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Policy blindspot: Issues of Women Migrants.

Published: 14th Feb, 2022


We have to remember that women are the original migrants. Apart from adjusting in the new family after marriage, they also have to adjust in a new place workwise, where they have no identity and no social support.

In this context we need policy intervention where policies are made keeping in mind the gender issues related to migration.


Understanding the link between gender and migration

  • Migration is implicitly related to gender, since it impacts women and men differently, as well as different groups of women and men during the displacement process.
  • However, neither a gender-based approach nor the particularities relating to women migrants are usually present in migration studies and analyses.
  • Migration is entrenching a new globalized sexual division of labour, in which there is a demand for female and migrant labour in receiving countries, specifically in domestic and care work.
  • Migration may also reinforce gender stereotypes that limit women’s autonomy, as well as their lack of power in decision-making processes, and their vulnerability to the systematic violation of their human rights.

On invisibility, vulnerability of women migrants

  • There is also the larger context of invisibility of women and children, not just migrants. And when they are migrants, they become even more vulnerable.
  • Our statistics really undercount women migrants which makes them invisible to the policymakers.
  • Of the 45 crore migrants that the 2011 Census records, 31 crore are women; which means 67 per cent of the migrants are women.
  • There are about 21 crore marriage migrants.
  • Solo women work migrants are about three percent or 73 lakh.
  • But the biggest group for which we have virtually no statistics are those whose husbands migrate for work.
  • Our Human Development survey in 2004 found that 3% of women whose husbands migrated were left in the place of origin. That number increased to 8% in 2011.
  • There is no one representative migrant woman. It’s a hugely heterogeneous group, there are women who are migrating from one village to another because of marriage or for work with family.
  • We need to specially design programmes and ensure that migrant women are included in the design and the way to solve this would not probably be the same for every migrant format.

What issues are faced by women migrants?

  • When work stopped (during Covid-19), problems of food emerged. Many did not have ration cards or the ration cards were in their villages. They were not transferable, and so they could not get access to the food later on.
  • Some governments did do universal food distribution, but a lot of that was through online registration, and many of them didn’t have mobile phones, or their accounts were not linked to their phone numbers.
  • Women migrants in cities also have an additional burden of unpaid work because of poor public infrastructure, Access to toilets, drinking water and safety of children.
  • Even though as a citizen of this country, a woman migrant is entitled to government schemes, she is being left out because of the fact that she is a migrant.
  • For instance, when a woman is married out of her village, but goes back to her natal village to deliver for five or six months, often for those months, which are the most important, she doesn’t get these services because her residence seems to be somewhere else;
    • All of our schemes are still linked to the place of residence. This keeps women out particularly from anganwadi services and PDS.
    • So the universality of the services lose meaning if there is no portability attached to them.
    • As they are denied those rights just because they have shifted location for whatever reason, we can work out decentralized policies.
    • Women migrants have no identity as workers, which means that they do not have
    • Access to healthcare or work during the lockdowns.
    • There’s also an issue of bank accounts which happens to be in native place.
    • Perhaps the greatest burden was rent.
  • Marriage migration in north India, where a girl cannot be married in her own village, has led to a cultural tradition of devaluing daughters.
    • These are the areas in which we see very unfavourable sex ratios.
    • This marrying of daughters outside of the village devalues the importance of daughters to parents.
    • The feminist movement has fought very hard for land right and inheritance rights for women.
    • But the daughters who are married somewhere else have found it very difficult to exercise those rights and retain control of the land.
  • Migrant workers live and work in very unhygienic conditions.
    • In brick kilns, we saw that the living area is badly made.
    • Just to save money, the contractors make very makeshift shelters for them.
    • Women migrants are vulnerable to sexual assault at these sites.
    • We need to have an understanding of how they work and how we can ensure people do not take advantage of these vulnerable communities.
  • There is a Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act and it does include informal workers. But those systems for informal workers have not been set up. And they can be set up also with the help of civil society, especially in places where women work at the worksite.

On Awareness about Schemes:

  • There is a severe lack of awareness about what kind of programmes are available for them (women migrants) when they’re migrating.
  • There are certain schemes, specially for mother and child health such as Integrated Child Development Services or even the Janani Suraksha Yojana.
  • Another important aspect is that the financial inclusion of migrant women is needed on a really large scale, especially related to bank account opening, which is linked with various social protection programmes.


Recognizing that women migrants have a right to equal access to employment, adequate income and social protection is primarily needed.  There should be better data collection to capture the complex dynamics of gender-specific migration to help the state respond better to their needs.

We need to enhance vocational training programs to improve employability of women migrants and their access to support services. The political inclusion of migrants would also democratize urban governance and ensure the building of cities on the basis of gender equality.

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