Among Migrant Women
During the round table, an executive summary of a UNDP study -- titled "HIV Vulnerabilities Faced by Women Migrants: From Asia to the Arab States" -- also was released. According to Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP's HIV/AIDS regional program coordinator and practice leader, although migrant women are among the most vulnerable to HIV, it is important to emphasize the fact that the conditions under which people migrate -- such as being separated from families and social support systems -- rather than the actual act of migration are what make women vulnerable to contracting the virus. Wiesen said, "Women, particularly domestic workers, are among the most vulnerable. They experience basic rights violations, in terms of pay and conditions of work. Many respondents reported physical violence, verbal and sexual abuse."
Malu Marin -- study coordinator and director of the nongovernmental organization ACHIEVE, which works for migrants' welfare in the Philippines -- said that restricting the movement of female migrants would force migration underground and increase women's risk of exploitation and HIV transmission. Marin added that in some cases, domestic workers are tested for HIV without consent and counseling and are deported if they are found to be HIV-positive. "This needs to change in favor of a migrant-friendly testing policy," Marin said.
According to The Hindu, the study recommends dialogue and coordination between ministries of health, labor, foreign affairs and social welfare in both countries of origin and destination to reduce vulnerabilities of HIV, as well as facilitation of multi-country negotiations between origin and host countries. The Hindu reports that the study examines HIV-susceptibility among female migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka to Bahrain, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates and explores ways to address their HIV risks without compromising their right to movement and livelihood. The study was based on research comprising more than 500 interviews over nine months using focus group discussions and key informant interviews with migrant workers; senior officials of the ministries of health, labor and foreign bureaus of employment; embassy officials; service providers; and recruitment agencies in both origin and host countries (The Hindu, 10/9).
The executive summary of the study is available online.