You have reached the main content

Violence against women isn't an Indian problem, it's a global one

On January 5, 2013

The death of an unnamed young woman following a brutal gang rape in Delhi last month prompted the world to recognize the extent of violence against women in India. However, violence against women and sexual harassment is not an ‘Indian’ problem - it’s a global one.

Sexual harassment and physical abuse of migrant women is endemic in the Middle East. However, it remains a taboo topic, and its discussion or reflection in the public arena is extremely rare. That is one of the very reasons that exists – to bring the suffering of migrant workers into the public domain.

The death of the young Indian woman last week has galvanised Indians into action, with thousands taking to the streets to protest against an ingrained culture of sexual harassment – today 10,000 women marched on the streets of Delhi (see BBC reports here). There has been an extraordinary moment of self-reflection in India as politicians, the media, and regular people spoke out publicly against the prevalence of violence against women - and the incompetence of the police and judiciary when it comes to dealing with the problem.

Heinous crimes against migrant women occur on a regular basis in the Middle East, yet rarely get more than a few lines of coverage in local media, let alone cause any kind of public outcry. Only last month, a Filipina domestic worker was gang-raped by 12 men in Kuwait (see news story here). Over 50% of migrant women interviewed in an ILO study reported experiencing verbal or physical abuse at the hands of their employers. Some reported being raped by family members and guests, while others recalled being physically punished for not working fast enough. Most of these women did not seek any help from the police, their embassy, or other authorities either because they lack access to such services or because they fear retaliation and deportation.

The situation is now so dire that a number of countries, including Nepal and Ethiopia, banned young women from working in certain Gulf countries (see CNN report here.)

These issues are largely invisible from society in the Middle East because many migrant women are employed in private households and have little or no interaction with the outside world. There is a depressing familiarity about the stories that we monitor at Migrant Rights, and the 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality towards migrant women in the region.

It’s time to bring the abuse of migrants out of the shadows and into the light. Must the Middle East wait for another attack, one as brutal as the one which took the life of a young girl in Delhi last month, before it acknowledges that there is a fundamental problem with the way that it treats migrant women?