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Migrant Workers And Childcare In Thailand And Myanmar

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Dr Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta and Nishi Verma, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

A recent increase in female labour migration across Asia has triggered a surge of interest in how the mother and wife’s absence for extended periods of time affects the left-behind family, particularly children, in labour-sending countries.

In this light, the Gender and Impact Studies Centre (GISC), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Delhi Post News and Gen Dev Centre for Research and Innovation organised a joint talk on ‘Migrant workers and Childcare in Thailand and Myanmar‘ by Prof Kyoko Kusakabe, Professor at Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand.

Prof Kyoko begins by saying that women as migrant workers have been discussed a lot, but the issue of social reproduction has been gravely neglected. Moreover, most of the literature reviews only talk about transnational families and distance mothering, the plight of children left behind by migrating parents, but there is a lack of discussion on the care arrangements for children who travel with migrant workers and the childcare strategies of migrants at the place of destination.

It is often believed that migrating parents send school-aged children back to Myanmar to be taken care of, but the reality is somewhat different as having children at that place of destination actually affects the migrant worker’s capability of earning money. Hence the impact of childcare management is quite significant, which needs to be looked upon.

myanmar children

While highlighting complications in childcare arrangements, she says childcare arrangement depends on the contested power structure that surrounds the migrant workers. It is a result of reciprocity and obligation between migrating children and grandparents. It is a reciprocal, asymmetrical, and multi-directional exchange of care. Thus, looking at childcare arrangement sheds light on what kind of position the migrant workers are in.

Prof Kyoko states various challenges faced by migrants on childcare in the place of destination; these are lack of established support network, poverty, need of earning money, high cost living in the place of destination. And, mainly, the thinking that housing and childcare is the sole responsibility of the women is the problem’s root cause.

Further, she says that Thailand is becoming a hub for migrant workers due to the increase in the demand for work and labour shortage. Thus, the country facilitates workers from neighbouring countries to work in accordance with it. The Thai government, since 2004, opened registration to facilitate neighbouring countries workers to come to work in Thailand. Also, 80% of migrant workers in Thailand are from Myanmar and the rest from Cambodia and Laos. She points out an important issue that Thailand prohibits migrant workers children in the country. However, the study shows that only 20% of migrants leave their children under 15 years of age back home.

While highlighting childcare patterns, she says, many of the children are being taken care of by the migrant women themselves. In these situations, they quit the job to have children at the place of origin and then return to work. Further, most migrants not entitled to maternity leave and in places where the migrant community is strong, migrant workers can have children at the place of destination. It is like a self-care child nursery, but it is not allowed by all workplaces. There are also times when women switch to low paying job to balance childcare with work.

There are instances where the husband is doing childcare at the destination, and because of this, the husband stays at home to take care of the children and quit the job. There are also examples of childcare by other women kin and relatives. There are multiple scenarios in which women relatives move to the destination and take up childcare. The kin or relative are not mostly happy to live in a given situation.

In these cases, most of the places already have labour shortage, because of which it is often not possible to send the relatives or kin back to their place of origin. Though many people pay one-third of their earnings for childcare, sometimes it becomes too daunting because of the cost. The most popular childcare arrangement is to leave the child in the place of origin with other women relatives. In this case, remittance becomes an obligation for women as they fear that the children will not be fed well.

On the border of Myanmar, there is a practice of leaving the child with the monk in the temple. The child stays with the monks till he attains a certain working age. Also, in the cases where they leave the child alone at the place of origin, community people keep an eye on the children but do not take their responsibilities. Labour law in Cambodia and Myanmar stipulates that workplaces need to establish day-care centres, but these day-care centres lack maintenance and hygiene and thus are avoided by migrant workers. Further, those working in Fisheries in odd hours do not fit with the opening hours of childcare centres. Moreover, the high fees of such centres leave migrant workers with limited options.

She also points that childcare patterns change depending upon the location; the people living in border areas prefer taking childcare by themselves, whereas people living in Mae sot prefer paid caretakers due to the large migrant community and easy availability of paid caretaker at affordable price. On the other hand, migrant workers living in Bangkok finds child paid caretaker too expensive and prefer sending children back home.

Prof Kyoko concludes by stating that the very heavy responsibility of childcare which is solely on women, is a major issue. Moreover, the variety of childcare arrangements are complicated as without public support; women struggle to find a person where she can “delegate” care and delegation of care does not change the division of labour.Thus, a proper childcare arrangement for migrant women needs to capture more varieties as maternity leave and creches cannot solve the problem.

Not only there is a need of changing the expectations on the role of women along with different values and preferences – shaped by identities, expectations and norms, economy, practices, etc. but there is also an urgent need for support from employers for providing better working conditions and housing to migrant workers.

Prof Babu P Ramesh, Professor and Dean, School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi, says that introducing a family background report system a one prevailing in Sri Lanka will help the women to migrate easily as they will get a helping hand to take care of childcare requirements of the family.
Dr Ritu Agarwal, Associate Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, added that in most areas, not only the income of the women but their mobility as well is controlled by the men in the family. Hence, there is a need to change these norms to have the right balance in society.
Chair, Prof Govind Kelkar, Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, observes, childcare has become a responsibility of women even when they are earning and supporting their family. Thus, what options women have while working should be taken into consideration by the employers, who are supposed to help. It should be the duty of the state to address these issues and ensure that such practices are terminated. Further, social perception that men’s responsibility is to earn for the family while women’s is to take care of the family needs to be changed.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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