What impact do remittances from women migrant workers have on poverty reduction in Nepal? This article finds that remittances play an important role in poverty reduction but that female migration can also involve significant human costs. It argues that the Nepali state and international development agencies should pay greater attention to the issue of women’s migration and its links to trade and development. Private companies and governments should work to improve women’s access to financial services.
A growing number of economic migrants are female. Female migrants currently constitute more than half of all migrants worldwide. In Nepal since the 1990s, a growing number of women have been travelling overseas to find work, driven largely by a need to ease poverty at home. These migrants are overwhelmingly employed as domestic servants, mostly in the Middle East. Much of this work is informal and is often not picked up by official data. Very few studies have analysed the impact of these remittances on poverty reduction.
This article investigates the financial and human aspects of migration and examines women migrant workers’ perceptions and preferences of national policy. The study was conducted in two remittance-based towns in eastern and western development regions of Nepal. Remittances contribute significantly to poverty reduction. Migrants’ responses indicate that remittances have a significant impact on households’ basic needs including education, food, housing, and health, as well as allowing their families to spend more on social and religious functions. However, migration can also involve human costs, such as:
- Gender discrimination at all levels of the migration process, violence against women, and violation of women’s labour rights.
- Long absences by mothers that can weaken mother-child relationships.
- Extra burdens of household work and/or childcare for daughters and younger sisters remaining at home, hampering their schooling.
The Nepali state needs to recognise the contribution by women migrant workers to poverty reduction and acknowledge them as agents in achieving the MDGs. Further:
- Gender mainstreaming in the trade, migration and development discourse is needed, both nationally and internationally.
- The international development community needs to recognise that international trade of women’s labour is a more effective and direct way of reducing poverty than international development aid.
- National labour policy on foreign employment needs to address the issues of gender equality and women’s rights by revising labour laws and lifting the ban on migrant women workers.
- The State needs to take affirmative action in empowering migrant women workers by providing them with information, skills and language training, and financial assistance.
- Private companies should consider female migrant workers as worthy clients and devise financial products that are suitable for them, to reduce the risk of exploitation.