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A Blurred Mapping of Internal Female Migration


Internal migration holds significant importance as a vital aspect of physical and social movement in India. The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) has reported a migration rate of 27% from June 2020 to 2021. It is noteworthy that women, particularly those of working age, constitute a considerable portion of this migrant population. Despite this, there is a lack of substantial discourse surrounding the experiences of female migrants.



  • Issues Related to Women
  • Role of Women

GS- 3

  • Liberalization
  • Growth & Development

Mains Question:

Women, especially of working age, comprise a greater share of India’s migrant pool but there is little dialogue and flawed data on this important issue. Analyse. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Understanding Women Migration:

Surveys on Women MigrationNational surveys, although informative, may present an inaccurate portrayal of female migration. For instance, the PLFS primarily asks respondents about their primary reason for migration.

According to PLFS data, the primary reasons for women’s migration are cited as marriage (81%), followed by family members’ migration (10%), employment (2.42%), and migration for educational opportunities (0.48%). Unfortunately, these surveys often do not delve into secondary reasons or motivations, such as climate shocks and food insecurity, which can significantly influence women’s migration patterns.

A significant catalyst for women’s migration is often not accurately captured by data from these surveys. According to the PLFS, about three-quarters of migrant women are reported as unemployed, around 14% are engaged in self or wage-employed positions, and approximately 12% are in casual labor.

While the PLFS data implies a considerable number of unemployed migrant women, anecdotal evidence and research suggest that many migrant women are involved in casual employment, such as agriculture, construction, and domestic help, indicating an underestimation of their presence in various sectors.

Despite the sparse formal representation of migrant women in the labor force, female migration for labor/employment witnessed a 101% increase between 2001 and 2011. Nevertheless, these women often remain invisible, encountering significant obstacles and marginalization.  
Underreporting of Employment Among Migrant Women Two primary factors contribute to the underreporting of employment among migrant women. Firstly, the reliance on definitional criteria and women’s own beliefs results in an underestimation of their employment status.

National surveys define employment based on individuals with some form of verbal or written contract with their employer, leading to the classification of many women as unemployed. However, what often goes unnoticed is that women tend to opt for types of employment that allow them to manage their domestic responsibilities while still contributing to the household’s production or finances.

As a result, engaging in unpaid family work, participating in household enterprises, or being self-employed is a common choice among them, as highlighted by S. Rukmini (2023).

However, they may perceive these roles as extensions of their domestic commitments rather than distinct forms of employment, leading to misreporting of their employment status. Despite these considerations, if gaining entry into the formal labor force is indeed challenging, a key factor limiting their participation could be the necessity for greater human and social capital.  
Education Levels of WomenAccording to PLFS data, 85% of women have less than 10 years of education, posing potential challenges. While there is no substantial difference in the educational levels between migrant and non-migrant women, migrant women are comparatively less employed than their non-migrant counterparts.

When coupled with the absence of robust social networks, particularly following migration, these factors can significantly impede their chances of securing employment. These obstacles could also account for the disappointing resurgence in women’s labor participation after the pandemic.  

Way Forward:

  • National surveys need to gather more comprehensive information about the socioeconomic conditions of migrant women post-migration, as there is limited knowledge in this area.
  • For example, the PLFS indicates that only a small percentage (around 7%) of migrant women have access to social security benefits, with no available data for the remaining population.
  • Moreover, there is a lack of time-use data for migrants, which could significantly enhance understanding of unemployed female migrants.


On a broader scale, there is a need for a change in the narrative, beginning with an increased collection of female-specific data. This approach will shed light on the largely anecdotal issue, raising awareness about the challenges faced by these women and encouraging the development of progressive policies.

February 2024