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International Partnerships

Returning migrants participating in decision-making back home

Shortly after graduating from high school, Novelita became a domestic worker. One of the families which she was working for offered her an opportunity to work abroad. She decided to take the opportunity but soon realized that it was not what she expected. Miles away from her family and friends, she found herself isolated, overworked, abused, and indebted to her employer.

I experienced three counts of sexual harassment there. My first meal in the morning was at 3pm.

Novelita, Former Overseas Domestic Worker

Experiences like Novelita’s are far too common. In her home country of the Philippines, legal protections have been put in place to respond to the exploitation and violence that migrant domestic workers can face. A Magna Carta of Migrants Workers was instituted in response to the execution of a Filipina domestic worker in Singapore and several amendments have been made to the law over the years to respond to the different vulnerabilities of migrant workers, especially those doing domestic work.

Novelita describes her experience as an overseas domestic worker
Novelita describes her experience as an overseas domestic worker. © IOM

These protections are only as effective as their implementation and migrants’ ability to exercise their rights. Channelling the experiences and concerns of overseas migrant workers through committees at local and regional level – like the Regional Committee on Migration and Development – has propelled conversations forward to improve policies and administrative processes on this issue at national level.

The vulnerabilities are high, and the cases of abuse are being repeatedly reported.

Rex Marlo Varona, National Project Coordinator for the Safe and Fair Programme, ILO

Upon Novelita’s return to the Philippines, she decided to become part of solution by actively participating in decision-making processes to promote the rights of female domestic workers. Now she is the National President of the Union for Domestic Workers and leads campaigns to help migrant domestic workers in distress. Through these endeavours, she is working closely with migration civil society groups to empower migrants and help ensure that their rights are upheld and protected.

Novelita speaks with members of the Trade Union for Domestic Workers
Novelita speaks with members of the Trade Union for Domestic Workers. © IOM

Demonstrating how governance interventions can take migration into account to enhance development outcomes, the EU-funded 'Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development' (MMICD) initiative implemented by IOM produced a video to showcase this #MigrationConnection. The video highlights work that is ongoing in the Philippines under the “Safe and Fair Programme” which is part of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative.

Governance is of major importance and this is really what is going to determine the outcome of migration for society and of course for the migrants themselves.

Cécile Riallant, Head of Migration and the Sustainable Development Unit, IOM

The “Safe and Fair Programme”, implemented by ILO and UN Women, in collaboration with UNODC and funded by the EU, is working towards the realization of women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region. One of the key areas of this work supports their efforts to organize and raise awareness so that safe and fair migration is promoted and gender-based discrimination is addressed. The programme is providing technical inputs on the implementation of and the reform of existing laws.

Young boy with his mother at a trade union meeting in the Philippines
Young boy with his mother at a trade union meeting in the Philippines. © IOM

Novelita is contributing to this work with her advocacy and community organizing. Through these efforts, she hopes that she can help make things better for the next generation who might also choose to work abroad. As Novelita’s story demonstrates, it is essential that migrant representatives’ engagement in local and national governance is facilitated in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

About the project

This story is part of a series collated under the Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development (MMICD) initiative led by IOM and funded by the EU. The series gathers examples of effective migration mainstreaming in different development sectors.

The MMICD initiative, implemented by IOM and funded by the EU, aims to strengthen the process of integrating migration into international cooperation and development policy.

The programme that is highlighted in this MMICD video as an example of integrating migration into governance programmes is the Safe and Fair Programme as part of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative. Safe and Fair is implemented through a partnership between the ILO and UN Women, in collaboration with UNODC.