Tamil Nadu, India: The female face of migration

Annually, hundreds of unskilled mainly male workers, migrate to the Gulf States and Southeast Asia often ending up doing "dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs". Usually concerns about migrants relate to poor working conditions or even exploitation. But there is another face - of those that are left behind - the spouses of migrants.

Raziya* and Suneetha* are two such women. Often forgotten and left behind, they wait for their husbands' return, sometimes for years and without news. Read the story of these two women and how they cope with their lives.

Raziya 's story: "I am 35 years old and married when I was 17 years old. I hardly spent a week with my husband when he packed off to Kuwait. I wanted to live my life with him and raise children together. I miss him very much. He works there as a car mechanic. The next time I saw him was three years later. I almost forgot how he looked and sounded. I kept seeing an old picture of his taken during our marriage. He sends me only US $ 110 a month out of which I have to manage household expenses, the education of my children and repay the US $ 3000 debt to the agent.  He returned in between, but it has been more than ten years that he is working abroad.  Earlier my children missed him but now they are used to his absence. It is very hard to raise children alone. I am lonely, have little money and have nobody to share my thoughts with. Every time I talk to a man, the people in my community think I am a loose woman. Some have secretly complained to him that I am seeing other men. Nobody cares that a woman too can suffer and feel tormented that her husband can find another woman to keep him company. Life goes on and I don't know if he will ever come back for good. But I hope he will someday."

Unlike Raziya, Suneetha is recently married and reveals the other side of the story - the problems she faces when her husband returns.

Suneetha's story: "I am 32 years old and married three years ago. My husband works in Dubai, welding and fitting steel pipes in an oil company.  He calls me once in a week and sends me US $ 200 a month.  I am part of the women self help group (SHG) made of spouses of migrants and outreach workers that regularly meets once a month to discuss about our problems. It is in these meetings that I learnt about HIV and AIDS and how migrants can be vulnerable to this disease when working abroad and unknowingly pass it on to their spouses.  When my husband returns after every six months, sex is first on the agenda. He may have been with other women and I did not want to take the risk so I insisted that he visit the voluntary counseling and testing centre (VCTC). At first he was angry that I doubted him and he felt cheated. He started to doubt that I was unfaithful to him. He was also unhappy that I was making decisions and talking about things that women should not be concerned about. I was worried that he would abandon me for another more docile woman. But I persisted and after much negotiation, we finally went to the VCTC. Now he is aware of HIV and how dangerous it is and we take measures to stay safe. We go there together almost every time he is back."

Today both, Raziya and Suneetha participate regularly in the meetings. While Suneetha plans to have a baby and convince her husband to return, Raziya has become an outreach worker to give hope and courage to many like her.

UNODC with Arunodhaya Mirgrants Initiative, a India based non governmental organization, supports community initiatives to address irregular migration in India under the UNODC project " building the capacity and expanding anti-trafficking networks for improved support to victims of trafficking". The initiative on prevention of smuggling of migrants is possible thanks to the contribution of the British High Commission in India.

* Name changed