In the Absence of Their Men

Author:   Leela Gulati
Publisher:   Trivandrum: Centre for Development Studie
Reviewer:   Rekha J

Leela Gulati (1993) In the Absence of Their Men: The Impact of Male Migration on Women, Trivandrum: Centre for Development Studies. ISBN: 978083991286. 176 pages


The book ‘In the absence of their men: The impact of male migration on women’ was written by Leela Gulati, born in Mysore, India. She began her teaching career at Maharaj Sayajirao University. Later she moved to Trivandrum and worked with the Centre for Development Studies. In recent years she has been working on the female dimension of aging and widowhood. This book comprises five chapters. The book focuses on the women of migrant households of Kerala. The author chose two neighboring villages in Trivandrum, Kerala, where migration to West Asia largely prevails. The study is based on the biographies of the wives of ten migrants from the villages of Alakad and Bhimapally of Trivandrum district in Kerala. The author tried to examine the various health, psychological, financial, and family issues that arise when the men from the family leave the house. The author has attempted to use case studies as a research methodology for conducting her research and later to publish a book. She attempts to articulate how women whether it is the migrant’s mother or wife gets affected by the migration of their son or husband. Thus, the book covers the narration of the effects of women, who are often left behind on account of the absence of men, who went to work in the Middle East nations like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait.

In Chapter 1, the author tried to introduce readers to how she came into the research of these women, what all factors led to this, and how those case studies molded into a book. Chapter 2 describes the region to which these migrants belong. Chapter 3 explains ten autobiographies of women from migrant households which is the substance of the book. This chapter deals with the core ideas of the study she conducted throughout her research. Readers can see that this chapter covers almost half of the book and outlines how the migration of one or more male members affects household activities. Chapter 4 deals with the observations and findings that the researcher has made from her study. Chapter 5 is a short observation of the all findings.

The households she selected during the studies were middle-low-income groups. When the author and her husband’s family moved to Trivandrum because of her husband’s work, the author got interested in the lives of women who used to sell fish and were also working on construction sites. Through her visit to their homes, she realized something is lacking in the earlier studies conducted by various economists including her husband. So, Gulati decided to conduct a study and write a book about the effect of migration. Each woman described their life and how they cope with various situations. They belong to low-income families and many of them are illiterate too but it does not make them any lesser. They gained working knowledge in many fields and even started small businesses of their own and through that, they were occupied by themselves.  Some of them wrote letters to their migrant husbands, paid loans, operated bank accounts and broadened their vision on financial matters, raised their children, and even looked after their family and managed household chores. Women in those migrant households also became very anxious about the education of their children. They gained these abilities and knowledge through money sent back by their son or husband. Women in migrant households having new and additional responsibilities become more mobile than others in the region. Thus, most of them become learned to manage things on their own by becoming self-reliant and decisive. The general awareness of developments around the world enhanced a lot when compared to other non-migrant households.  They also seem to be able to produce a much greater result on the decisions taken by husbands than before because of the regular communication with them through letters.

Leela Gulati reached the conclusion that had impacted those migrant households on a larger scale, including the impact of migration that happens even before a migrants’ journey overseas for a job. Also, the decision-making process is vested in the hands of women of the migrant household and has a crucial influence on migration. The impact on the family is a dynamic process because the degree of change in the women left behind depends on the length of the migrant’s stay abroad. When we are analyzing the successes, there are only fewer failures. The author has an overall impression that women from migrant households start from failures but they overcome these with considerable support not only from close family members but also from relatives, close friends, and neighbors. Their network with those will increase to do various activities and needs of their home because of the absence of the migrant of the family. From the author’s observation, it is noticeable that women become able to cope with the situations or matters like running households, managing funds, and so on. Thus, it has been observed in the book that male migration has resulted in a large amount of women empowerment in certain areas of Trivandrum.  

Overall, this book is a simple read, making it more available in the literature. This will be useful for those who are involved in migration studies, women studies, and sociology. Most of her works mainly focus on the issues of women, work, and poverty, and are also known for using case studies as a research methodology. Through this book, Leela Gulati has put her suggestions for further studies in the field of migration, particularly to the West Asian region. Though the book is based on in-depth case study, the number of cases studies are still very less. The book provides very deep insights in to the family of the migrants and has many policy suggestions toward dealing with socio-psychological and economic aspects of the many states currently experiencing international migration. The book is beneficial for students and scholars who are interested in learning more about women’s mobility and the issues associated with it.


Book Review by Rekha J

Rekha J is currently pursuing my masters in International Relations and Politics from School of International Relations and Politics. I am an active social worker. Currently working as a Content Curator in The International Prism. Also volunteering in Sex Education Kerala (SEK) Foundation.

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