Like other countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam belongs to the migrant sending nations. The Vietnamese government started its labor export (xuat khau lao dong) policy in the 1980s. Nowadays, about 4.5 million Vietnamese including over 400,000 guest workers are living, working and studying in 103 countries across the world, of which over 80% are placed in developed nations. The amount of migrant women was about 12 % in 1992 and has reached over 35 % now.
Vietnam sees labor export as a crucial factor for its development. Motivated by a huge amount of remittances, the government pushes the quantity of outbound migrants. Apart from positive effects of labour migration (e.g. remittances, reduction of poverty, investments in education, health) there are general and gender-specified risks which male and female migrant workers are exposed to.
In order to discuss those risks as well as the latest developments of the whole “Labour Export Strategy” in Vietnam, the RLS Hanoi and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in HCMC jointly invited national and international researchers to the second international workshop about “Gender and Migration”. The workshop took place from 28th-29th September 2013 in HCMC. The resonance was astonishing: Almost 100 guests followed the invitation and took a very active part in the debates and the exchange of arguments.
First the participants emphasized that the expression “labour export” is not appropriate. It implicates a state-controlled system of human resources being regarded as an “export commodity”. This can lead to a negligence of the fact that migrants are human beings, individuals and deserve different protection that usual export-items.
Further the results of the international and Vietnamese researchers showed that the major problem is the protection of the rights of migrant workers when they are abroad. This goes along with a lack of proper information on positive and negative aspects of migration. This information has to be provided to migrants in a better way and at their place of origin before they leave. Besides the urgency of putting human rights at the center of the migration governance discourse, the feminization of migration during the past years has shown a need for a gender-specific approach to be embedded too. The experts presented a lot of gender-referred information. They summed up that women are still more vulnerable than men, but pointed also out that there is still a lack of gender referred research and more theoretical work should be done. In this context it was also mentioned that stereotypes about women as “migration goods and victims” have to be reconsidered because it doesn’t embrace the whole context of gender but regards women just as a target-group.
Moreover it was stated that the Vietnamese government should try to improve the quality of the migrant workers, especially in terms of their skills, language and general knowledge about the host country. This would empower and make them less vulnerable but empower them. In this context almost everybody agreed on the fact, that the term „illegal migrant worker” is to decline. People who migrate by not official paths aren’t illegal per se. That is not their origin characterization. Those migrants are „illegalized” by national law due to certain circumstances. It is necessary to discuss this issue in future due to the fact that both risks and the access to supportive infrastructure are connected to the status of migrants.
At the end of the two days, the organizers can proudly look back on a very successful workshop. Many issues were discussed critically and frankly. Some further pivotal topics, which need to be studied in future, were found. This gives a valid reason for the next “Gender and Migration” workshop in 2014.