Making the Invisible Visible

November 17, 2017
By Tsion Fikre, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health


The social determinants of health encompass ways in which people live, work, learn, and play, and highlight how the conditions may also affect health risks and outcomes.

As always, a certain group fall through the cracks.

One in every seven persons in the world is a migrant. Slowly over time, women have begun to make the deliberate decision to migrate on their own. More women are entering the paid labour force, taking them away from the traditional roles. This has allowed them some agency and provided the opportunity for improved opportunities for employment and their ability to support their families.

Upon entering the work force, many find themselves in the care field, where their work is often undervalued. The profession of caring is deemed to be a low-skilled job, when in fact many migrants in such roles already have credentials in their home country. Because the priority is in finding employment and maintaining livelihoods upon arrival, many resort to working for temporary agencies who do not employ strict regulations of in-home care. These women report fatigue, hunger, poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes, and poor mental health.

Ann Elizabeth has been living in Ireland for 15 years, with 11 years in the care work sphere. During Thursday’s Women on the Move: Migration, Care Work and Health session at the Fourth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, she shared that the contract from the hiring agency would state that caregivers will only work with patients. However, patients or family members would begin asking for favours like cooking lunch.

The favour you did once will be expected every time. Interviews talk about annual leave, days off, bank holidays…

The caregivers themselves rarely profit from those benefits. Furthermore, many favours done once will soon become an unexpected daily task.

Somehow, whether arriving to a country legally through a sponsor, or illegally, migrants always take the backseat. The value they create, and the roles they play in every job sector is often overlooked.

It is crucial to recognize that migrant women care workers contribute to health and wellbeing through their support to health and social care systems. Resource centers and skills training that helps promote their work and role in the health care field is essential. Furthermore, we need to generate evidence that shows the lives that migrant workers lead – and that shows how their work conditions are indeed in violation of what we deem would be employees’ rights in any nation.

As the global population is ageing and the demand for care work increasing, it’s important to acknowledge the more than 80% of those who occupy the field. Dr. Kelly Thompson, Gender Specialist at Women in Global Health, reiterated:

Ignoring women, ignoring what they bring to the table is ignoring the needs of your country. It’s important to recognize that women are the drivers of health care. We weren’t allowed to vote in the 19th century. My voice was missing then, it’s still missing now.

We need to look at care as a global public good. Strong evidence, political will, robust strategies and tools, and empowerment of women in health work force is fundamental in addressing the needs of migrant workers.

It is time that we notice migrants and migrant women. And time that we address the issues that shackle them from the moment they enter their host country.


November 17th, 2017


Tsion Fikre is a senior at Boston University, majoring in Health Science, and is currently studying at Dublin City University for the semester. She is a research intern at Concern Worldwide in the Strategic Advocacy & Learning – Health & HIV Unit.


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