This post was written by Phil Lane, director of Oasis Belgium.
I first encountered Esther in a flat to the north of Brussels. She and her four children were huddled into a space that was meant for one person. Her distress was palpable and her children were nervous and unhappy. Only the baby seemed to be unaware of what was happening, smiling broadly from his make-shift cot. Esther had come from Thailand in search of a new life, had married a Belgian man with high hopes of finding work and being able to support her family and send money home too. She had two daughters from a previous marriage and then had two with her new husband, but then everything seemed to go wrong. The man’s family hated her and resented this foreigner in their midst. They tried to take the younger children from her, and then the husband became abusive and violent. She started to work in a Thai massage parlour to get money, but the pain and abuse there made her run from both the exploitation and her violent partner.
When we hear stories of women like Esther, it’s perhaps easy to draw the conclusion that female migration is a bad idea, full of risk and misery. In fact, some countries have gone as far as limiting the right of migration for women and requiring them to get the permission of a male in their family before they can travel. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. When women migrate, there are benefits to everyone. In fact, recent studies have shown that if women migrate from countries where there is severe gender inequality to countries where there are more rights and opportunities, it not only benefits the women and the country where they have chosen to live, but it also helps with the journey towards equality in their home country. Studies even show that female migration can have the effect of increasing the number of women sitting in their country’s parliaments! Women who migrate send a greater proportion of their income home (although they are paid less than male migrants), and the exposure to more rights, more opportunities and a louder voice in society spreads into their home cultures as they aspire for the same rights for their daughters. The host countries benefit from hard working and engaged women with a vision for their lives, and their home country sees the effect of empowered women within their culture. If we want to encourage women’s rights in all countries around the world, then part of that is to welcome and encourage women who have been brave enough to come and live here.
Esther is now settled in Belgium, works hard and lives a peaceful life. Although she has been through a lot, she is making real progress. We need to welcome people like Esther and make sure that they don’t have to go through the same nightmare in order to fulfill the potential they have, a potential that benefits everyone.
You can read more about the benefits to everyone when women migrate and the impact on gender equality in their home countries here.
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