Protect the rights of women migrant workers

Published on Apr 17, 2021 06:23 PM IST

The response from most states to these recommendations has been slow to non-existent. Many quarantine centres and shelters for migrant women are not safe, nor are they safe on the long road home where they have neither facilities nor physical security.

The government’s draft National Policy on Migrant Workers has largely overlooked the specific needs and concerns of migrant women (REUTERS)
The government’s draft National Policy on Migrant Workers has largely overlooked the specific needs and concerns of migrant women (REUTERS)

With the surge in Covid-19 across the country, there are reports, yet again, of migrant workers being left with little choice but to go back to their villages. But within this, the gender dimension has been largely overlooked. In the process of migration driven by Covid, the impact of migration on women is different from that on men.

Women’s migration is not seen so much as employment-driven but as part of them relocating to places where their husbands get jobs. This is why, perhaps, they are invisible when discussing the problems that migrant workers are facing. Even though women enter the workforce in the areas they migrate to, the main reason many of them cite for migration is marriage. In the forced migration that happened last year and is re-emerging now, as in most disasters, there is an unequal gender impact.

Male migration often leaves women in their villages looking after their children and extended family. This increases their burden of having to take up traditional occupations, mainly agriculture as well as care work for the elderly and children and managing the household. Many of them often don’t have the local networks, knowledge base, and ability to access many welfare schemes.

The National Commission for Women had issued an advisory to the ministry of women and child development last year on measures which should be taken for the welfare of women migrants.

These include, ensuring accessibility of nutritious food and drinking water; ensuring no separation from family or children where possible; and provision of sanitary napkins and special steps for the dignity and safety of lactating mothers. The advisory also spoke of protection from eviction from their residences; ensuring reponses to gender-based violence from the police and inclusive redressal mechanisms; medical care, including mental health, in migrant clusters; access to communication with their family and measures to address trauma; and access to sanitation facilities such as masks, sanitisers and soap.

The response from most states to these recommendations has been slow to non-existent. Many quarantine centres and shelters for migrant women are not safe, nor are they safe on the long road home where they have neither facilities nor physical security.

Many women migrants, both those still in urban areas and those who have returned home, have had to compromise on many essential requirements in their daily lives. Those in urban ghettos have been largely trapped in their rooms with their out-of-school children, unable or unwilling to venture out for fear of the virus, making them more vulnerable to anxieties and worry. With all health care workers pressed into service to battle the pandemic, many migrant women have no access to health services for other ailments.

The government’s draft National Policy on Migrant Workers has largely overlooked the specific needs and concerns of migrant women. Now would be a good time to incorporate a rights-based approach in the policy with relation to migrant women. Women migrants and their vulnerabilities can be tackled only if the government addresses the structural and other challenges which cause them to be so invisible. It has to focus on women in the informal sector, especially migrant women, in its upgradation and skills programmes. The surge in Covid cases should occasion a rethink on the issue of women migrant workers and their needs, which can then be institutionalised so that they are less vulnerable during the pandemic and after.

lalita.panicker@hindustantimes.com

The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Lalita Panicker leads the opinion section at Hindustan Times. Over a 33-year career, she has specialised in gender issues, reproductive health, child rights, politics and social engineering.

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