Gender and Migration: Negotiating Rights - A Women’s Movement Perspective


This research aims to document women's migration in India amid reports from activists of great increases in labour migration from the 1990s onwards, along with new and more vulnerable forms of the process.
The study used two sets of questionnaires, one for collecting household details and characteristics, and one for collecting information on individual experiences. Two categories of sites were also taken for the survey – ‘village sites' and a range of 'sector sites'.
Over a period of 24 months starting from January 2009, surveys were conducted across 20 states covering 5007 individual migrants and 5558 households.
Sector based surveys that covered women migrant workers were conducted in rural and urban areas of 20 states. This report presents the key findings of the surveys.    


  1. In 2007-08, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) noted that women formed more than 80 per cent of all migrants nationwide (72 per cent in 1993).

  2. While the overall migration rate of women in rural India was 47.7 per cent in 2007-08 (40.1 per cent in 1993), their marriage migration rate almost doubled from 24.7 per cent in 1993 to 43.5 per cent in 2007-08. 

  3. The Census of 1991 as well as 2001 show that the decadal growth rate of ‘currently married women’ (21.9 per cent) exceeded the growth rate of the general population (21.5 per cent). 

  4. The share of rural women migrating for work dropped from more than half in 1993 to less than a quarter of an already shrinking segment of people in rural India who migrated for work in 2007-08. 

  5. The proportion of women migrating for employment (rural and urban) dropped to 1.2 per cent in 2007-08 (1.9 per cent in 1993). Whereas the proportion of men in urban areas migrating for work increased from 9.9 per cent in 1993 to 14.4 per cent in 2007-08. 

  6. Within an already small share of women in paid work in rural India, the number of self-employed workers with an income fell to 16.7 million in 2007-08 (18.9 million in 2004-05), and female casual labour rose to 42.6 million (38.6 million in 2004-05). Regular salaried employment remained insignificant.

  7. Agriculture (14 per cent of the GDP) employs 47 per cent of the male and 69 per cent of the female workforce. The service sector (58 per cent of GDP) employs around 29 per cent of the male and just about 15 per cent of the female workforce. Industry (28 per cent of GDP) employs 24 per cent of the male and 16 per cent of the female workforce.

  8. Agriculture was the main sector that received rural women labourers (33.4 per cent). But the number of women workers decreased from about 94.2 million in 1993-94 to about 87.6 million in 2009-10. The rural female work participation rates in the post-liberalisation decades dropped from 32.8 per cent in 1993-94, to 26.1 per cent in 2009-10. 

  9. According to the Employment & Unemployment Survey of the Ministry of Labour that was done in tandem with the NSSO’s migration survey of 2007-08, some 13.3 million women (from 2004-05 to 2007-08) had been expelled from the workforce – of these, 1.8 million were from the paid workforce. 

  10. Among upper caste women workers, 75 per cent were concentrated in long term and medium term migration. Whereas 59 per cent of women workers from Schedule Tribes and 41 per cent from Scheduled Castes were engaged in short term and circulatory migration, at lower-end employment including casual labour in agriculture, construction and brick making. 

  11. According to a questionnaire that covered 5007 migrant workers (3,073 women and 1,934 men), four occupations/sectors – agriculture (17.5 per cent), paid domestic work (15.9 per cent), brick making (11.8 per cent), and construction (14.3 per cent) – together formed around 60 per cent of the surveyed migrant women workers. 

  12. The daily wages of 13 per cent of women in rural migration destinations were less than Rs. 100, while only 3 per cent of male daily wage workers earned less than this amount. About one-third of rural women migrants (and a quarter of urban women migrants) were unaware of minimum wage rights. Only 32 per cent earned minimum wages, while 51 per cent of rural male migrants earned the same. 

    Factoids and Focus compiled by Tanuj Raut.


Indu Agnihotri
Indrani Mazumdar
Neetha N


Centre for Women's Development Studies, New Delhi


03 Mar, 2012