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On The Benefits We Reap From Our ‘Working Class Heroes’: Labour Migration in South Asian Economy

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As the revolutionary song from John Lennon from the 70’s run chills through your bone “a working-class hero is something to be,” it is hard to imagine a day where we are not benefited from the production or the remittances of labourers. International Labour Day originated from the labour union movement, it aimed at the eight-hour day movement, promoting eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. The first-ever Labor Day celebrations were held on May 1st, 1890 after its decree by the first international congress of socialist parties in Europe on July 14th, 1889 in Paris, France to show solidarity with all the workers of the world.

Image used for representation only.

Deconstructing ‘Labour’

In Economics, labour means manual labour with mental work undertaken for a fixed reward. Any kind of service which derives income such as the service of doctor, police, army, lawyer, or officer is considered as labour. From the definition of Modern Economist Prof. Marshall, “Any exertion of mind or body has undergone partly or wholly with a view to earning some good other than the pleasure derived directly from the work.” Labour can be of 2 kinds, a) Physical labour and mental labour, b) Skilled and unskilled labour.

Physical labour refers to where physical strength is more needed rather than mental concentration, and mental labour refers to the kind of works where mental fatigue is more required. Workers with a set of skills, training, and knowledge such as an engineer, teacher, or doctor fall under killed labour. Day labourers, factory workers, or a rickshaw puller are considered as unskilled workers. Mostly in the developing counties, we are exporting a remarkable number of labourers who contribute physically, mentally with or without skills to the economic development of developed nations. In Economics, these export of labours and knowledge are not considered as commodities.

Labour migration is protected with rights and regulations and needs to be improved drastically. South Asian countries are trying to open their economies from the 1980s and till now the tariffs and protectionist tendencies have reduced in a notable number. These countries are still having a huge gap in GDP from exports of goods 10% compared to 30% of European countries. Also having a remarkable higher population growth, there are gaps in rural and urban demographic group wage rates and mostly dependent on the informal jobs sector.

The more liberal economy will bring more trade opportunities and that indicates higher economic growth with more employment opportunities. In many of these South Asian nations which are emerging economies, the labourers cannot allow being unemployed because the social safety nets may not be able to cover the unemployed population. The governments should also be more considerate in lifting the restrictions from trade barriers, making facilities for migration to such countries where employment opportunities are abundant and investing in infrastructure for income generation. Deprived women and youth groups should be brought under skills development and opportunities for market linkage should be created.

Understanding How Economies Benefit From Labour Remittances

According to IMF reports, India is the largest recipient of workers’ remittances in the world. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have already seen strong growth in remittances during the past decade and are among the top 20 receivers of remittances. The South Asian region has a large migrant population of semi-skilled, and unskilled workers (largely clustered the Arabian Gulf countries).

There were severe aftershocks in the 1990s for the South Asian countries and the marked instability of cross-border financial flows, workers’ remittances have gained prominence in professional and academic interest as a source of external funding for developing countries. Recently, the income as a source of remittances has appeared as the second-largest source of foreign inflows after foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region. The movement of labourers has always been an integral part of the labour economy.

The exchanges of technology, cultural diversity, and traditional skills have played an enormous part in promoting labor migration. The world’s richest economies enjoy economic development with a remarkable number of contributions from labour remittances. Now, these South Asian countries should focus on great deals to secure the facilities of remittance-receiving institutions, future investment possibilities, and increment of appropriate skills required. South Asian region’s comparative advantage in the export of labor spans several centuries, it had yielded a massive socio-cultural amalgamation across south-east Asia, trade, and commerce networks with the Middle East.

The colonial-era had experienced labour outflows in the first half of the twentieth century – West Indies, Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, present-day Myanmar, East Africa and the coastal countries of the Persian Gulf. (IMF report, 2003). One of the major challenges in South Asia is the low female labour force outcome where only 28% of women actively participate in the labour market. Almost 81% of these women are in vulnerable forms of employment. (World Employment Social Outlook Report 2017). The labour migration issues are widely acknowledged globally, but there are vast challenges in both sending and destination countries.

Understanding The Challenges Of Labour Migration

Womens workforce The challenges consist of the migrant workers in both origin and receiving ends. The higher costs of migration, verbal agreements, trickery from agents, lower skills of the workers, and low living standards of at the destination countries. These all could be solved with a common negotiation platform within the South Asian nations and the destination countries with bilateral agreements or multilateral arrangements. The economic impact of these labours are bringing to this part of the world, they deserve an immediate response from the mother country.

We are very proud of the reports on how much growth we are having in the economy by exporting our laborers, the numbers are quite significant and globally it generates a noteworthy impact. But the protection of these workers has not ensured as well as the facilities they receive from both ends. We must ensure international standard labor laws along with working hours, rest and recreation, wages, overtime, leave, healthcare services, and freedom of movement.

There is an urgent need for specific arrangements to look after the welfare of migrant workers including visiting their workplaces, responding to their queries and complaints, and extending consular services to expatriate workers. Ample measures are required to increase financial assistance for stranded workers waiting to be repatriated. Before setting new working destinations, women migrants must be made aware of the safety and security measures abroad, especially protective measures on violence against women and sexual harassment.

There should be soft training on the cultural and behavioral patterns of the host country. The leaflets or reading materials must be developed considering the education level of the workers, audio-visual materials could also be prepared for them which will be handy in new workplaces. Many organizations are already working to ensure the welfare of migrant workers, but a joint approach regionally can change the course and solicit the sacrifices and contributions of the laborers we are exporting.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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