Friday, 7 March 2014

Female migrant domestic workers and the families they leave behind

By Julie Litchfieldphoto of Julie Litchfield

Female domestic workers are an important part of the story of the feminisation of migration, particularly in Asia. It is well documented that large numbers of women working outside their own countries are employed in domestic work and that Asian countries contribute large numbers of  female domestic workers (FDWs) both within the region, to the Middle East and to Europe and North America.
In the Migrating Out Of Poverty research programme consortium we are looking at gendered patterns of internal and regional migration and how these manifest themselves in poverty outcomes.  So far we have conducted three surveys of over 1000 households each in Asia and Africa, and we will add to this in 2014. Preliminary analysis of the data collected in 2013 by our partners in Singapore reveals that female migrants in Indonesia are overwhelmingly FDWs: 75% of all female migrants are domestic workers. We don’t see any such concentration of occupation amongst male workers:  the largest single category is construction with around a quarter of male migrants, the rest being spread across other activities including farming and manufacturing. We also see very different destinations for FDWs: almost 70% of FDWs are regional migrants, migrating to countries such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Among other female migrants, the vast majority remain in Indonesia as internal migrants and among male migrants, over half stay in Indonesia.
This pattern of regional migration is reflected in how people actually migrate. An issue that is commonly raised in the context of international migration is the cost associated with finding work at the destination, not just the travel costs but the so-called “placement fees” which are often charged to find employment for the migrant, usually deducted directly from pay, and that can be several multiples of the average annual income a person might expect to earn if they stayed at home. Indeed, the UN Women 2013 report on international migrant domestic workers highlights this as a particularly exploitative feature of FDW migration: data from Taiwan suggests that FDWs from Indonesia are charged on average US$3500 as a placement fee. Among our sample of Indonesian female migrants, over half used a recruitment agent to help secure employment at their destination, whereas less than a third of men did so.  FDWs were however much more likely than other female migrants to report that this involved a cost, with almost half of them stating that they had borrowed from the agent to finance their migration. Only 10% of other female migrants had to do so, most likely using family and friends to help find employment. Male migrants appear to rely much more heavily on formal loans from banks when they migrate regionally.
What are the consequences for families left behind? Parreñas (2000), in her study of Filipina FDWs working in Los Angeles and Rome, writes extensively about the international division of reproductive labour and transmission of care-taking of children and elderly. Her study reveals a pattern of predominantly married women working in richer countries as domestic workers or care-givers, with their own children living in the Philippines, employing women back home to look after their own children. The Filipina FDWs tend to be relatively better educated than the women they employ back home, thus suggesting a three-tiered division of reproductive labour. The UN Women report goes further, arguing that that the increase in FDWs has led to a “care crisis at home” with concerns about the health, educational and social development of children left behind.
However, little is known about the experience of poverty of FDWs, or their households, relative to other families with migrants in other occupations, or for that matter, other households with women who work. Our preliminary analysis has not revealed such a care crisis in Indonesia, at least no more or less so for households with FDWs compared to other households.  Two-thirds of households with female migrants say that daily life is easier for them now compared to before their member left. Furthermore we observe little difference in the perceptions of poverty, as reported by the households themselves, either between households with FDWs and other female migrants, or between households with female and male migrants. One explanation for the difference in our preliminary findings and those of Parreñas is that female migrants from Indonesia may be different from those who migrate from the Philippines. Our data from Indonesia suggests FDWs are younger than other migrant women and non-migrant women, and are less likely to be married or to have children than women who don’t migrate. This is very different from the portrait of FDWs provided by Parreñas.  We also see little migration of Indonesian FDWs to very rich countries in the West.
That doesn’t mean to say that the experience of poverty among Indonesian households with migrants or with FDWs is not different and that there aren’t more nuanced differences still to be uncovered. Whether or not women migrants leave children behind, the age of the children, who they are left behind with, and to what extent they are able to send money home, might also be important differentiating features.   In the next phase of our work, we will be exploiting the rich data in our surveys on how life has changed for the households left behind in our attempts to unravel how migration shapes poverty experiences.
Julie Litchfield is the Theme Leader for Quantitative Research for the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.

Women on the Move: Migrating for liberation and empowerment

By Endang Sugiyarto

One of the key trends in international migration today is the growing feminization of migration flows. More and more women have been migrating abroad and the latest estimate shows that women migrants already number about a half of all migrants, indicating that the migrant stock is already gender balanced (see World Bank and UN data on this).[1] A similar feminization trend is also observed for internal migration (Deshingkar and Grimm, 2005).

Women used to be in the latter category of ‘the migrant and their families’, migrating mainly as following mothers, daughters or other relatives. But now one can witness increasing flows of ‘single’ women migrating abroad as independent labourers in search of better lives for themselves and ‘their’ families. The significant increase in their number has been accompanied by a rise in their economic contributions to their host and home countries, as well as to their families. The rise in these last two has occurred despite the fact that they tend to earn less than their male counterparts, since they compensate by sending relatively more remittances, and doing so more regularly and consistently. Women also tend to spend more remittances on family oriented expenditures therefore it makes sense to expect remittances to have an increased development impact as a result of the increased participation of women participation in international migration.

