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Lesson Learned: Myanmar lifts the Ban

Figure 1 The Economist,

Suspension of Working Permits for Female Domestic Workers

In 2014 the Myanmar Ministry of Labour, Immigration, and Population (MOLIP), implemented a suspension of working permits that barred the migration of female domestic workers abroad.[1] The suspension was introduced in response to the increasing abuse and lack of protection of female domestic workers in Southeast Asia.[2]

Well-intended but Failed

Although seemingly well-intended, the result of the ban backfired. Instead of preventing migration, the ban simply made it more difficult to control unregulated migration and fostered a black market that effectively put the women at greater risk.

With little employment possibilities and low living standards in Myanmar, the ban left many women unemployed or facing wages far below that of host countries. Many were forced to turn to illegal traffickers and employment agencies to help them travel across borders.[3] Working abroad remained very attractive, especially since some destination countries, such as Singapore, did not recognize the ban and continued allowing the migration of Myanmar domestic workers.[4] In fact, a UN report highlighted, that in July 2016 the estimates of undocumented Myanmar female domestic workers reached approximately 28 000 in Thailand and 30-40 000 in Singapore.[5]

Female Inferiority

Unfortunately, the ban also played into the hands of gender discrimination. By only addressing female domestic migrant workers, the ban not only disregarded the importance of their work and role as breadwinner but also encouraged the idea of female inferiority. The MOLIP representative underlines this when referring to Myanmar women as being ‘(too) shy and afraid to talk about problems or complain’ and that they did ‘not dare to send the women migrants as domestic workers’ [6]. Thereby, neglecting the fact that male migrant workers are also subject to abuse and forced labour.

Lifting the Ban

Having learned their lesson, the government lifted the ban in April 2019 and is currently launching a pilot project in Singapore, that aims to include Hong Kong, Thailand and Macau.[7] Despite the downsides, the ban did enable Myanmar to pressure high demand host countries, such as Singapore, to engage in Memorandums of Understandings to protect migrant worker’s rights.[8]

Seeing as how this government learned from its mistakes, hopefully, other ineffective government policies will also be re-evaluated in the future.

  1. United Nations Women, Study on the impact of protective policies for Myanmar Migrant Domestic Workers in Thailand and Singapore (2017) <> accessed 20 November 2019

  2. AFP, ‘Myanmar bans women from working as maids in Hong Kong’, South China Morning Post (14 September 2014) <> accessed 21 November 2019

  3. Lynn Lee, James Leong, ‘From Myanmar to Singapore: Why the maid trafficking continues’, Aljazeera (2 April 2018) <> accessed 21 November 2019

  4. International Labour Organization and UN Women, ‘Protected or put in harm’s way? Bans and restrictions on women’s labour migration in ASEAN countries’ (2017) <> accessed 20 November 2019

  5. Ibid (n 1)

  6. Ibid (n 3) 25

  7. Htwe Zaw Zaw, ‘Govt to resume sending maids to Singapore, three other areas’ MyanmarTimes (26 April 2019) <> accessed 21 November 2019

  8. Ibid (n 3)

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