Socio-Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Women Migrant Workers: Evidence from 12 Indian States


This report, published in June 2021, is written by Basudeb Guha-Khasnobis and Suvir Chandna of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India. The report studies the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women migrant workers in India. It emphasises the importance of designing social protection measures for them in four areas: “…food security, cash assistance, government health insurance and protection against domestic violence.”

The report contains the findings of a survey of 10,161 women migrant workers – with an average age of 31 years – from 12 states in India, which are Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

According to Census 2011, these states reported high levels of out-migration and constituted about 68 per cent of the total population of India. The survey was conducted in December 2020 by 10 organisations appointed by UNDP India, through phone and in-person interviews at workplaces and quarantine centres.


  1. Based on the World Bank’s gross domestic product database of 2020, the report states that India’s economy comprises of a labour force of about 518 million workers. The Economic Survey of India 2016-17 published by the Ministry of Finance states that domestic migrant workers constitute approximately 20 per cent of India’s total labour force, playing an integral role in the growth of the country.

  2. As of December 2020, about 40 per cent of respondents in the survey sample were dismissed from their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  3. About 20 per cent of respondents left their jobs voluntarily. The report says that women migrant workers may have had to leave jobs voluntarily to either move back to their native places with family members during the nationwide lockdown, or because they were unable to cope with the disproportionate burden of increased unpaid domestic labour within their households.

  4. The report states that around 60 per cent of respondents noted an increase in unpaid care work since the lockdown began in India in March 2020. Out of these, 45 per cent reported no corresponding increase in men’s share of household work.

  5. The report studies the change in the employment patterns of women migrant workers between February-December 2020. Around 20 per cent of respondents with salaried jobs as of February 2020 were forced to take up casual work with lesser pay or were unemployed during the lockdown. About 10 per cent of respondents who did casual work in February were unemployed by December 2020.

  6. About 26 per cent of respondents reported that their households were in debt in February as well as December 2020. However, around 7.7 per cent said that they were not in debt in February, but were by December 2020. The households resorted to taking new loans, using savings and selling assets for repayment.

  7. About 30 per cent of those surveyed reported not owning a ration card; 10 per cent reported not having used the ration card during the lockdown primarily due to administrative hurdles. Despite owning ration cards, many could not access subsidised items like food grains distributed through the public distribution system (PDS).

  8. The report says that interstate migrants faced more administrative hurdles in accessing PDS than others. This was primarily because migrants cannot use a ration card registered in their native state to receive benefits in their destination state.

  9. Schemes like the government of India’s Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana and Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme provide free health insurance to those identified as coming from ‘deprived rural families’ and urban workers. The report studied the coverage of such schemes among survey respondents whose households earned less than Rs. 10,000 a month in February 2020. Roughly 40 per cent of these women migrant workers reported that they were not covered under any government health insurance scheme, 30 per cent said they were covered under such schemes and the remaining did not know if they were.

  10. The report states that a 10th of the respondents said that they faced domestic violence during the month of February 2020. About 20 per cent of respondents refused to answers this question.

  11. Out of the 10,161 respondents, 7,242 women said they did not face domestic violence before the lockdown. Out of these, 178 women revealed that they did experience it after the lockdown was announced.

  12. The report suggests that the government design integrated social protection systems with “preventive, promotive, protective, and transformational measures” which can respond promptly to crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic, to provide consistent and robust support to migrant women workers.

    Facts and Factoids by Shafia Shaan.


Basudeb Guha-Khasnobis and Suvir Chandna


United Nations Development Programme


Jun, 2021