The South Asia Work in Freedom Transnational Evaluation (SWiFT) is a five-year programme of research and evaluation funded by the UK Department of International Development (DFID/UKAID). SWiFT assesses and informs the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) DFID-funded “Work in Freedom” (WiF) multi-country intervention to minimise women’s vulnerability to labour trafficking in South Asia and the Middle East.

Researchers from the Gender, Violence and Health Centre (GVHC) of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) are leading this research and evaluation of WIF activities in collaboration with specialist research institutes in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

SWiFT is timely and unique, applying a mixed methods programme of research to follow a large-scale, multi-country trafficking intervention from conception to implementation. Evidence from this work provides a rigorous assessment of the WiF programme logic, assumptions and activities.

Findings are designed to:

  • inform policy and practice
  • provide insights into the magnitude and characteristics of labour trafficking in the study sites
  • identify promising approaches to reduce workers’ vulnerability

Download the SWiFT Evaluation Overview.
Download the SWiFT Evaluation Research Summary.

Work in Freedom (WiF) project

The Work in Freedom (WiF) project is designed and led by the ILO, working in partnership with locally based organisations. WiF’s empowerment and information strategies aim to prevent labour trafficking by enhancing women’s autonomy and by generating wider awareness and adoption of ‘safe migration’ practices and assertion of migrant workers’ rights.

WiF components include:

• intensive community-based interventions in key migrant ‘source’ areas
• collective organisation of migrant women workers in key migrant-destinations
• awareness-raising targeted at judges, lawyers and police
• promotion of ILO-approved standards and practices for recruitment agencies
• advocacy for high level policy change

SWiFT evaluates the first of these components, in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. In these countries, the project works with local organisations:

• Bangladesh: Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP)
• India: The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Aaina
• Nepal: Agroforestry, Basic health and Cooperative Nepal (ABC Nepal); People Forum for Human Rights; Women’s Rehabilitation Center (WOREC)





Intervention context

The proportion of women migrant workers has grown rapidly. In 2002, women accounted for just 0.5% of Bangladeshi international migrants; by 2014, that figure was 17.9% (76,007 women migrant workers).

This ‘feminization’ of Bangladeshi international migration has generated interest in the gender dimensions of labour migration and vulnerability to trafficking. Assumptions that women’s mobility necessarily entails coercion have given way to more nuanced analyses of women’s labour migration.

In Bangladesh, the WiF programme frames women’s labour mobility as a right rather than a compulsion, and trafficking as a risk rather than a certainty.


SWiFT seeks to answer:

  • How do participants understand WiF content in light of their prior experiences?
  • How do their perceptions, awareness and practices change as a result of the programme?
  • Is vulnerability to trafficking thereby reduced?


SWiFT research is focused in Narayangani, one of seven districts with high rates of women undertaking cross-border migration. Here, the ILO and local partner OKUP are implementing the WiF intervention in five upazilas (sub-districts). SWiFT evaluation sites include rural, peri-urban and urban contexts to enable comparison.

Research design

  1. Longitudinal semi-structured interviews with:
  • 30 working-age women migrants at three separate time points over the lifetime of the WiF intervention. Separate but parallel interviews of respondents’ husbands or fathers will be conducted
  • 10–12 WiF programme staff at two time points during the programme lifetime in order to identify any shifts in programme logic, organisation, accessibility and delivery; and to draw out perceptions of factors external to the programme that might facilitate or constrain its impact 
  1. Discourse analysis of policy, advocacy and media texts on women’s migration and labour trafficking in Bangladesh. This aims to identify how contemporary representations of women’s labour migration and women labour migrants in Bangladesh may enable or constrain future uptake and extension of the WiF programme throughout the country.

Research partners

  • Gender, Violence and Health Centre (GVHC)
  • Drishti – an independent research institute based in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Download the Bangladesh briefing note

Download a Journal paper here



Intervention context

The WiF programme is active in several states in east and south India, focusing on labour mobility within India’s national borders, or ‘internal migration’. Conservative estimates suggest 400 million Indian citizens (30% of the country’s total population) are internal migrants. An estimated 80% of these are women.

