Staying behind when husbands move: women’s experiences in India and Bangladesh

Staying behind when husbands move: women’s experiences in India and Bangladesh

What happens to families when a member of the household migrates?

The study of the difficulties faced by those who stay behind when a member of their household migrates temporarily are under-researched in migration studies. The aim of this briefing is to summarise the effects of the temporary absence of migrant men on women’s livelihoods in rural West Bengal, India, and northern Bangladesh. It discusses how temporary work migration by men often increases insecurity in women and children living in poor households, by leading to food shortages, financial pressure or ill-health. In these instances, informal social protection from kin or social relations can be instrumental in reducing and overcoming insecurity and hardship for those women who stay behind.

Despite the increased risks, the temporary absence of migrant men can sometimes facilitate greater autonomy for women, allowing them to manage their own work and take decisions on household needs. The authors argue that policies should take concerted action to address various dimensions of physical, food, health and economic insecurities for women and children staying behind in poor households. In relation to this, there are a number of potential policies which development actors might pursue, including:

  • taking steps to identify the role of social resources and informal social protection mechanisms in helping families who stay behind, in order to find ways of further promoting these relationships
  • supporting food security schemes and eliminating delays in the transfer and issuing of ration cards for women and children, to avoid food shortages in poor households being exacerbated when a member of the household is away from home
  • there is a potential role for development agencies or NGOs in providing various formal social protection measures to families who have stayed behind when migrants move for temporary labour migration.
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