On the theoretical side, the idea that the migrant is only motivated to move due to the significant differences in wage levels and expected income between origin and destination is out of date, for it ignores the interplay of a range of dynamics, some of which are gender specific and particularly relevant to women. Moreover, economic factors do not have a gender-neutral impact; economic development may change male and female roles, and the demand for international migrants can also be gender specific. Therefore, the explicit consideration of gender in the study of migration and remittances is long overdue.

The nature of work-based contracts, which tend to be temporary in the first instance, and the immigration policies which prevent workers from taking their families with them when they move, demonstrate the sentiment that the workers are wanted but their families are not. These features have the impact of further strengthening the flows of single women. These women have been migrating for various reasons, many of which can be classified as liberating and empowering. In addition to the economic freedom of better pay and income at their destination, many single women go abroad due to family dissolution, lack of choice and direction in their home country, and to escape from ‘domestic constraints’ resulting from personal and other circumstances including bad or failed marriages, traditional communities, and limited local opportunities in general. For them, migration is a symbolic act to end suffering and to move on to a new life. Not all of them succeed, unfortunately, as many become victims of abuse and exploitations of different forms.

It is interesting to look empirically at where these women come from, the nature of the sending households, and their occupation abroad. A case study on Indonesia, using Susenas data, shows that around 60 per cent of Indonesian migrants are women. I also found strong push factors within their household conditions and the characteristics attributed to the places they live that encourage some of them to create networks and diaspora that further ease the migration process, resulting in migrant pockets. The phenomenon of migrant pockets is not unique to Indonesia as they can also be observed in countries such as Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan (Skeldon, 2008), and others. As we all know, migration takes place not only because of need and ability, but also opportunity that is strengthened by the development and availability of networks, not necessarily only by migrants themselves, but also by recruiting agencies and markets as migration can be a lucrative business.

Moreover, the women mostly come from poorer, less educated and agriculture based family backgrounds. Most – 68 per cent - work as domestic workers, which is arguably the easiest occupation for them to access. The National Account concept of their pre-migration activities is of ‘unpaid domestic work’. However after migration they enter the international sphere as paid domestic workers, part of the ‘global nanny chain’ or ‘the international division of reproductive labour’ whereby a person – usually a woman - leaves their home to take up a paid caring role abroad, resulting in the caring role within their own family being delegated to another person. At the national level there have been calls for men not to marry their domestic workers in order to create an illusion of increasing national product (gross domestic product - GDP) by ensuring that salaried work does not become unpaid domestic work.

All this highlights the phenomenon of migration out of necessity and demands better facilitation and protection. More needs to be done to transform the increase in women’s international migration into a new force for women’s liberation and empowerment!

Endang Sugiyarto is a doctoral candidate in Migration Studies at the University of Sussex, funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.

[1] The DEMIG project argues that the absence of women in historic migration data is due more to the invisibility of women in research before the 1980s rather than being an indication that women were not migrating. The gender aspect of migration was under-researched and what has happened since has in fact been a feminization of scientific interest rather than a feminization of migration flows (see for more information).

Women migrants working in construction: shaking the foundations of the way they are socially constructed

By Benjamin Zeitlyn
The Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium (RPC) is conducting research on internal and regional migration in Africa and Asia. As part of our qualitative research we focus upon three areas of employment that attract a lot of migrant workers in several different countries. These are domestic work, construction work and manufacturing. The assumption many of us made when we began to think about these categories is that men work in construction and women in domestic work.
A conspicuous aspect of many cities in rapidly urbanising and developing countries is a vibrant construction sector and the rapid emergence of new buildings. Millions of workers work on construction projects large and small in cities across the developing world. Often a very high proportion of these workers are internal and regional migrants.

