Updated: September 3, 2012 22:17 IST

Working women on the move

P. Jacob
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Migration of women workers from South Asia to the Gulf: Rakkee Thimothy, S.K. Sasikumar: V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, Noida and UN Women South Asia Sub Regional Office, New Delhi. Price not stated.
Migration of women workers from South Asia to the Gulf: Rakkee Thimothy, S.K. Sasikumar: V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, Noida and UN Women South Asia Sub Regional Office, New Delhi. Price not stated.

This is an era of still-rising numbers of labour migration across international borders, despite economic and job market vagaries and setbacks in many parts of the world. India alone currently accounts for about one crore migrants (excluding those with Person of Indian Origin status) across the world, according to estimates cited in Parliament recently. This is a historic high — and the numbers, it seems, will only go up, at least over the foreseeable future.

From India and other parts of South Asia, the Gulf region has been a prime destination, the stuff of dreams. Considering South Asia as a whole, North America is also a significant destination. A significant chunk among the migrants set out in search of employment.

Women, a majority of them single, constitute around half the number of migrants anywhere today. The figures from South Asia are lower than the international average, though they have shown a rising trend in the latest period.

For countries including India, the safety and welfare of women migrants, in particular those in the low-skilled category, has been an issue of some concern for many years now. India has initiated several steps to streamline the recruitment of low-wage women workers in the Gulf countries in order to ensure proper working conditions for them. India and Sri Lanka have both set a minimum age for women going abroad as domestic workers, with a view to reducing exploitation and abuse of young female migrant workers.

Cases of trafficking in women have come up off and on in the context of some of the Gulf countries. Signifying such concerns, recently New Delhi decided to set up shelter homes for Indian women in distress in 17 countries that are categorised as Emigration Check Required countries, most of them in the Gulf region.

This research study, undertaken by two faculty members of the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute with support from UN Women, provides a fairly comprehensive summation of the scene. It also details in particular the vulnerabilities and integration issues faced by low-skilled women migrant workers who form a majority of those from South Asia. It provides statistical snapshots fleshed out with analytical insights into and perspectives on the situation in multiple countries.


India is the largest recipient country in term of remittances from the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, accounting for roughly half the money transferred from the countries. The economic dimension of the overall migration from South Asia as a whole is reflected in the fact that it accounted, in 2010, for the second highest figure in terms of remittances ($81 billion), among all developing countries, after East Asia and the Pacific ($93 billion).

In terms of rate of growth of remittances, South Asia in 2010 topped the list among regions in all developing countries (at 8.2 per cent). But the growth rate has been tapering off, as in the case of all the other regions, from a high for the region of 32.6 per cent as recently as in 2008. Yet, as the research study mentions, there are no reliable figures available of the share of women.

This is a substantive study of an important issue, and it adds to the extensive literature on migration issues in general. It focuses specifically in a methodologically organised, informed and sensitive manner on the issues and concerns surrounding women migrants, and points to certain grey areas and statistical vacuums as well. It aids in the understanding of the typical challenges faced by women migrants through different stages of the migration process. The detailed migration fact sheets relating to five major ‘sending’ states and six major ‘receiving’ states are bound to prove particularly useful in projecting labour force requirements for woman migrant workers and help plan strategies and policies.

Most of all, this study should catalyse further work in the area that would aid policy planners and rights watchdogs.

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