TOPICS: Women’s empowerment

In the past two decades, international labour migration from Nepal has been rising due to lack of employment opportunities, low earnings from farming and the dismal economic and political environment at home.

Estimates by Migration Yearbook 2010 show that one out of every 11 Nepali adults is in foreign employment and more than 90 per cent of these migrants are men. With the surge in male migration, women’s roles and responsibilities in the domestic and socio-economic spheres have changed.

Women are increasingly taking up the role of household heads, financial managers and single parents, in a society that has historically suppressed their freedom.

An in-depth analysis of the changes in women’s experiences, based on insights from interviews with migrant wives and econometric research using data from Nepal Living Standard Survey-III (2010/11) and Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2011, reveals that though women gain opportunities for increased freedom and greater access to economic and social resources during men’s absence, these opportunities are often constrained by women’s position in the household, their education and employment background, their caste and class group, and the gendered social norms.

Women in migrant households are found to have higher domestic and subsistence farming responsibilities and lower participation in market work.

The lower participation in market work for migrant wives is partly explained by the intensification of their domestic work along with the reduced economic pressures by virtue of receiving remittances.

Women’s participation in household decision-making is found to be dependent on her position in the household. Women who take on the role of household heads are more likely to gain decision-making power, while those left under the supervision of other members may suffer from reduced decision-making ability.

In extended households, a woman’s relationship with her husband often determines the impact of his absence on her bargaining power.

A woman whose husband supported her by representing her interest in the house-hold decision-making may experience a loss in bargaining power.

However, women who did not receive much support from their husbands before their migration experience little or no change in their decision-making role as their in-laws primarily take charge of decision-making.