“We Become Capable of Handling Everything”: Gender and Gulf Migration in Kerala, South India


  • Kathryn Gerry Elon University




migration, South India, gender roles, women's empowerment


Women have a uniquely gendered experience with worker migration from Kerala, South India to the Gulf, a phenomenon which touches virtually every household in this state. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Kerala, this article examines the intersections of gender and migration; I argue that migration fuels significant social change in terms of gender expectations and the role of women as economic agents. My fieldwork reveals that women work abroad due to personal circumstances and to conform to local ideas about modernity. Migrants‘ wives also experience increased autonomy in their daily lives. These two categories of women, migrant women and the wives of male migrants, are attuned to others‘ perceptions of their roles vis-à-vis migration. Despite occasional negative feedback, women report that they are empowered by worker migration. This project builds on scholarship examining the status of women in Kerala (Eapen and Kodoth 2003), the experiences of migrant spouses (Osella 2016), and female Christian nurses‘ Gulf migration (Percot 2006). I extend this work by analyzing the personal narratives of individual women who work in the Gulf, head their own households in Kerala, and experience stigmatization because of emigration. Finally, I explored the broader implications of migration for the lifestyles and aspirations of women in Kerala.