Empowered or Engulfed: A Study on the Impact of Migration on the Gulf Wives of Kerala

Author Name

Dr. Divya Balan

Author Address

Assistant Professor Dept. of Social Sciences FLAME University Pune, Maharashtra [email protected]


Emigration, Gulf Wives, Gulf Syndrome, Empowerment, Psychological Trauma


Much has been researched and documented on the political economy of Gulf Migration and the impact of remittances upon the sending societies. However, less seriously explored are the impact of migration upon the family members of the emigrants who are left behind. This study intends to look upon the socio-economic and psychological experiences of the ‘Gulf Wives’ of Kerala, the southernmost state of India.Gulf wives are a term used to describe married women in Kerala households whose husbands work/live in Gulf countries. Kerala Migration Survey 2011 conducted by the Centre for Development Studies shows that emigration to the Gulf region from Kerala stood at 2.28 million in 2011 and there were an estimated 1.1 million Gulf Wives in the state, running the family and bringing up the children with or without the help of their extended family.The majority of the existing studies on the area maintain that male migration widens women’s agency in decision making and managing the family and finances in the absence of a paterfamilias/male head of a family and thereby empower them substantially. However, this study problematizes this finding and attempts to identify the ‘weaknesses’ the Gulf Wives experience socially and psychologically. This study is an exploration of what life is like as a Gulf Wife of Kerala.It is as well an attempt to identify the reasons that makes the wives stay behind andspend long years separated from their husbands working in Gulf countries.The study intends to map the social pressure upon the Gulf wives, the loneliness they suffer, effects of adolescent child birth, pressure of child rearing, sexual morosenessand the resultant psychological traumadespite whatever economic/social empowerment they have attained. This study underlines that the experiences of Gulf Wives are subjective and variations can be identified regionally, communally as well as social class. ‘Gulf Syndrome’, as it is called, is multidimensional and hence it has to be studied from an integrated approach which is the methodology of this study.


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