Hidden in the Fields

BY KATHERINE THEN | WRITER

The migration of women around the world has remarkably increased in the last 40-50 years. Although many women and girls migrate voluntarily, others migrate as a result of war, ethnic conflicts, economic stagnation, and natural disasters.

In 2016, the Council of Europe reported that, “for the first time since the beginning of the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, women and children on the move outnumber adult men”. “Women and children made up nearly 60% of refugees and other migrants crossing into Europe.”

According to the UN, between 2000 and 2015, the number of international migrants has increased by 41%, reaching 244 million. Almost half of them are women. Today, 50 per cent of the world’s refugees are women and girls.

This week, as part of our community collaboration efforts with Global Alms Incorporated, our team visited a family that has been in Thailand for 30 years living as undocumented migrants. Family members – most of whom were women, work in the agriculture sector- dealing with uncertainties, such as lack of work in low harvesting seasons, harsh working conditions, minimal pay, and maltreatment. Due to their undocumented status, they often face challenges relating to their safety, health, and economic security. Everyday they walk through these muddy rice fields, at times in the adverse conditions of rainy seasons, just to access their homes.

As reported by the International Labor Organization, agriculture contractors around the world often hire the most vulnerable laborers least aware of their rights to maintain low pay for long hours of work. In some countries, women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labor force. India, being the largest producer of tea, employs over a million of tea workers, mostly women. In the United States, approximately 400,000 women, majority of whom are immigrants, work in agriculture. In Thailand, migrant workers from Myanmar, more than half of which are women, make up a vast majority of the agricultural workforce.

Although most migrant women prefer to work in urban rather than rural areas – due to greater economic and educational opportunities, there are still many women that remain working in the fields – enduring and wading through despite cycles of insecurity and hardships.

KT.

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