Global Resources

Emigration of women domestic workers from Kerala: gender, state policy and the politics of movement

Author: P. Kodoth, V.J. Varghese
Publisher: Centre for Development Studies, Swansea
Publication Date: Sep 2011

Restrictions imposed by the Government of India on the emigration of women in ‘unskilled’ categories such as domestic work are framed as measures intended to protect women from exploitation. Special protection for certain categories of emigrant women workers makes way for gendered conceptions of citizenship and sovereignty through the use of gender to assert control over space in ways that curtail women’s access to mobility and emigrant work opportunities. However, restrictions have directed potential migrants to the use of informal / illegal processes in connivance with state agencies. Whereas, intermediaries, including recruiting agents and government officials, profit from the use of informal / illegal processes by prospective emigrants and hence they have an interest in rendering these more effective than formal processes established by the state, we argue that the gender politics around movement provides an enabling condition for both state restrictions and the burgeoning of informal / illegal processes.

To spell out the implications of state policy on emigrant women domestic workers, the paper compares their position and experience of migration with that of emigrant nurses on the one hand and outmigrant fish processing workers on the other. It also explores the nature of women’s agency involved when domestic workers resist state policy and social norms to emigrate through informal / illegal mean