In the Shadow of the State: Recruitment and Migration of South Indian Women as Domestic Workers to the Middle East

This background paper describes and analyses the drivers, pathways and experiences of migrant women from South India as domestic workers in Gulf countries. It is based on primary and secondary research.

The Middle East has been the site of some of the worst human and labour rights violations against migrant domestic workers. India is one of the major origin countries of migrant women domestic workers (MWDWs) to the Middle East but there is little research on this theme, especially with a focus on the source contexts in the country. This paper provides an analytical description of recruitment and migration of women as domestic workers from some of the key sending regions in Andhra Pradesh (henceforth AP) and Kerala, south Indian states with a history of women’s migration to the Middle East going back to the mid-twentieth century. A prominent feature of migration of women domestic workers from India is its spatial clustering even within South India to specific regions that have long-standing and rich connections with the Middle East.

The major part of the research for this paper was conducted through fieldwork in the districts of East Godavari and YSR Kadapa (henceforth Kadapa) in AP and Thiruvananthapuram (henceforth Trivandrum) and Malappuram in Kerala, known to have spatial concentrations of women migrants. The paper draws on a sample survey of migrant domestic workers conducted in these districts in 2013 comprising workers who had returned in 2008 or later, irrespective of when they had migrated. The survey covered a wide spectrum of workers in terms of the temporal depth of migration. In 2013–14, interviews were conducted with migrant domestic workers and other stakeholders including family members of migrant workers, migration intermediaries (interchangeably referred to as brokers or agents), government officials concerned with international migration, as well as migrant rights activists and representatives of organizations that organize domestic workers.