Women and Migration
By Naimal Fatima


The phrase "migrants and their families" is a code often repeated for "male migrants and their wives and children."  It is not wrong to say that women have been missing and nearly invisible in the migration debates. Women have mostly been recognized as secondary migrants (accompanying husbands) or those left behind by the migrating husband. It was not until 1980s that research and development discourse began to highlight the importance of female migration. However, still research is inadequate and there is an urgent need for gender disaggregated statistics on migrants, on the challenges of settling in the host country and also on the female remittances. Without this, governments will continue to have policies, which are blind to the needs of women migrants, particularly from poverty-stricken societies.

In 2015, the percentage of females among all international migrants was highest in Europe (52.4 per cent) and Northern America (51.2 per cent). It was comparatively lower in Asia (42.0 per cent) and Africa (46.1 per cent), where male migrants significantly outnumbered female migrants (United Nations Report, 2015). With women constituting almost half the number of international migrants across the globe, the term “feminisation of migration” explains the changing pattern of female migration— women migrating for work, often without family. Generally these migrating women belong either to the low skilled or the semi-skilled category; this is true for those migrating from South Asia to South East Asia or to oil rich countries as the majority migrates as domestic workers. Women are increasingly migrating on their own, to enhance economic opportunities by seeking jobs or education.

Migration can be empowering, as it is likely to change traditional norms in favour of women by improving gender equality, self-esteem, and autonomy to make decisions. It can also raise women’s worth in their families and the society by economically empowering them. On the contrary, migration might also exacerbate vulnerabilities, including abuse and trafficking, particularly when migrants are low/semi-skilled or irregular. Therefore, understanding the intricacies of gender and migration can result in better programs and policies to be formulated in order to enhance the benefits and decrease the costs for female migrants.

Migration patterns and narratives of women are complex, as multiple factors at both the sending and receiving countries intervene in and impact upon how females respond to opportunities or vulnerabilities in the process. The change in the pattern of female migration in recent times, calls for gender-sensitive policies. Although the link between migration and development is well known, an in depth gender analysis of the migration cycle is what is needed. Hence governments, NGOs, academia and all relevant stakeholders should work in cooperation to make sure better policies are drafted. For this understanding to come about, reliable and accurate data is urgently needed. Female migration is a great opportunity, if tapped suitably, for developing countries like Pakistan as it will not only help improve the status of women in the society but is likely to bring home economic prosperity.