“I went to work in Thailand for eight months, and it was very hard. I can’t speak Thai language and I have no idea how to find support if I need help. I always feel unsafe,” says Long Leap, one of the many Cambodian women who have migrated for work. “In my community, we have around 200 families. Nearly 50 per cent have gone to work in a foreign country”.
For large number of Cambodian women migrant workers who live and work abroad, there are serious gaps in information and access to service providers required to ensure their safety and rights.
A large-scale survey of migrant women workers across Southeast Asia , conducted by the joint ILO-UN Women Safe and Fair Programme under the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative revealed a lack of reliable or trustworthy sources of information online. Instead, migrant women workers must rely on personal networks or recruitment agencies for essential information.
“One of the things that we know about migrant workers is that they can risk being isolated in the country that they go to, not only because of language, but because of cultural barriers, and their status. They may feel quite cut off from the opportunities to access services and information in a country where they're working,” says Sarah Knibbs, Officer-In-Charge UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
It is for these reasons that the My Journey Mobile App was conceived. Developed through a collaboration lasting two years between the Safe and Fair Programme in Cambodia, the Child Helpline Cambodia, and innovative mobile developers InSTEDD iLab SEA, the app’s purpose is to connect Cambodian women migrant workers with the services and information they need throughout their journeys.
Sophea Khun, National Programme Coordinator for the joint ILO-UN Women Safe and Fair Programme in Cambodia explains, “one of the main reasons [for developing the app] was Cambodian women migrant workers’ limited access to information. Of course, there has been a lot of groundwork done in terms of promoting safe migration, and the risks to trafficking to some extent. But a lot of this has been focussed on the general needs of migrant workers, and we know that between women's and men's migrant workers, their needs for information can be different in many ways.”
My Journey Mobile App provides access to essential, reliable, and practical information and services readily available on mobile phones, anywhere. Services and helplines in thirteen different countries can be accessed through the press of a button. An emphasis has been placed on making sure the app is user-friendly and universally accessible. Information is delivered through video, animations, audio, and role-plays, with content designed for users of all literacy levels. As Long Leap explains, “My journey App is very important to women who are looking for a job in a foreign country. This app is very easy to use, the information is detailed but simple to understand, and even if you can’t read you can use the audio function.”
A driving principle in the development of the My Journey Mobile App was to understand the migration journey that is specific to the experiences of Cambodian women. Consequently, the development and design process drew upon the narratives and perspectives of Cambodian women migrant workers themselves. “Migrant workers are amazing in dealing with the many challenges and obstacles in their lives. So, we built the app based around the experiences of Cambodian women migrant workers,” says Khun.
“Migrant workers are amazing in dealing with the many challenges and obstacles in their lives. So, we built the app based around the experiences of Cambodian women migrant workers,” - Sophea Khun.
In understanding the needs of Cambodian women migrant workers, it was clear that for women, safe migration is more than passports and visas. As Khun explains, “Safe migration is not just about the having all essential documents for migration, you could have all the supporting documents to travel and to work in this foreign country, but if you are not free from intimate partner violence, and if you don't have a control over your money, or sexual consent, then it's not a safe migration either. So, the app reflects this, and we have added information specific to the needs of women and this includes information on sexual reproductive health information, sexual harassment, and links to services too.”
Ultimately the My Journey Mobile App is about empowering women with the information and access they need to take control of their own journeys, making safe and informed choices. Knibbs says, “we know that these women make an enormous contribution to their families, communities and to the economy. It is very important to make sure we really recognize the value of these women and their work, and the courage of the choice that they make as well”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges that Cambodian women migrant workers face. More than 150,00 Cambodian migrants have returned home. Now as national borders reopen, and migration likely to become possible again soon, many are predicting a huge increase in migration. This will include those who are returned migrants, and many who will be migrating for the first time.
“It's likely that the border crossing is likely to happen soon. So, we hope that the information and links available on the My Journey Mobile App can support those women who are thinking of migrating for the first time and those who thinking of returning to migrate this well, to help them prepare more and make their migration journey safer,” says Khun.
As Long Leap says, “I’d recommend my friends to use it, of course! Because this app will help them to travel safely”.
"I’d recommend my friends to use it, of course! Because this app will help them to travel safely." - Long Leap
My Journey is available now, free to download through the Google Play store:
The My Journey mobile app for safe migration and labour rights, is a Safe and Fair Cambodia initiative. “Safe and Fair: Realizing women migrant workers’ rights and opportunities in the ASEAN region”, is part of the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, a global, multi-year initiative between the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN). Safe and Fair is implemented through a partnership between the ILO and UN Women, in collaboration with UNODC, with the overriding objective of ensuring that labour migration is safe and fair for all women in the ASEAN region. Visit https://spotlightinitiative.org for more information.
By Jocelyn Pederick