Mekong Migration Network launches a report on migrant women and health in the GMS in advance of the International Day of Action for Women’s Health

Press Release, the 27th of May, 2015

May 28 is the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Since 1987, this day has been commemorated by women’s and health groups around the world. It is an occasion to celebrate the gains for women’s health and remind our governments of women’s health rights.

In commemorating this special day, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is launching a new report, Self-Care & Health Care: How Migrant Women in the Greater Mekong Subregion Take Care of their Health today.

MMN is a subregional network of civil society organisations and research institutes in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). With the support of the United Nations Development Programme, MMN project partners in all countries of the GMS interviewed 114 migrant women to find out how women take care of their own health, what prevention measures and self-treatment measures they take, and how they make decisions about when to self-treat, to seek advice from a pharmacy, or to see a doctor. This study looked at factors that affect their ability to look after their health – whether through self-care or formal health care.

Main findings include that in the GMS migrant women’s continuum of care typically starts with prevention, then self-treatment using home or traditional remedies, then moves to pharmacy advice and medication, and finally, when accessible, to doctors at health care facilities. While formal health care facilities are a last resort for most migrant women, most reports on health in the GMS focus on access to that limited, last resort option. The MMN study hence aimed at looking both at migrant women’s access to health care and also details of what happens before that.

“I diagnose myself if it is not serious and sometimes get medication from the pharmacy. If I feel worse I will talk to the NGO clinic.” Vietnamese migrant in her 20s working as a rubbish collector in Cambodia

It also found out that migrant women’s vulnerability to ill health increases during the migration process due to various factors such as poor living conditions, unsafe and physically demanding work, poverty wages and precarious legal status.

“When I had accidents while sewing at work, I asked the mechanic to pull out the needle. I put on some red cream and took pain relievers. I had to be careful always. Sometimes I took a rest (for no more than one day); and sometimes I took medicine and continued working.” Burmese returnee in her 30s who worked in a garment factory in Thailand

Sometimes migrant women do not have the luxury of being able to care for their health – because they do not have the resources to do so and/or because the health of the breadwinner in their household, whether themselves or their spouse, is prioritised.

“The health of my husband is the most important thing because he can earn good money only when he is well. I cannot do heavy work like he does.” Vietnamese returnee in her 50s with five children who worked in a fish market in Cambodia

“My health is important as I am the main income provider for my whole family.” Burmese migrant in her 50s working as a salesperson in Thailand

While all undocumented migrant workers face similar hardships, it is particularly challenging for migrant women who bear increased burdens and gender-based discrimination which reduces their ability to negotiate health rights at home, in hospitals, and at work. Furthermore, even upon return home, migrant women face problems re-registering, resulting in limited to no accessto public health care.

Across the region there are gaps in health care for migrant women, with the most pronounced gaps particularly being sexual and reproductive health services and care for mental health. Sometimes health care policies and programming for migrants focuses specifically on certain diseases such as HIV and AIDS without making available other health information and health care services. Lack of long term health care policies for migrants combined with poor enforcement of migrants’ labour rights also pose significant barriers to migrant women’s ability to stay healthy and access health care.

“The employer did not allow us to bring babies to the work place. After my baby was three months old [and maternity leave ended], I could not afford a babysitter to look after the baby. So I sent my baby with a broker to my parents in Mon state, Myanmar. You need to pay a broker 5000 Baht for one baby [who they sedate/drug for the duration of the journey].” Burmese returnee in her 20s who worked in a fish canning factory along the Thailand-Malaysia border

Highlights of the key recommendations were that the GMS governments must implement the commitments made at ASEAN and GMS regional levels to improve migrants’ access to health services. These governments should facilitate, in particular, migrant women’s ability to take care of their health and access health care services, by ensuring universal access to general as well as reproductive and sexual health services, by providing interpretation/translation in public services, and by legislating and enforcing a living wage.

Governments of countries of origin should provide Labour attachés with an adequately staffed team, as well as funding and training appropriate to respond to the needs of migrant women. Relevant information about health and health services should be made available for migrant women prior to departure and again upon arrival, through orientation programs/trainings and other channels. Governments of countries of destination should promote and enforce proper compliance of maternity and sick leave policies and provide language-appropriate information on policies, services, and health rightsthrough different channels targeting migrant women.

A full report is available online at in English in PDF format. It is also available in printin English

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