Picture by Franca Hehenkamp
On Wednesday , we attended the event on Women, Work, Migration and Technology. At this event, we heard from women migrant workers, labour rights organisers and human rights activists. They addressed some of the harmful effects of technology in the context of labour exploitation and trafficking. The panel provided interesting, but shocking insights into the experiences of women workers in South Asia, the Gulf and North America.
The increased use of digital technologies has presented opportunities for women migrant workers. For example, to more easily organise across borders and to campaign for better working conditions. However, these technologies are often designed and controlled by those who benefit from the poor conditions of women migrants in the labour market.
Digital technologies: useful in organising and campaigning
We learned that migrant women domestic workers are often trapped in the households of their employer in the Gulf States. This was explained by Vani Sarashwati (Migrant-Rights.org). When they arrive in the Gulf States, they are not covered by the labour law. Although it is dangerous (because these are surveillance states after all), social media is a way to connect with others. Women use it to build solidarity in a country where they do not know the language or the people.
Also in the US, technology is used to stay in contact. Shir France (National Domestic Worker’s Alliance & International Domestic Workers Federation) explained that domestic work can be extremely isolating. “Digital technology is also a way to make our voice be heard. We use it to campaign, and to reach workers through digital adds.”
Sex workers use the internet to organise and to keep each other safe. “We have lists of folks who have been harmful to sex workers, which we share in our community”, explained Mariah Grant (Urban Justice Center Sex Workers Project). ‘’And we use technologies to push for policy change to decriminalize sex work.’’ She mentions the FOSTA-SESTA law, passed in 2018 by former President Donald Trump. The law was supposed to fight human trafficking online, but in fact limits online freedom of expression of sex workers and makes it very difficult to do their work online and to stay safe, Grant explained. Liaam Winslet (Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo) also stressed the importance of technology for providing information and organising for the transgender community.
The negative impact of technology on the rights of
….migrant domestic workers
In the domestic workers’ industry, technology has had big negative effects on domestic workers’ rights. France: ‘’Employers install cameras in all corners of the house, even on toilets. There is a lot of control and abuse. This makes you very anxious or even depressed. While conversations on mental health are not held in countries where these women come from.’’
Moreover, we learned that a lot of female domestic workers do not have access to their phone. When migrant workers enter the country, their documents and phones are taken. So even communication with their families back home is negotiated, according to France. Another problem is that a lot of services are digital. “You need a banking card for health care services. But migrant workers are often excluded from opening a bank account, so they do not have a card. So domestic workers were not able to access health care services during the Covid pandemic.’’
… migrant sex workers
For migrant sex workers, this is a problem as well. They face financial discrimination when they are trying to open a bank account. “During Covid, sex workers could not access assistance that was available to other groups. When groups were trying to look after themselves and had mutual aid set up, the spread and access to information about mutual aid was less successful for sex workers. There was a lot of censorship.’’ Another problem for people who have done sex work abroad, is that when they come back in the country, they are being profiled. This is especially a problem for Latina women, Grant stated.
… migrant women
In the Gulf States, migrants can be tracked very easily, since all their data is electronic. This can be misused. Another dark side of technology is that Facebook is used to sell domestic workers. Sarashwati: ‘’The US based tech companies have not taken any action yet to block or monitor these accounts.’’
Sonia George (Self-Employed Women’s Association & International Domestic Workers Federation) explained visiting visas are becoming more common, instead of work visas. Workers do not realize that this impacts their rights as workers. Digital inclusion should not be about tracking migrants or confiscating their belongings. ‘’It should be about the rights of migrants to legally migrate, to bargain and to organize themselves.’’
The event was organized by the Global Alliance against Traffic in Women, the Women in Migration Network, the International Domestic Workers Federation, Migrant-Rights.org, Self-Employed Women’s Association, the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Centre, and Colectivo Intercultural Transgrediendo.
Atria and WO=MEN are jointly responsible for the coordination of input from civil society to the governmental delegation during the 67th session of Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Follow us on Twitter: @AtriaNieuws and @genderplatform.