Foreign migrant women are channeled into certain types of work, often limited to low-paying and low-skilled service sector jobs. The numerically most important spheres of work are domestic service and sex work, with the overall scale of the former considerably larger than the latter. Mostly due to the nature of their work, numerous incidents of abuse, including sexual violence, against women migrant workers have been well documented.
Due to their marginalization both as women and as migrants, women migrants find themselves in situations in which they are vulnerable to violence and abuse. They tolerate abuses from their spouses and employers because they are poor and afraid. They fear losing their jobs, they fear no one will believe their story, and they fear losing their children. Most migrant women do not know the language of their host country; many are uneducated and do not know they have rights that are being violated; many do not know where to turn for help, thus the violations go unreported.
Most governments have failed to provide protective legislation and services specific to their needs and vulnerabilities. Indifference to feminized migration has led to a lack of relevant policies and public awareness in host countries. As a result, massive numbers of female migrants are left to suffer alienation, mistreatment, injustice and relative poverty, with few means for recourse.
The International Organization for Migration estimated that in 1998 there were 50 million women in migration worldwide.
Underlying the feminization of migration in Asia are long-standing patriarchal traditions and institutions that place young females in the lowest rank within the family, the household and the workforce. This social inequality pushes women to migrate in search of better opportunities to improve the household economy. Consequently, female migrants are subject to various kinds and intense levels of prejudice, discrimination, exploitation and violence based not only on their sex, but also on class, nationality and ethnicity. Under prevailing institutional arrangements of migration in Asia, it is difficult to fully protect the rights, physical safety and psychological health of migrant women.