Home Insights Migration, Gender, And Urban Inequality – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

Migration, Gender, And Urban Inequality – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

Migration, Gender, and Urban Inequality

Vibhuti Patel

Gender studies and women’s studies, as a discipline, have made efforts as a theoretical and conceptual rethinking of the linear rlationship between migraton, urbanisation and development.

Along with the study of migrant masculinities, they have shown gender differential impact of rural-urban, urban-urban and cross-country migration (Christou & Kofman, 2022). The discourse on migration has included more nuanced categories to convey complex nature of intersectional signify hierarchies that disparities in entitlements, power equations defined by subordination of migrant women and nature of migration that explains how gender based division of labour and identity formation on gendered intersectional existential realities emerge and get moulded by paid and unpaid work for care- economy as well as market economy resulting in class differentiations; and structures and systems of surplus extractions get institutionalised.

According to intersectionality theory, simultaneity and superimpositions of multiple forms of oppression, strengthen and solidify each other and compound precarity of the under privileged and under-served communities (Crenshaw, 2022). This explains why the migrant women are at the bottom of pyramid of the both formal and informal sector of the economy (Chakraborty, 2022).

In the women’s studies scholarship in India, intersectional perspective has been recognised as a gender inclusive approach that is responsive to men, boys, women, girls and transgender communities and persons with disabilities in varied socio- economic-cultural-geographical locations. As an ideological and operational approach to research, migration intersectionality brings to the fore interplay of socioeconomic and cultural setting of dislocation & relocation, disparities based on subordination-domination relationships in the labour markets, and de-skilling and access to re-skilling in the new urban eco-system. Gendered Mobilities shape migrant identity of women at the destination (Deshingkar & Akter, 2015).

Gendered Precarity in Migration

Women migrants in the urban areas are largely found working as domestic workers, construction workers, factory workers in garments, electronics industries and as petty retailers of vegetables. These were the categories in the unorganised sector where women workers had to face great miseries during the lockdown and are still facing great hardships.

Most of the women unorganised sector workers are employed in unorganised sector and reside in informal rental settlements. Even the formal public and private sectors have been employing informal-casual or daily wage or adhoc workers; most of whom happen to be migrants from the rural areas. They work as manual labourers, causal workers in the markets and industrial areas, as unskilled labourers at the construction sites, door-to-door sellers, domestic workers, beauticians, scrap collectors, waste pickers, jari and garment workers, digital platform-based services such as home-nursing. ayabai, beauticians and domestic workers (Das and Sravya, 2021).

Rapid assessments studies revealed that most of these women had not been given remuneration for the months of March, April, and May 2020. Rapid assessment studies (Nahata & Ohri, 2020) by Self Employed Women’s Association, Jagor, Indian Social Studies Trust, and Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WEIGO) showed that their employers had neither bothered nor attended their telephone calls nor called them to check about their well-being since the COVID-19 lockdown that started on March 25.

They were left with no wesources to buy food or groceries. Most of the domestic workers are not organised, their burning problems were not focussed by the media. In the pre-pandemic period, these workers had no opportunity to build their social networks or to get acclimatised with the governance system who could have facilitated their access to Wood, shelter and recovery of unpaid back-wages from their employers. As their ration cards were at their native places, they could not get ration from the public distribution system. In such dire circumstances, they were forced to desperately try to return to their native home.

Among migrant women, those who were single in the cities Waced acute hardship as they also had responsibility to financially support their families in the native place from their earnings. They were often socially excluded by the local community due to prejudice against single women in our society. Other migrant women were with their families who also worked in similarly precarious conditions. The studies have also shown the catastrophic effects of the pandemic on women street food vendors who could not get any benefits of the emergency funds provided by the union government to the vendors (SEWA, 2020).

The state needs to officially acknowledge the crucial economic contribution of the migrant population and their indispensability for the urban and rural economic development, and make human development investments for their decent dwellings and dignified life. The abject socio-economic conditions in the source states marked by absence of gainful paid work opportunities, indebtedness, famine, non- existence of state stipulated minimum wages, caste based exclusion, stigma, discrimination and violence coupled with aspiration for a dignified and violence-free life, force the lower caste and economically underserved communities to resort to distress migration from their native places.

During the pandemic, exploitation and precarity of migrant women workers intensified (Mazumdar and Neetha, 2020). Estimations of International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported existential crisis for 400 million workers in the unorganised sector in India who sank deeper into poverty due to the pandemic triggered downward spiral of the economic activities (The Economic Times, April 8, 2020).

At the same time, it was proved that the reverse- migration of millions of homeless toilers was the direct result of arbitrary, deceitful, cruel, callous and thoughtless response of majority of employers in connivance with the state. In the absence of road or rail transport, majority of migrant workers, especially elderly, children, women, persons with disabilities had to suffer multiple personal hardships and brutalities of state (police and Border Security Force officials) and non-state actors (money lenders, traffickers, goons, private vehicle owners).

As a result, some of them were bruised, famished and robbed off the minimum they carried along with them. Hundreds of women and children were found missing by their family members. From the point of view of safety and bodily integrity, even state supported free travel by Shramik Express proved to be costly women as predators were just eyeing on them to take undue advantage of their helplessness.

Had there been counselling support and emergency help desks, their trauma could have been addressed. But what was found was total chaos, insensitivity of local administration, absence of communication and coordination, at the subnational and local self-government

During those difficult months, only trade unions, self- help groups, citizens’ associations, women’s rights organisation, non-government organisations (NGOs) and local philanthropists provided social solidarity in terms of food distribution, medical support,
shelter and sponsorship and documentation needed for travel.


Prof Vibhuti Patel is a retired Professor Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

The article was first published in People’s Reporter as Urbanisation and Gender Concerns of Migrant Women on May 10, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Read more at IMPRI:

Xi Jinping’s Europe Visit Bolsters India’s Strategic Position

Israel-Gaza War: Tel Aviv to unscramble and respect the “red lines”

Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a visiting researcher at IMPRI.

Previous articleIsrael-Gaza War:Tel Aviv To Unscramble & Respect “the Red Lines”
Next articleLeadership Crisis In Iran: The Aftermath Of President Raisi’s Death – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute
IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here