New lives, new freedoms – how labour migration empowers Nepali women

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Neha Choudhary, ILO Kathmandu
National project coordinator,
ILO Integrated programme on Fair Recruitment (FAIR)

When I first met Ram Kumari Chaudhary, she was an extremely shy, but solemn, 19-year-old. She told me she wanted to go to work in Jordan to support her parents, adding that there were few opportunities to find a decent job in Nepal. Soon afterwards, in 2017, I learned that she had found a job in Jordan’s booming garment industry, earning, on average, around US$350 a month. Every three or four months she faithfully sent back about three-quarters of her salary to her parents in Nepal.

After about 18 months, her father’s poor health forced her to resign and return home. She brought with her a refund of her social security contributions worth about US$500, as well as some other savings. Her employer in Jordan also gave her a free airfare home as a welfare gesture. When we met again she had metamorphosed into a confident young lady, emboldened by her worldly experience and proud of her achievements. “I was able to make a support building a small home for my parents in the village,” she told me. “I have been supporting my father’s treatment. I brought back a flat screen TV when I came back. I have a modest saving if I want to do something. And, I have already been offered a job in a factory here. Given my international experience, the salary package is also good. Had I stayed in Nepal, I would not have earned that much.”

Chaudhary’s household is one of the 57 per cent in Nepal receiving remittances from migrant workers. So important are these financial flows to the Nepali economy that they are equivalent to 26 per cent of the country’s GDP. And, they are growing. In the financial year 2018/19 alone the country received migrants’ remittances of NPR 879.26 billion (US$ 7.76 billion), up from NPR 231.72 billion (US$ 2.05 billion) in the fiscal year 2009/10[1].

25-year-old Maya Chepang Praja, from Chitwan, south-west of the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, opted to work abroad to support the upbringing of her son, then aged three, after her husband abandoned them. Despite very little education, in Jordan she earned an average of USD275 per month – more than double the USD130 she was paid working at a factory in Nepal – and she was able to save most of this to send back to Nepal for her son.

Unfortunately, she was forced to return to Nepal after less than nine months of working in Jordan when her son, who was being cared for by his grandmother, had his leg crushed in an accident. “If the accident didn’t occur and if I had stayed back [in Jordan], I would have earned enough to give my son a good life, a good education. However, whatever I earned in the nine months helped me at least get his leg back. I will always be grateful for that,” she told me. She is now looking for another job abroad.

The importance of migration and remittances will continue to grow in Nepal, because approximately 500,000 individuals are entering the labour market annually but only one in 10 are finding jobs. In these circumstances, it seems close to impossible to lead a quality life, with access to health, education and decent housing, without going for foreign employment. Furthermore, as these young women’s stories show, opportunities to work overseas in decent jobs have also made an important contribution to the empowerment of Nepali women in a broader sense of the term. This is seldom taken into consideration in larger studies on the socio-political impact of remittances and foreign employment.

[1] Figures from Nepal Rastra Bank, 2019

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