Along with my colleagues Priya Deshingkar and Bridget Holtom, I reviewed the literature on internal and regional migration for construction work to survey the current state of the evidence and identify themes and gaps in the literature. The review will soon be published by the RPC, here I report some of the results of this review of the literature for International Women’s Day.
One of the first things that struck me was that among the studies we found about internal and regional migration for construction work in developing countries, very few explicitly look at gender relations and/or the role of women. Those that do exist tend to be based in India and Bangladesh. We speculate that this is because it is common to have women working in construction in South Asia, but not in other parts of the world, our research in African countries aims to see if this is true.
Research in India and Bangladesh on women working on construction sites reveals interesting gendered divisions of labour and inequalities in wages on construction sites as well as gendered patterns of remittance sending. Many migrant women working in construction in Bangladesh had migrated with their husbands or families, but a significant proportion migrated alone or headed their household. They were mostly young (25-35), poor and from rural areas. Women workers earned less than their male counterparts and if they were alone had to pay more for their accommodation (Ahsan, 1997). Higher status and skilled jobs (which offer the most potential for genuinely transformational earning) are dominated by men (Pattenden 2012).
Poor health for women migrants and their families working on construction sites are a major concern in the literature. Conditions on many construction sites in developing countries are incredibly dangerous and social protection is often minimal. Poor health can lead to increased indebtedness and so reduce the positive outcomes of migration. Interestingly, Jatrana and Sangwan, (2004) find that women construction workers in North India perceive their own health to be better after migration, although poor health was a constant aspect of their lives. For these women construction workers, being relieved of water and firewood collection duties and having a constant supply of food made them feel healthier. The costs of accessing high quality medical attention were still prohibitive for them; so improved access to healthcare was not the deciding factor. Jatrana and Sangwan attribute the improved perception of health to urban lifestyles and social network support that the migrants come into contact with in cities. 
Emerging findings from our research in Ethiopia support this interesting observation. While conditions for women migrant workers in the cities of Ethiopia are hard at best and border on modern day slavery at worst, the conditions, which many women and girls have migrated to leave behind, are even worse. As Naila Kabeer (2000) described in her book on the garments industry in Bangladesh, the options available for many poor women and girls other than the exploitative conditions of work in the garments industry are very grim indeed.
Research on female migrants tends to portray them as victims, to highlight their health problems and the exploitation they suffer, without paying much attention to the exploitative or abusive conditions that they have left behind and the contributions they make to their families’ and nations’ development. Migrant women working in the construction industries of developing countries shake the foundations of the way women migrants are socially constructed.
Benjamin Zeitlyn is the Theme Leader for Qualitative Research within the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.

Capturing the potential of migration for women’s empowerment and poverty reduction

by Rosemary Vargas-Lundius, David Suttie and Anja Lund
Increased flows of information and the falling cost of transportation make migration increasingly viable for rural women and men today. Most of the rural people who decide to migrate arrive in larger towns and cities within their own country. In fact, the majority of global migration occurs within countries, with conservative estimates placing the number of internal migrants globally at 740 million, compared to 200 million international migrants.

One of the most significant changes in migration is that today more women are migrating than ever before. Women now constitute half the international migrant population, and trends seem to be similar for internal migration too, though data is scarce. In many countries the majority of migrants are now women. For example, in Sri Lanka and in the Philippines, female migrants are about 74 percent and 55 percent of total outflows respectively.

These trends are creating important opportunities for poverty reduction and women’s empowerment. The poverty reducing benefits of migration broadly are well documented. So too is the role that migration and remittances play in improving food security and alleviating poverty among poor rural households.
The benefits of migration apply also to migrants’ destination communities. In Brazil higher rates of internal migration are associated with reductions in poverty in destination cities (among both the local population and migrants) and increased access to infrastructure services. Far from placing additional pressure on urban labour markets as is sometimes feared, local households have been shown to benefit from complementarities of locals and migrants in productive tasks.

Migration offers opportunities for the empowerment of women in terms of access to paid employment outside the family, access to services and relaxation of the rigid gender norms which prevail throughout many rural societies. In cases where the migrating family member has been male, this has often enabled women to take on greater decision-making and management responsibilities on family farms, with remittances sometimes allowing them to hire labour to reduce their own workloads.

But what about the challenges? Migrating women are likely to continue experiencing forms of gender discrimination and are not always well placed to benefit from the prosperity of their destination towns and cities. According to UN-HABITAT, “gender gaps in labour and employment, decent work, pay, tenure rights, access to and accumulation of assets, personal security and safety, and representation in formal structures of urban governance, show that women are often the last to benefit from the prosperity of cities.”

Women and girls are the most affected by many governments’ struggles to maintain services and infrastructure. Expensive public transport systems hinder women’s mobility, and many are forced to live in poor housing in the face of escalating living costs. Migrant women living in poor urban neighbourhoods often have to compensate for a lack of services and infrastructure by working longer hours, caring for children who are frequently ill as a result of inadequate water and sanitation. Urban crime can also be a serious problem for migrant women. In addition, social relations can be more fragmented and despite urban areas having better equipped health clinics and more doctors, residence related access and the expense of such healthcare often puts it out of the reach of migrant women.

So, how can policy-makers support migrating women in light of these realities? Broadly, more attention is needed on promoting mobility. This should include removing disincentives such as residency based social protection (as is often the case with health and education schemes) and urban housing policies that are biased against migrants. But equally important will be addressing the gender dimensions of migration.

Introducing gender sensitive labour and migration legislation that enshrines international standards for the legal protection of migrants and promoting women’s groups and migrant associations are key aspects of this. So is including women in discussions between governments, employers, trade unions, civil society and migrant communities to ensure the contribution of migrants is recognized and their rights are protected. Initiatives to improve the safety of migrants, especially women, during their journeys as well as in their destinations are also needed. Only by empowering and supporting the role of women in migration can its potential poverty reducing impact be realized.

 Rosemary Vargas-Lundius, David Suttie and Anja Lund work for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Rosemary is also a member of Migrating out of Poverty's Consortium Advisory Group.