ExodusStructural barriers and discrimination in local labour market drive women to work abroad
In recent years, there’s been an upsurge in the number of Nepali women seeking employment opportunities abroad. Such an increase demands insight into the push and pull factors behind their decision to head overseas for employment.
In this context, the Social Science Baha on Wednesday released a report examining women’s migration for foreign employment and ways to reintegrate them into the national labour market. According to the report, the number of women migrant workers leaving Nepal for foreign employment increased by a whopping 239 percent between 2006 and 2015. Poverty, a lack of respectable and well-paying jobs and the stigma associated with low-status jobs are the main reasons why women seek better prospects abroad, says the report.
The 1,210 women surveyed were either returnees from foreign employment or non-migrants in Jhapa, Sindhupalchok, Nawalparasi, Kaski and Kailali districts. Fifty-five percent migrated to improve their household’s economic conditions, 24 percent to ensure a better future for their children and 22 percent to pay off debt.
The current employment scenario in Nepal cannot provide most women with the means to realise these aspirations, forced as they are to engage in traditional, unpaid, and home-based work with limited opportunities for employment due to structural barriers and gender-based discrimination in the local labour market.
To escape the Nepali labour market, female migrant workers go to great lengths and suffer abysmal conditions. As many as 32 percent of women migrant workers suffer verbal abuse, 9 percent are subjected to physical abuse, and about 2 percent face sexual abuse. And it seems a significant number of women are willing to take their chances again instead of dealing with the challenges and dearth of opportunities in Nepal, as seen from the desire for remigration among 31 percent of the returnees.
The issues that drive women abroad despite considerable risks must be addressed. As highlighted by the report, there is a need for gender-responsive policies that specifically address the needs of female migrants, vocational skills and leadership development of women, media advocacy and the formulation of evidence-based policies.
There have been some promising developments, as shown by the case of returnee women who are now engaged in enterprise development through the support of UN Women. An overwhelming proportion (94 percent) of returnees involved in this enterprise stated that they would not re-migrate if they could secure a minimum income at home, highlighting the importance of providing opportunities for reintegration. Of course, this is but one example of success for a small sample, and perhaps such an initiative would not translate as well when applied to a broader section of women migrant workers. However, this does indicate that effective policies can, to some extent, facilitate integration of women migrant workers into the national labour market. It is with this understanding that the government, the civil society and other relevant actors should move forward to realise a scenario of economic empowerment for all Nepali women.