Women are the first migrants; they have to migrate to a new family after marriage, to a new city if the family moves or on their own to find a job, remarked Renana Jhabvala, president of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA-Bharat) at the seventh Edition of Thinc Migration Webinar Series by The Indian Express. “But we don’t often talk about the women who stayed behind after their husbands migrated,” Jhabvala said.
This session in the Thinc Migration series examines the impact of Covid-induced disruptions on migrant women and children, who are often overlooked when it comes to policy implementation. Presented by Omidyar Network India and moderated by Udit Misra, Associate Deputy Editor, The Indian Express, the panel discussion included Sonalde Desai (Professor and Center Director, NCAER-National Data Innovation Center), Anjali Borhade (Founding Director, Disha Foundation), Rajeshwari B (Commissioner of MGNREGA, Jharkhand) and Dipa Sinha (Assistant Professor, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University).
Speaking of the “half-truth of statistics” relating to migrant women, Desai said: “Of the 45 million migrants that the 2011 census records, 31 million are women; which means that 67% of migrants are women. There are approximately 21 million marriage migrants. While women who migrate with their families make up around 11% of all migrant women, or four crores. Women who are migrant working alone make up about 3% or 73 lakhs. But the most important group for which we have almost no statistics, and very poor statistics, are women whose husbands migrate for work. Through our human development survey, we found that in 2004 about 3% of women whose husbands migrated and they were left behind in their place of origin. That number had increased to 8% by 2011,” Desai said.
Commenting on the issue of the invisibility of migrant women and how programs are designed and whether they reach beneficiaries, Sinha said: “Understand that this is also the broader context of women’s invisibility. and children, not just migrants. And when they are migrants, they become even more vulnerable. The second thing, there is not a single representative migrant woman. It is an extremely heterogeneous group, there are women who migrate from one village to another because they got married in the other village or to work with the family. We need to design programs specifically and ensure that migrant women are included in the design and how to address this would probably not be the same for each migrant format,” she said.
Speaking about the vulnerability of women, Rajeshwari said they are one of the most vulnerable groups. “Then the children who join the mother and father during their migration period are even more vulnerable,” she said.
Referring to the drawbacks of technology in solving the problem of tracking every individual, Rajeshwari says, “We barely have 30% of people accessing the internet on their smartphones. How many kids can actually hold a smartphone in their hands and maybe have access to the digital classroom that the government system gives them? In rural areas, a family usually has a phone and often not even a smartphone,” she said.
Borhade spoke about access to health care, particularly health services related to maternal and child health and nutrition programs. “Based on our research, as well as direct intervention with migrant workers, we have found that there is a serious lack of awareness about the type of programs available to them when they migrate and there are certain programs especially for maternal and child health, such as integrated child development services or even the Janani Suraksha Yojana It was also noted that active outreach structures or health worker services are lacking in areas of migrants in cities, especially to identify and include pregnant and breastfeeding women and children in mainstream programs Another important aspect is that financial inclusion of migrant women is needed on a very large scale, especially with regard to financial inclusion. opening of bank accounts, which is linked to various social protection programs,” she said.