Monday, December 3, 2007

Day 9.5/Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui: Keeping Women Migrant Workers Safe

Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui, Lalbagh Fort, Dhaka, 2003, kbw

I would like to acknowledge the very important research and policy-advocacy work of
Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui

in keeping women migrant workers and their remittances-earnings safe among other aspects of migration. She is affiliated with RMMRU (Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit) and is Professor of Political Science at Dhaka University in Bangladesh. Over time, she has utilized research to let us know about the lives and experiences of women migrant workers and improved banking & migration policy to to make migration and remittances safer for all. In her published research and policy work she has:

  • She wrote, Transcending Boundaries: Labour Migration of Women from Bangladesh (2001 UPL press) on women who migrate for work outside of Dhaka to the Middle East and elsewhere, their experiences, and as the impacts of their work and remittances back in Bangladesh on their families, dwellings and saving. Many women earned more by other overseas work and felt empowered, but she called our attention to the situation that some women's families and husbands had eaten-spent their earnings on their own land-businesses rather than saving the money and/or investing in the women's names. Others could not find as lucrative jobs when they returned to Bangladesh. She also noted the need for training women workers who went overseas as garment and domestic workers. She's also published reports on on women who work in Middle Eastern Garment factories (RMMRU website).
  • Her dissertation dealt with the various practices and excess interest-rates, charges and structures of NGOs in the micro-credit sector. see Siddiqui, Tasneem. 2000. "Growth and Sustainability of the NGO Sector in Bangladesh." biiss Journal 20:524-549
  • Researched and generated changes in Bangladesh government, banking, and NGO transmission policies on remittances of overseas wages so that more remittances have transmitted through safe-secure channels of banks & NGO banks rather than the informal and more costly hundi channels (with Dr. Chowdhury Abrar-co-founder of RMMRU). Earlier no one had a good accounting of the high level of remittances, which have now grown to be the biggest inflow of net earnings in Bangladesh. (Garments' net earnings are decreased by import bills for fabrics.) After these changes, more money came to family members and workers' accounts as well as foreign reserves for the government. Previously banks and micro-credit organizations charged high service fees and had slow transmission times for remittances, especially given the reliance of many banks on paper ledgers and disinterest in such funds. See the RMMRU website for a list of all the publications and training programs.
  • Challenged some activists' assertions and stereotyping of women migrant workers as trafficking victims. She's published a Bangla book on trafficking along with many articles and book chapters. Many women migrant workers chose to migrate abroad, especially for more lucrative work in factories in Malaysia, Bahrain and also for domestic work. After some accounts of sexual & household worker exploitation, the government of Bangladesh forbid until recently any migration of women under the age of 35 to the Middle East for domestic work. Even then these women needed the permission of their husbands and/or fathers to go for work. Still in response to some donor funds and anecdotal claims, some NGOs portrayed all women migrants as trafficked and/or sex workers/sexually exploited. This disturbed many migrant women workers who felt shamed by such assertions. These assertions in 2004, nearly put Bangladesh on the Tier III of the USA government's trafficking sanctions. Dr. Siddiqui, Dr. Chowdhury, and RMMRU among other NGOs such as Farida Aktar & UBINIG successfully countered these claims and the threat of sanctions ended. Some women continue to be trafficked to India and elsewhere, while others migrate willingly for many different kinds of work.
  • She has developed training manuals for combating trafficking and irregular migration.
  • She has encouraged migrant workers groups such as WARBE to incorporate gender issues and women & men migrants' training and returning counseling; she has also encouraged women's migrant worker groups such as BOMSA and their training programs.
  • She has fought the excess recruitment fees and visa paperwork fees charged by employment agencies as well as regularising migration guidelines, agencies, government bureaus, and programmes.
  • She has generated valuable data and insights on the potential and actual diaspora of expatriate Bangladeshis' capital and investment in Bangladesh
  • RMMRU has provided extensive training of Bangladeshi and regional researchers on migration-click here for more details.
  • She has served as coordinator for SAMReN, South Asian Migration Resource Network
Some of her other recent research and activities has included other relevant topics:

Mobility Patterns and HIV Vulnerability in Bangladesh (relevant for World AIDS day) &

Decent Work and International Labour Migration from Bangladesh (ILO)

Nearly all the reports and materials mentioned below are available (many PDF) from the RMMRU website.

I have known Tasneem since 2001, when she came to a Democracy Workshop at Southern Illinois University (my school and after my first trip to Bangladesh). She, her research, and impeccable valuable advice/insights have inspired me and my students ever since along with the hospitality & excellent tea of her home (my home away from home), including her gracious collaborator (and spouse) Dr. Chowdhury Abrar.

During these 16 days of Eliminating VAW, I'm very grateful for researchers-activists such as Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui.

International Migrant Day March, 2002

Kathy Ward ( blue baseball hat-shades-blue salwar kameez); Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui on right, t-shirt, purse, light brown sari; women migrant workers

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