Empowering women left behind

Empowering women left behind - The experience of the Safer Migration Project (SaMi) in in Nepal

​​« back to dossier

« back to news​le​tter

December 2020

By Pascal Fendrich, Project Advisor, SaMi and and Roni Pradhan Dhaubhadel, Coordinator, SaMi​

The Safer Migration project (SaMi) is a bilateral initiative of the Governments of Switzerland and Nepal implemented with the technical support of Helvetas

Labour migration is an important livelihood strategy for many Nepali households. Over the past twelve years, the Department of Foreign Employment has issued over 4 million labour approvals for aspiring Nepali migrant workers. In 2018/19 a total of 236,208 p​ersons (8.5% women) officially left for foreign employment, most of them to the Gulf countries and Malaysia. In Nepal, labour migration remains predominantly a “men-phenomenon" and is also often seen as a matter of social prestige for men. Official figures show that around 18'000 to 22'000 women leave for foreign employment on an annual basis (i.e. 5-10% of the total annual labour approvals)[1]. In addition, many women migrate through informal channels, either through the open border with India or using tourist visas, in order to circumvent restrictive policies on women migration, however precise numbers are lacking.

Despite its potential benefits, foreign employment remains risky. False promises, high recruitment fees, abuse and exploitation are common. At the same time, the social costs of migration are high. A 2019 study conducted by SDC on the social costs of migration looked into the numerous myths around migrants' wives[2]. While the study confirmed that they are more prone to become victims of sexual harassment, suspected of extramarital affairs and blamed for misusing remittances, it found little evidence of such behaviours. Preconceived ideas about wives of migrants nevertheless remain and translate into discriminatory social behaviours, social control, reducing the women's self-confidence.

Women migrant workers also face prejudices and social stigma and are considered as “bad women". They are blamed for abandoning their family and their departure for an economic activity challenges traditional gender roles. The nature of their job abroad – with many employed as domestic workers – exposes them to higher risks of sexual and physical abuses. This further strengthens a negative public perception on women returnee migrants.

The Safer Migration project (SaMi) is a bilateral initiative of the Governments of Switzerland and Nepal, implemented with the technical support of Helvetas. Launched in 2011, the project supports the Nepali government to better manage foreign employment with the objective of enhancing the protection of migrants and maximizing the economic and social benefits of migration. The project addresses the vulnerabilities of women migrants along the migration cycle and offers pre-departure information, legal aid as well as pre-departure skills training in more “women friendly" trades, while it also works with women left behind.


Psychosocial counselling for women left behind

To counter the psychological and social stress experienced by migrants' households, SaMi has initiated psychosocial support to individual and families at village-level. Between November 2013 and July 2020, the SaMi project conducted group counselling with 11'849 women and provided individual psychosocial counselling to 3'736 persons (87% women). A variety of factors might trigger psychosocial problems in the context of labour migration, such as domestic violence, social blame, alcoholism within the household, debts but also death or loss of contact with the migrant in the destination country. The severity of stress experienced by the woman might range from anxiety (65%) to severe depression (18%) and includes suicidal attempts (6%).  

Psychosocial counselling contributes to restoring the emotional stability of the beneficiaries. Thanks to the counselling, they are able to resume their regular household responsibilities, economic and social activities and often restore relationship with relatives. Furthermore, women who have received support show increased confidence to deal with their situation, including the social stigma attached to women left behind.

Rama[3] from the Municipality of Diktel Rupakot Majhuwagadhi (Khotang district):

While her husband was abroad, Rama was accused by the villagers of having an extramarital affair. After learning about the rum​ours, her husband stopped talking to her and sending money. She was worried, felt lonely and even thought of committing suicide as she could not bear the constant blaming. The counselling sessions helped her deal with the situation, re-establish communication with her husband and explain him that there was no truth behind the rumours.


Empowerment through financial literacy classes

From November 2014 to July 2020, 8,975 individuals (98% women) enrolled in SaMi's financial literacy program. Follow-up conducted six-month after graduation shows that 63% of the participants had increased their savings and 44% had started income generating activities. 

Financial literacy classes target remittances receiving households, with a focus on women left behind. They teach good practices to manage a household budget, promote savings, help to access financial services and start small income generating activities. The know-how acquired on financial management increases the confidence of the participants to openly discuss households' issues and take decisions while, in turn, it also strengthens their position and changes the way they are perceived by their family and the larger community. Women participants have become role models and started to spread powerful messages on the best use of remittances.

Kamala from the Municipality of Kawasoti (Nawalparasi East district):

“After attending the classes, I used the money received from my husband to buy two cows and I am making an income by selling the milk. I am planning to buy more cows to increase production and earnings. I am now saving a large share of the money sent by my husband. Earlier, I was a housewife, now I am an economic actor. The respect from my family members is different since I started earning".



Conclusions and Perspectives

Financial literacy and psychosocial counselling are complementary interventions and significantly contribute to empower women left behind who are often stigmatized and discriminated. Psychosocial counselling helps women deal with individual difficulties while also openly addressing preconceived ideas and negative public perceptions. Financial literacy allows to improve the management of the household budget and generate income and therewith contributes to change perceived gender roles, the “housewife" becoming a decision-maker and economic actor. These are important steps; it is however key to also engage men for more sustained change. As a result, the SaMi project has for instance started to sensitize the “traditional" heads of the household, so that the learning of the financial literacy classes can directly be applied within the household. At the same time, the project also addresses the negative perceptions about women as mere “victims" or “profiteers" of migration by documenting and promoting positive examples of women migrant workers or as heads of a migrant household.


Further information:  ​

​Financial Literacy

Psychosocial counselling

Other useful link:  

[1] Ministry of Labour, Employement and Social Security, Nepal Labour Migration Report 2020, available on: https://moless.gov.np/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Migration-Report-2020-English.pdf

[2] SDC, The social implications of men's migration on women and children in Sarlahi, Saptari and Danusha districts, 2019, available on: Psycho_social_ImpactofMigrationonleftbehind_EN.pdf (admin.ch)

[3] Names are changed to ensure anonymity ​