Testimonies of Migrant Women Workers from Senegal

An interview with Fambaye Ndoye about women's journeys and their experiences with discrimination, racism and xenophobia

Ndoye’s book  presents 11 testimonies that give a voice to women migrant workers. The publication sheds light on these women’s journeys, both migration and professional, highlighting the violence and harassment that women, in general, and migrant women, in particular, endure. We talked to Fambaye Ndoye, Occupational Safety and Health Consultant and Coordinator of the Task Force and Inter-Trade-Union Action on Migration (Comité d’Actions et de Réflexions Intersyndicale sur la Migration –  CARISM). The CARISM grassroots project is a result of an innovative collaboration between trade unionist members of the Mediterranean Subsaharan Migration Trade Union Network – RSMMS (RSMMS). 

FES: What was the aim of this publication? 

This publication aims at presenting testimonies from those whose plight is widely discussed – but who rarely have the chance to speak for themselves. It is crucial to keep track of female workers who migrate to and from Senegal, to listen to them, identify the multiple violations of their rights, and better define the resources and the most effective individual and community strategies to address those violations. We pay tribute to these women who have agreed to share their daily lives and intimate secrets with us, at the risk of opening painful wounds. 

What were the main challenges in reaching these women? 

Access to the women was the first challenge. The women we interviewed were spread across more than ten different countries. We used various methods to connect with them – through the migrants we support, the families of the migrant workers and the contacts we have in associations and trade unions. Ultimately, we were able to conduct more than 30 interviews, around half of which were included in this publication.  

Interviewing vulnerable and isolated women is not easy, even less so in the context of COVID-19 lockdowns. Some audio recordings were inaudible, either because the interviewee did not want those around her or her employer to hear what she was saying, or because of poor technology. Some migrant women were reluctant to open up to someone they did not know, and raising subjects considered taboo caused some women to withdraw from the interview.  

These women were all from different countries, each with its specific set of circumstances. Did your work enable you to identify common challenges?  

I cannot emphasise enough that a focus on and unfair treatment based on skin colour remain topical issues. Discrimination, racism and xenophobia pervade all the testimonies – from all countries. Also, almost all the interviewees had suffered violence or psychological and emotional harassment at work, and during this global health crisis, female migrant workers need even more protection with respect to their jobs. These testimonies spurred us to draft a series of specific recommendations, which are presented in the second part of the publication.  

As a trade unionist, which observations from this grassroots workdo you think are most important for the labour movement?  

Should migrants make contact with the trade unions, or should the unions approach migrants? This is a crucial question. 

These migrant women mostly belong to associations that act as community-based solidarity groups. They are not members of trade union organisations, despite acknowledging the value of such organisations. Organising migrant workers, whatever their status, is a matter of solidarity and being part of the struggle of the international labour movement. Unionising migrant workers is the only way for workers’ organisations to tackle their problems and properly formulate their demands during collective bargaining.  

What about the future? 

Solidarity and resistance are still crucial to offset the security approach. A lot of money has been spent with little positive impact on current and potential migrants. The key question is how to develop strategies to combat irregular migration, which encourages exploitation and abuse and fuels the phenomenon of modern slavery. These strategies cannot be limited to raising awareness, funding individual projects and blocking the borders, they must follow a holistic approach that integrates the employment and social policies of the countries of origin and destination.


About the project 

This publication is part of the international project "Promoting Migration Governance" PROMIG-FES of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Tunisia. 

PROMIG-FES aims at promoting the role of the social partners, including trade unions, in the coordinated governance of migration and mobility based on rights and social dialogue. For the past four years, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) has been supporting a cross-regional trade union network, the Mediterranean Sub-Saharan Migration Trade Union Network (RSMMS). Through different publications, the project seeks to enhance the role of trade unions and establish transnational cooperation as a coordinated response to violations of human rights and migrants’ fundamental rights under international regulations.

English version

French version

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