Gulf Gatekeepers: Gendered Im/Mobility in the Recruitment and Regulation of Indian Women Migrants

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Jolin JOSEPH, York University, Canada
Migration to the Gulf presents an important avenue of employment for Indian women (Thimothy and Sasikumar, 2012). However, women’s migration from the state is heavily restricted through age- and gender-based controls and regulated recruitment processes. Legislative guidelines under the Emigration Act (1983) prohibit the operation of informal intermediaries within the Indian migration regime. An August 2016 ordinance (MOE, 2016) stipulates that emigration of low- and semi-skilled women workers is to be channeled solely through six state-run recruitment agencies. In practice, the migration of women from India depends largely on local recruitment relationships with nebulous networks of unregulated sub-agents and social actors (Rajan, Varghese, and Jayakumar, 2010).

The expansion of temporary migration and consumption of gendered reproductive labour, has created a profitable niche for migration mediators to engage in exploitative labour brokerage. In an attempt to protect women from exploitation, the Indian state prohibits the emigration of women under thirty years and designates Emigration Clearance Required/Not Required (ECR/ECNR) status. Such interventions point to a paternalistic, patriarchal state-structuring of migration; one that pushes women to seek informal and precarious pathways that exacerbate the risks associated with migration. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews with migrants and civil society organizations in key migrant-sending states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, this paper will analyze the implications of and gender ideologies underpinning policies that aim to reduce vulnerability through restricting recruitment and migration. Rooted in ethnographic analysis among return migrants and emigrant households, the paper explores the social organization of domestic work recruitment and interlocking macro-institutional processes that influence transnational migration of women from India. I map the social networks and institutional actors that organize these labour flows and chart how bringing in local actors and return migrants into the formal migration apparatus can help mitigate risk and uncertainty in the process.