Thursday, 30 July 2015

Four novelties at the crossroads of migration and gender studies

By Dorte Thorsen

from the Migrating out of Poverty international conference

Gendered Dimensions of Migration: Material and social outcomes of South-South migration

30 June - 2 July 2015
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
The conference was an opportunity to understand how gender roles and expectations influence the factors leading to migration, male and female migrants’ different experiences of migration and its impact on migrants, their families and home communities. Key insights from research shed light on how migration affects economic wellbeing and relationships, not only between women and men but also between parents and their sons and daughters.

Together we shared findings from 20 carefully selected and diverse research projects, exploring how notions of gender and age appropriate activities and behaviour shape migration. It was a lively discussion, with presentations, films and exhibitions. A policy roundtable enables researchers and civil society representatives to engage with their counterparts in international policy making organisations. It was a rare chance for dialogue on an under-explored issue. Our conference on the gendered dimensions of migration continues to prompt dialogue and debate.

For me, four main novelties stood out from our discussions:

1. Women migrate in response to changing agricultural and labour markets in order, both, to earn higher returns for their labour and in pursuit of urban employment and lifestyles. This can have positive and negative outcomes.

  • Migrant women from Northeast India who take advantage of their ethnic features to enter beauty, care and hospitality work in Chennai and Bangalore become caught in the aesthetic embodiment of a stereotype that impinges on their social life and well-being.

2. Men and women finance their migration in different ways and this causes differences in their circumstances at the destination.

  • In Singapore, male migrants take out loans to pay fees upfront and are only able to reimburse the money if they gain employment. Female migrants only travel to Singapore if they have an employer willing to cover their travel costs against forfeiting their wages for several months.

3. Taking a historical view of politico-economic hierarchies from a gender perspective highlights that deep-seated inequity is reproduced in contemporary economic relations, for women and men.

  • In Nepal workers released from bonded labour contracts become migrants to cope with the poverty implied in their newly won freedom; in Cameroon young men from the Central African Republic have to adopt the deferential demeanour of yester-years’ slaves to establish social relations with older female guardians. 

4. Social and moral codes surrounding material and non-material forms of remittance maintain established gender relations but the gulf between intentions and expectations frequently creates tensions.

  • To preserve their social status, female Bangladeshi migrant workers carefully avoid challenging their husband’s prerogative to control remittances. In the Philippines, on the other hand, tensions arise between remittance senders and receivers as the migrants sacrifice well-being and lifestyle to remit while the receivers value the gift in relation to middle-class aspirations.

Papers from the conference are currently being revised and will appear in the MOOP working paper series over the next couple of months. We also hope some of this work will lead to a special issue of a journal in the coming year. To find out more about what was discussed please see the conference webpages where there are a range of resources including presentations and multi-media outputs.

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