Migrant Female Domestic Workers (MFDW) and Development: A Sri Lankan Case Study

Author: Tomohito Nojiri

Nojiri, Tomohito, 2017 Migrant Female Domestic Workers (MFDW) and Development: A Sri Lankan Case Study, Flinders University, School of History and International Relations

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Since the early 2000s, the global policy arena, constituted by governments and international development institutions, has put a positive spin on the link between migration and development. The migration-and-development link is seen to be beneficial to labour-sending countries in terms of remittances, knowledge transfer, and reinvestment of human capital. In order to maximise the benefits from labour migration, the government of Sri Lanka designed the National Labour Migration Policy in 2008. A key aspect of the Policy is to reduce the number of the female departures for domestic work. The main aim of this thesis is to unpack underlying reasons for this state initiative, employing a critical discourse analysis to examine how the state values its female citizens in relation to the labour migration and development.

The thesis first argues that the meanings of development shape key actors and beneficiaries of migration. The mainstream view of the migration-and-development link in the policy arena emphasises national economic development. From this perspective, the labour-sending states need to ensure that the quality of migrants should be high. This is because highly skilled workers are perceived to send higher remittances and less likely to damage national images. A different view comes from a social development approach, which places the experiences of migration, and migratory impacts on migrants and their families, at the centre of debates. This perspective not only highlights the agency of migrants, but also recognises that the agency is constrained by structural factors such as gender inequality, neoliberal economics and national security.

Secondly, the thesis argues that the Sri Lankan state shapes the migration-and-development context, within which female migrants make a decision to migrate. Until the early 2000s, the state promoted female migration to gain remittances. Employment opportunities overseas have, for women and their families, been a solution to the problem of poverty. However, since the 1980s, female migration has been seen to be a cost to the state. This is due to international relations issues associated with women’s vulnerability to exploitation, and abuse in the recruitment and employment process. Since the 2000s, the social costs of mother migration have also been acknowledged.

Thirdly, the thesis identifies two main responses by the state to the perceived problems of migrant female domestic workers. One is to emphasise skills development as a way to fulfil national economic development goals and protect the migrant female domestic workers. The Sri Lankan state has responded to its relatively weak labour-sending position, compared to labour-receiving countries, by empowering migrant domestic workers through capacity development. Its second response has been to tackle what it perceives as the social costs of migration and development by limiting the ability of women with young children to engage in paid domestic work overseas. In this way, the social costs are reshaped and limited through government regulations that naturalise women’s responsibility for reproductive work in private households.

Keywords: labour migration, national development, social development, migrant female domestic workers, Sri Lanka, discourse analysis, agency and structure,

Subject: International Relations thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2017
School: School of History and International Relations
Supervisor: Susanne Schech