Temporary labour migration of women from South Asia

Apart from the GCC countries, other destination countries for South Asian women have evolved in recent years, such as non-GCC countries in Western Asia, especially Jordan and Lebanon, and destinations in East and South-East Asia, namely Hong Kong, China; Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan Province of China. Interestingly, out of 27.35 million international women migrants in Asia, 11.32 million are in Western Asia alone (UN DESA 2009).

Detailed data on migrant stock by country of origin are difficult to obtain for the GCC member States, as these countries are reluctant to publish this information. Embassies of countries of origin often provide estimates on the stock of migrants in respective destination countries, but the information is often not disaggregated by sex.

However, some countries in South Asia publish data disaggregated by sex on annual migrant outflows based on administrative records, with Sri Lanka providing the most comprehensive information in this area. Bangladesh has only recently started to publish this information while the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), the government agency that monitors migration, does not publish sex-disaggregated data.4

The majority of women migrant workers from South Asia are from Sri Lanka, with increasing numbers from Bangladesh and Nepal. Notably, Nepal and Bangladesh recently lifted bans on women’s migration. Although official records are not available, it is also known that women from India also migrate mainly as domestic helpers or as nurses while the number of women migrating alone for work from Pakistan is considered to be very low.5

In recent years, the outflow of migrating women from Sri Lanka have been higher than the outflow of men.6 During 2005–2009, about 120,000 Sri Lankan women left the country annually every year (figure 1), with the eight main destination countries located in Western Asia. Meanwhile, for male out-migrants, the Republic of Korea, where protection levels are higher, ranks number five in terms of receiving male migrants from Sri Lanka. The majority of Sri Lankan women migrate as domestic workers, especially to Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. In fact, about 60 per cent of female migrants from Sri Lanka went to these two main destination countries in 2009 (SLBFE 2009).



4 For data on women’s migration, also see the country chapters for Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka in this report.

5 See respective country chapters in this report.

6 See chapter on Sri Lanka in this report.