‘Women are the original migrants; they have to migrate to a new family after marriage’

Women are the original migrants; they have to migrate to a new family after marriage, to a new city if the family moves or alone for employment, Renana Jhabvala, Chair of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA-Bharat) remarked at the seventh edition of the eight-part webinar series Thinc Migration by The Indian Express. “But we don’t often talk about the women who are left behind after their husbands migrate,” said Jhabvala.

This session of the Thinc Migration series looks at how Covid-induced disruptions impacted migrant women and children, who are often overlooked when it comes to policy-implementation. Presented by Omidyar Network India, and moderated by Udit Misra, Deputy Associate Editor, The Indian Express, the panel discussion included Sonalde Desai (Professor and Centre Director, NCAER-National Data Innovation Centre), Anjali Borhade (Founder Director, Disha Foundation), Rajeshwari B (MGNREGA Commissioner, Jharkhand) and Dipa Sinha (Assistant Professor, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University).

Talking about the “half-truth of statistics” related to women migrants, Desai said, ”Of the 45 crore migrants that the 2011 Census records, 31 crore are women; which means 67% of the migrants are women. There are about 21 crore marriage migrants. While women who migrate with their family are roughly about 11% of all women migrants, or four crore. Women who are solo work migrants are roughly about 3% or 73 lakhs. But the biggest group for which we have virtually no statistics, and very poor statistics are women whose husbands migrate for work. Through our Human Development survey, we found that in 2004, roughly about 3% of women whose husbands migrated and they were left in the place of origin. That number had increased to 8% by 2011,” said Desai.

Commenting on the issue of the invisibility of the migrant woman and how schemes are designed and whether they’re reaching the beneficiaries, Sinha said, “Understand that this is also the larger context of invisibility of women and children, not just migrants. And when they are migrants, then they become even more vulnerable. The second thing, there is no one representative migrant woman. It’s a hugely heterogeneous group, there are women who are migrating from one village to the other because they got married to the other village 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,” she said.

Talking about vulnerability of women, Rajeshwari said that they are one of the most vulnerable groups. “Then the kids that join the mother and father during their migratory period are even more vulnerable,” she said.

Mentioning the drawbacks of technology in addressing the issue of tracking each and every individual, Rajeshwari says, “We have hardly 30% of people who have access to the Internet on their smartphones. How many children can actually hold a smartphone in their hands and maybe have access to the digital class that the government system is giving them? In rural areas, a family usually has one phone and many times not even a smartphone,” she said.

Borhade talked about the access to healthcare, especially the health services related to maternal and child health and the nutrition programmes. “Based on our research, as well as the direct intervention with migrant workers, we found there is a severe lack of awareness about what kind of programmes are available for them when they’re migrating and there are certain schemes specially for mother and child health such as Integrated Child Development Services or even the Janani Suraksha Yojana. It was also noticed that active outreach facilities or the services by health workers are lacking at the migrant areas in cities specially to identify and include the pregnant or lactating women and children in the mainstream programmes. Another important aspect is 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,” she said.

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