Export of Lankan Women for Domestic Work – “A thing to be ashamed of”

January, 1, 2016

Ajith Wattuhewa the President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL)

The practice of sending Sri Lankan women to work as domestic hands in foreign countries began three decades back mainly as a temporary solution to the rising unemployment issue in the country. However, the practice has grown exponentially since then and now it has become something akin to a sub-culture in the country. Although their remittances have contributed to boost the national economy in a significant way, their migration abroad has caused an unprecedented social degeneration.

Too many of these workers live and work in the worst conditions possible with the least access to basic services and fundamental rights, making them disproportionately vulnerable to extortion, violence, discrimination and marginalization. They do go through untold hardships. The most recent incident of a Sri Lankan female domestic worker being sentenced to death by stoning in Saudi Arabia has sent shockwaves through the nation.

In this backdrop, the attention of our organization has been drawn to this significant issue which arises mainly due to lack of employment and economic woes faced by the people. Our organization is confident that we have the capacity to initiate women’s entrepreneurship development programmes island wide within the span of three years which could create viable self employment opportunities for those females planning to go abroad to earn at least double the income of what they can earn abroad. We believe that full state support for such an initiative will help us to achieve the targets and aims in a most comprehensive and timely manner.

Making his views known in the back drop of the social outcry sparked by a Sri Lankan woman being sentenced to death by stoning, Aji th Wattuhewa the President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) told the media that it was essential to come up with viable solutions without delay to the prevailing social issues caused by female migration abroad to work as domestic aides.

“As males we should be ashamed of looking up to the contributions made by female migrant domestic workers to strengthen our national economy. The struggle below the poverty line is the reason why women take a big risk in going overseas for virtual slave jobs, because they have no other way of meeting the basic needs of their families here. This practice began after we introduced the open economic policies. The problems this practice created are multi-faceted. The salaries paid to foreign house maids especially in Middle Eastern countries are very law. To earn this they may have to work for lengthy hours sometimes even 15 to 18 hours per day. Often the consequences are disastrous. While the maids are in many cases physically abused and in some cases sexually abused, the consequences in the families they leave behind here are also tragic. As Sri Lankan’s we can no longer tolerate this sad situation and have to take immediate steps to find viable solutions to overcome the issue”

Aji th Wattuhewa highlighting suggestions submitted by the FCCISL to the authorities on the above issue to be considered for the budget proposals went on to say;

We should establish a Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Development Authority in Sri Lanka. We submitted proposals in this regard to be considered in the government’s budget. The women’s entrepreneurship development programmes we have presented could be utilized to harness viable self employment avenues for females. We have already mapped strategies and plans in this regard under our domestic entrepreneurship development programmes.

The females of this country are adopting two undesirable methods to earn quick money when what they get is not adequate to sustain their families. One is to migrate abroad as domestic workers and the other is to enter the sex trade. These issues we believe can be controlled by generating viable alternative income earning opportunities. We have already submitted a female entrepreneurship development programme called “Lakliya Saviya” to all relevant ministries. But unfortunately so far we have not received any response from a single ministry for this. We have even submitted this to the Child and Women’s Affairs Ministry. Also I have to say organizations which engage in media blitz portraying themselves as champions of Women’s rights too have not come up with any viable solution to this issue.

As a country which has a proud history running into thousands of years in the international stage we should take the lead in ensuring that our females are given the respect and the rightful place they deserve. We should always abhor and stand against any act which breaches such values. We should give due recognition and value to our female labour force and take every step necessary to protect their rights.

The Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) is an organization which has the support of a majority of Small and Medium Entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. I state with responsibility that we can encourage those females striving to go abroad as domestic aides to give up their plans and engage in viable self employment at home which garners them a larger income. I think this way we can control the number of females trying to go abroad as well as strengthen the national manufacturing economy. However, it is essential that such a programme receives full state patronage for it to be a total success.

The Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) has already initiated a number of women’s entrepreneurship development programmes island wide. A number of these programmes also cater to develop domestic self employment avenues.