Internal migrant workers are vulnerable to entrapment and exploitation but for many, the income is essential for meeting basic needs. Earnings permit modest advancement and accumulation for some, and even a rare opportunity for autonomy. WiF therefore aims to reduce women migrant workers’ vulnerability to labour trafficking while acknowledging the necessity and even the attraction of internal migration for many.

WiF activities in east India focus on paid domestic work. This highly feminized sector has grown rapidly and is now the largest employer of women in urban India and the second largest in rural India. Workforce composition has shifted substantially.


SWiFT seeks new evidence on:

  • under-employment
  • discrimination by gender and case
  • sub-contracting and out-sourcing

How and why do some migrant workers elude or overcome these factors while others, similarly positioned, become entrapped in forced labour?


SWiFT research is focused on the Ganjam district of Odisha State in East India. Odisha has relatively high and growing rates of seasonal and longer-term labour migration. With neighbouring states Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, Odisha has become a hub for the recruitment of paid domestic workers.

Research design

A cross-sectional representative sample survey of approximately 1,200 households and 2,400 individuals in 20 villages across Ganjam District of Odisha at a single time-point. Households and individuals will be randomly sampled, and data analysed to assess the applicability of WiF ‘vulnerability-reducing’ measures and to identify factors likely to amplify or constrain WiF impact.

Longitudinal semi-structured interviews with:

  • 50–60 working-age women who have migrated or intend to migrate at four time points during WiF. Their husbands or fathers will be interviewed separately but in parallel to gain insights into gendered experiences and perceptions of migration and labour and of WiF influences on household and individual migration plans, trajectories and outcomes
  • 8–12 local policy-makers, elected representatives and officials at two time points during WiF to draw out and contrast beliefs about women’s labour migration; perceptions of safe and unsafe migration practices; and perceptions, experiences and engagement with WiF programme messages over time

Research partners

  • Gender, Violence and Health Centre (GVHC)
  • Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) – an autonomous research centre based in Delhi.

Download the India briefing note 01

Download the India-briefing note 02



Intervention context

The WiF programme is implemented in five districts in Nepal and targets women interested in migrating for work in the domestic or garment sectors in the Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates). The open border between Nepal and India means that Nepali women working in India are largely unaccounted for.

In 2006/07, women constituted only 0.2% of those granted labour permits to work abroad. By 2013/14, this proportion had risen to 3.1%. However, women constitute about 13% of the country’s absentee population and, although this figure includes (for example) students and those travelling with husbands, irregular or unofficial migration is considered a primary reason for the discrepancy.

With periodic restrictions on female migration in Nepal, women may be trafficked or smuggled via a third country. To address human trafficking, the Government of Nepal introduced the Foreign Employment and Anti-Trafficking Law and bilateral agreements with destination countries.


SWiFT is designed to inform the WiF programme and other trafficking prevention programmes on:

  • the nature and scale of adverse migration outcomes
  • factors that increase or decrease a woman’s risk of being trafficked
  • prospective women migrants’ pre-departure knowledge and decision making

How does WiF affect individual migration decisions, behaviours and experiences? Are WiF’s assumptions valid and widely applicable?


SWiFT is conducted in three of the five WiF districts: Chitwan, Rupandehi and Morang.

Research design

  1. Cross-sectional surveys with:
  • 500 returned migrant women who migrated (including to India) and have returned to Nepal within the past five years, to capture women’s experiences from initial preparations through to return and possible remigration
  • 300 prospective migrant women identified by WiF partners, to capture women’s plans and preparations, including their participation in community awareness activities or formal training 
  1. Longitudinal cohort study, following all women who took part in the prospective migrant women’s survey (approximately 300 women) for up to 18 months. This will be conducted through phone interviews to capture experiences at destination, including those of exploitation or forced labour. 
  1. Qualitative semi-structured interviews are conducted with approximately 55 of the prospective migrant women who participated in the survey to explore their plans and preparation before the full roll-out of the WiF intervention. They will be interviewed again after the WiF two-day pre-decision-making training to explore their experiences and opinions of the training.

Research partners

  • Gender, Violence and Health Centre (GVHC)
  • Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) – a research unit within Social Science Baha, a not-for-profit research organisation in Kathmandu

Download the Nepal briefing note 01

Download the Nepal-briefing note 02

Download the  Nepal-briefing note-03

Images courtesy of Joelle Mak, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

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