Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP Foundation) was hard at work during the month of May, advocating for universal access to SRHR, particularly on behalf of Burmese migrant women in Thailand. MAP completed its country profile “On Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Rights (SRR),” as part of ARROW’s initiative “Strengthening the Networking, Knowledge Management and Advocacy Capacities of an Asia-Pacific Network for SRHR,” with the assistance of the European Union.
While the report primarily assesses Thai law and policy vis-à-vis SRHR and how migrants are or are not incorporated into these, the report also acknowledges the importance of taking into account the trans-national nature of migrants’ lives. As MAP primarily works with Burmese migrant workers, who comprise over 80 percent of the migrant population in Thailand, Myanmar’s SRHR-related laws and policies are also noted in some sections.
On 23 May 2014, MAP launched its country profile on SRR at a policy dialogue in Bangkok. Despite the formal proclamation of a coup d’etat the night before, the policy dialogue saw a strong turnout from both Thai and Myanmar NGOs, Thai Government representatives and a representative from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Malyn Ando of ARROW gave the keynote address, providing an overview of SRHR across the Asia-Pacific, along with the strides that have been made and the gaps that remain. Malyn eloquently noted that when migrants go from one country to another, they still retain their desire for companionship and their desire for love. Therefore, SRHR truly has no borders.
MAP then provided an overview of its Women Exchange program, which are monthly/bi-monthly meetings held in approximately 20 different locations throughout Thailand and increasingly in Myanmar as well. These Women Exchange meetings are held by local migrant women leaders, and topics pertaining to SRHR have become particularly popular. MAP showed a short video it had produced, elucidating the issues migrant women commonly face in Thailand. One woman in the video had been involuntarily sterilized after giving birth, entirely unaware of what was happening to her, due to language barriers, until the procedure was over. Another woman was the sole breadwinner in her family due to her husband’s alcoholism and constant absence from the home. Nevertheless, she always made it a point to attend the Women Exchange meetings when she can. Lastly, the film showed one of the Women Exchange leaders who revealed her aspirations to educate thousands of migrant women each year on such issues as domestic violence and women’s rights.
Later in the day, another Women Exchange leader, a Burmese migrant working in Bangkok, explained the obstacles migrant women face in bringing issues of sexual harassment from employers to the fore. Concerned about losing their jobs, divulging their undocumented status, or facing inaction from law enforcement officials, the women often feel as if nothing can be done. Also finding witnesses who can attest to the incidents can be extremely difficult.
The policy dialogue also included a panel, composed of Naw Khu Hser, Women’s Protection and Empowerment Senior Manager, International Rescue Committee; Dr. Kyoko Kusakabe, Associate Professor, Gender and Development Studies, Asian Institute of Technology; Dr. Sid Naing, Country Director, Marie Stopes International, Myanmar; and Anna Olsen, Technical Officer, GMS TRIANGLE Project, ILO.
During the panel it was noted how female migrants who serve as domestic workers are commonly confined to their workplaces, as employers are afraid that the women will go out and get pregnant or find themselves in other trouble, severely impeding their freedom of movement. Dr. Kusokabe presented a study undertaken by Mahidol University in Thailand in 2010, which found that while 67 percent of Cambodian migrants, 61 percent of Lao migrants, and 50 percent of Burmese migrants reported having children, only 8 percent of migrant workers reported that their pregnancies were unplanned. Dr. Sid Naing spoke of the pushback to comprehensive SRHR in Myanmar; activities typically must be pared down to RH.
The dialogue concluded with breakout sessions, in which participants once again highlighted the primary issues related to migrant workers’ SRHR in Thailand, as well as some of the main obstacles standing in the way of a full realization of SRHR. Groups offered some suggestions for how to move forward. These included calling on Thailand’s Ministry of Labour to inform migrant women about such labor violations as termination on the grounds of pregnancy and unpaid maternity leave. The Ministry of Labour should also actively pursue and punish employers who commit these transgressions. Since additional hindrances to accessing healthcare can come of being undocumented, employers should also be held responsible for not registering workers and obtaining the necessary documents. Migrant women should be informed of grievance redress mechanisms for sexual and reproductive health services, sexual harassment, and violence against women. This information should be made accessible in migrant languages and the selected mechanisms should ensure that a migrant’s physical security is not compromised in Thailand.
In order to keep the SRHR momentum going, at the end of May, MAP presented a workshop on “Making Universal Access to SRHR a Reality” at the 2nd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum in Chiang Mai, attended by nearly 300 feminists from around the region. MAP’s workshop complemented another SRHR workshop organized by ARROW at the conference. MAP’s workshop provided some background on SRHR and its grounding in international declarations. The country profile on universal access to SRR that MAP had recently published was also disseminated and discussions ensued on how to keep the SRHR agenda moving forward during this pivotal time for SRHR advocacy. Here’s to moving forward!