Social Perception, Media Representation, and the Policies of Female Labor Migration in Nepal
Using Foucault’s conception of discourse (as “ensemble of rules” producing “truths” or “effects of truths”) as a theoretical framework, this paper explores the dominant discourse on female labor migration in the larger Nepalese society and its impact on women workers. Using data from interviews and newspaper archive, the paper specifically examines how women’s migration for work is perceived in the Nepalese society, how it is represented in the media, and how they jointly influence the policies of female labor migration in Nepal. Female migrant workers are generally perceived and represented in the media as “cheli” – daughters and sisters – who lack the ability to think and act independently. Independent female migration is discouraged due not only to the possibility of exploitation and abuses abroad, but also out of concern for the sexual “impurity” of female workers travelling to a foreign land. As women are considered the “daughters” of the nation, their sexual engagement abroad – with or without their consent – is also associated with national “dishonor.” The infantile view of women, along with the urge for “purity,” has contributed to perpetuate the discourse of female workers as the victims of trafficking. The portrayal of female migrant workers as “minor” and “victims,” rather than as citizens with rights, justifies the “protective” policies of the state, i.e. imposing travel bans on female migration, which in turn forces female workers to take the help of unauthorized channels for migration, making them even more vulnerable to abuses and exploitations.