Over the last three decades, there has been a large increase in the number of Nepali women migrating to the Arabian Gulf countries where most work as domestic workers. Multiple factors intersect to push women out of the country. At home, there is entrenched gender inequities, gender-based violence, caste discrimination, and lack of employment. In addition, multinational companies and the global market of commodities are impacting their lives and putting their traditional livelihoods in danger: their needs and aspirations are growing and lifestyles changing. Women’s lives in Nepal are thus under tremendous pressure. In such a situation, labour migration has become a viable alternative survival strategy for many Nepali women. Every year, tens of thousands of women from Nepal migrate to the Middle East for domestic work. However, Nepal has imposed bans and legal restrictions against women who want to go to the Middle East for work. The government’s argument is that the legal restrictions are meant just for protecting women from exploitative and abusive working conditions in the Gulf countries. However, the state’s policy has produced just the opposite effects. Most women use illegal routes and channels of migration operated by local brokers who have transnational networks. This has exposed them to greater risks of abuse and exploitation. The irony is that the state has indeed set the stage for unsafe migration conditions in the name of protecting women migrant workers.
In my doctoral research, I explore the drivers of women’s migration, the Nepali state’s restrictive migration policy, and the precarity faced by women migrants along their migratory journeys. For this, I documented the lived experiences of Nepali women migrants and interviewed civil society organizations and other stakeholders in Nepal and the Gulf countries. This research was based on about five months of ethnographic fieldwork in Nepal, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The research had three main foci. First, I explored the drivers of women’s migration from Nepal within the context of globalization. I proposed four conditions which I described as local gender oppressive systems, global forces, changing needs and aspirations of women and the open border with India. Second, I examined the Nepali state’s policy bans and restrictions on women’s migration at the nexus of patriarchy and the Nepali state’s geopolitical position. Third, I analyzed the precarity faced by Nepali women migrants. Such precarity were indeed the outcomes of the ways in which the Nepali patriarchal state and the exclusionary immigration policies and exploitative labour systems in Arabian Gulf states.
Thus, for most Nepali women migrant domestic workers in the Gulf countries, migration for work has just been like “jumping from the frying pan into the fire.” This meant that the women who migrated to escape various forms of gender-based violence and adversity of different kinds ended up becoming trapped into situations of vulnerability and disempowerment. However, for some Nepali women, especially those from the so-called dalit and janajati communities, migration indeed involved a deliberate trade-off between loss and gain: on the one hand, it entailed the risks of exploitation and abuse and on the other hand, it meant the potential for empowerment and independence from the constraints of the patriarchal family and social paradigms, infusing in women a sense of self-esteem, personal freedom and advancement. Women’s determination to migrate, despite the illiberal policy of the state and all other social and cultural boundaries and barriers, should be taken as a form of resistance. This is the power of their agency. In my research, I also deliberated on enabling the agency of women migrant domestic workers as well as on the migrant rights politics and activism that respond to the precarities confronted by Nepali women migrant domestic workers.
Hari KC is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the International Migrant Research Centre at the School of International Policy and Governance at the Balsillie of School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University. His research broadly looks at South-South labour migration (with a regional focus on South Asia), governance of international migration, and social justice. In his current research, he looks at the intersection of labour migration, food sovereignty and development through a gender lens in the Global South with a particular focus on South Asia.
In addition, he has collaborated on several research projects funded by Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), UN Women, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). In one such ongoing “Gender + Migration Hub” project, he has played a key role right from the conceptualization of the project to its development and operationalization. The project, which was launched during the 2022 UN International Migration Review Forum in New York, seeks to enhance the capacity of governments, civil society and other stakeholders in formulating and implementing gender-responsive migration policies and programs in the spirit of the principle of gender-responsiveness as stipulated in the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).
He has completed a PhD in Global Governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University. Hari holds two master’s degrees in English from the University of Waterloo (Canada) and Tribhuvan University (Nepal), and also a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from Conrad Grebel University College (Canada).
Born and raised in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal, Hari’s professional background comprises work in diverse areas, including academia, NGOs, diplomacy, and the media. In 2014, he worked as a Career Counsellor at The Working Centre, a Kitchener-based community enterprise, where he provided career advice and settlement support to newcomers to Canada.
Prior to immigrating to Canada in 2011, Hari worked for the Kathmandu-based BBC Media Action as a production team member for a television program, and used that platform to advocate for social justice, good governance, and women’s empowerment. He served at The Carter Center in Kathmandu as an elections observer during Nepal’s Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, and as a political analyst and media monitor at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu in 2007.
Hari KC on Researchgate
Hennebry, J., Piper, N., KC, H. & Williams, K. (2022). “Global Interstate Bilateral Labour Migration Agreements (BLMA) as Migration Governance Tools: An Analysis from a Gender Lens.” Theoretical Inquiries in Law, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Hennebry, J., KC, H. and Williams, K. (2021). Gender and Migration Data: A Guide for Evidence-based, Gender-responsive Migration Governance. International Organization for Migration (IOM), Geneva.
KC, H. (2019). "The New Geographies of Globalization: An Analysis of Women’s Labour Migration from Nepal to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Countries." Eds, Preet Aulakh and Philip Kelly. Mobilities of Labour and Capital in Asia. Cambridge University Press: London.
KC, H. & Hennebry, J. (2019). “Gender, labour migration governance, and the SDGs: Lessons from the case of Nepal.” Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: Global Governance Challenges, eds. Simon Dalby, Susan Horton and Rianne Mahon, with Diana Thomaz. Routledge: London.
“Global Compact on Migration: Erosion of sovereignty, panacea, or mere futile endeavor?” Setopati, Tuesday, December 18, 2018. Available at http://setopati.net/views/135884.