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Why We Need To Pay More Attention To Migration In South Asia

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There are over 150 million labor migrants around the world a significant number is from south Asia. Nearly one in every three people in India is a migrant and one in every sixth is a migrant in Pakistan and similar statistics were found in other countries of South Asia.  With the increase in urbanization, in South Asian countries, a lot of people are migrating from rural to urban areas for better livelihood and employment opportunities.

There are two sets of migrants in urban areas, one who moved from rural areas to an urban area and settle permanently, and the second set of migrants, who moved from rural areas to cities to work and then return to their native places in rural areas, they are called short term migrants or seasonal migrants. These short term or seasonal migrants are the most vulnerable and they are the ones who need policy interventions. This is a common phenomenon in all South Asian countries.

In this context, Prof. Babu P. Remesh, Professor and Dean, School of Development Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi, who along with his two colleagues recently prepared an excellent report SAAPE South Asia Migration Report, 2020’. He has presented and discussed the underline causes of migration of the poor from both within the country and regional perspective in a webinar organized by Center for Work and Welfare, IMPRI, Delhi in association with Counterview.

How Do We Approach The Migrant Question In South Asia?

Prof. Babu P Ramesh highlighted some of the key concerns of migration in the Southeast Asian region. He talked about the similarities between South Asian countries, the shared concern, and a possible solution that promotes informed and rights-based migration. Labor migration is a central phenomenon in South Asia, which needs to be understood through an inter-disciplinary approach by giving equal emphasis to economic, social, political, and psychological issues.

It cannot be studied purely through a singular discipline’s lens or approach. Migrants can be divided into two streams: One who migrates to make a living and another those who migrate for economic up-gradation. He discussed different streams of migration for the poor, who migrate to make a living within the country, and those who move outside, as internal migrants, intra-regional migrants, international migrants, refugees, and stateless people.

He highlighted how migration has shaped the South Asian region as rural distress is one of the key drivers of migration in the region. The rural area is not in a position to provide adequate employment opportunities to the increasing labor force, and the employment crisis has deepened during the recent past. Due to this, there is an effect on seasonal migration as well within these South Asian countries.

Another important issue in the region is political tensions, as per the Global Peace Index, the Southeast Asian region is the second least peaceful region in the World. Climate change is also a driving factor causing migration and rural distress. Overall, there are multi-layered drivers for migration in South Asian countries. Many of the migrants move to a particular region, where they don’t even know if they will get enough facilities or entitlements, and whether they will be treated on par with the local communities.

Women Migration And The Need For Data

He said that some of the similar shared concerns about migration in Southeast Asian countries are internal migration as a major stream of migration and intra-regional migration where countries within the region have strong migrant communities. There are similar patterns of women migration in these countries, where patriarchal norms are dictating migration decisions.

He suggested that there should be free movement for women and the governments should promote migration else it leads to undocumented migration, trafficking, and sexual abuse. Most of the migrants from South Asian countries move to GCC countries where they are ill-treated and are not given proper wages and decent working conditions and the support from the state is gradually declining and countries are emerging as a neoliberal state which is moving away from pro-poor interventions. No active state interventions are happening in promoting informed and right based migration.

Women migration is often dictated by patriarchal norms in South Asia.

There is no proper data of migrants as well. Regulatory systems are very weak in South Asian region countries. COVID-19 also brought up a lot of shared concerns about loss of jobs, health concerns, discrimination, etc. Migrants are people who cannot stay away from employment for long as they are most vulnerable and poor. So, there is a need for more solidarity. This provides an opportunity for us to think about common solutions. One is to have effective policies for the re-integration of displaced migrants and there is also a need to ensure dignity to intra-regional migrants. We need initiative promoting migrant rights by utilizing protective measures of labor laws and signing and honoring international labor conventions.

“Solidarity Needs To Play A Major Role”

He added that the government should address the migration issues at the point of origin itself. Policies like MGNREGA in India should be encouraged and promoted in South Asian countries to stop the seasonal or circular migrants. There is a need for institutional support such as microcredit but such assistances are being withdrawn and this is where solidarity needs to play a major role. Such solidarity increases and develops during the crisis only.

Most of the South Asian countries are very much similar to each other in terms of  Xenophobia, gender issues, etc. We need to look at ways to solve these problems together with proper policies and government support. Prof Babu highlighted, there should be solidarity in line with SAARC  in South Asia, which is a bank of labor power, and this can help these countries to bargain effectively.

Prof. R.B. Bhagat elaborated that India has a huge agrarian crisis along with social and cultural conflict and climate change, which are inter-related factors, and academically it is challenging to segregate their effect. The agriculture crisis can be seen from its contribution, which is contributing only 14% to India’s GDP but employing about 45% of the workforce.

He raised questions like how to double the per capita income and if agriculture production is doubled do we even have the market for its consumption. He added that we need proper reforms as existing ones are lacking to provide the needed push to rural agriculture and employment. More production cannot guarantee a higher income to the farmers. People in rural areas need non-farm jobs, which are not available enough at present.

There is a need for pro-migration policies that view migration as a livelihood choice.

Policies And A Humanitarian Approach

Like in India, we have a large number of potential migrants, and looking at the wide wage differences a lot of people from relatively underdeveloped regions such as Bihar would like to move to developed regions such as Kerala. He also pointed out that there are a lot of issues and there are illegalities created through our mechanism of administration and laws for migrants.

He added that by one stroke of law people become illegal in the destination places. These problems should be tackled with a humanitarian approach. South Asian countries are both destinations and origins of migrant workers. There should be more positive integration with development within the framework of sustainable development. COVID-19 is being called the great equalizer, and it will bridge the gap between the rich and poor which is not the case earlier.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, only the governments are coming up with policies and ways to help people equally across the economic classes and social groups. He also pointed out that recently a strong wave of female migrants has been observed from Kerala and Sri Lanka and it came to light that although remittances decline in the COVID-19 time there has been no change in the remittances sent by the women. We need pro-migration policies and it should be looked at as it is a choice of livelihood for millions of people in the South Asian countries.

We acknowledge Tanya Agrawal for assisting in making this event report.

By Dr Arjun Kumar and Ritika Gupta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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