Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Trafficking of women, chasing away our own demons and women’s rights

By Igor Bosc

We have all heard the shocking accounts of women seeking jobs, who are subsequently tricked and trapped into sexual slavery, sweatshops, domestic bondage and other forms of abuse.  While human trafficking is of enormous concern, perhaps, on this day that recognises the rights of women, we need to think about whether the way we are framing the problem of “trafficking in women and girls” fuels further or poses different problems for aspiring female migrants.

Might there be something insidious about what these accounts of trafficking in women say and do not say?

The discourse that warns us about the risks related to trafficking starts at home with stories of the little red riding hood, Sita and the laxman rekha, or women advised to stay at home and avoid engaging with “non muhrams” if they do venture outside. A similar discourse emerges in popular culture. For instance blockbuster movies show villains and creeps kidnapping and abusing women seeking to earn a living. Again the same discourse emerges in media: news services and newspapers routinely feature stories of women who were pimped into prostitution, domestic workers who were beaten, raped or killed. Police and politicians report to the media their latest crack downs on human traffickers. Aid agencies issue press releases highlighting the staggering numbers of women who are regularly trafficked across the globe.

Many narratives about human trafficking have something in common. In a closer reading, a common implicit message appears to be that women who venture out are treading into a dangerous world where they risk violence or sexual abuse. While in some cases, these reports may be true, these tales or the way the issue is framed rarely give a full and complete picture of female migration. For example, the narratives rarely delve into why women might leave their homes (e.g., devastating poverty, hopes for a better future, restrictions or even violence at home). These perspectives seldom explain what motivates middlemen and employers to seek out and employ them. Violence and sex is brought to the fore while making a living and employment are glossed over. Patriarchal archetypes seem to frame many perceptions.    

We may think we’re familiar with hearing about this violence and that we therefore know how to address it, but do we? Violent images and text that we remember from such accounts can have powerful lasting effects on the way we view the world and what we chose to do about it. It stokes visceral fears of what might happen and it fuels search for protection—maybe ‘over-protection’. Accounts of violence shape our feelings, our behaviours and the moral discourse of how to respond to the perceptions of vulnerabilities of women who seek to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

Imagine a different way of framing the discourse: how about approaching trafficking in women by addressing women’s need for employment, focusing on issues such as domestic violence, women’s rights, gender equity, unemployment and under-employment of women in home communities, by looking for solutions to these problems in both source communities as well as destination areas. While such reporting does exist, more of it is necessary.

Unfortunately a lot of the efforts to combat trafficking of women are in fact rooted in deep patriarchal biases. According to research by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Global Alliance against Trafficking of Women (GAATW), bans on women migrating actually make it more difficult for women to seek a living—and do not necessarily reduce their risk of abuse. Governments have used bans on women migrating in the belief that this will protect them and increase their safety. However in a recent policy brief for Governments in South Asia, the ILO in fact recommends measures to uphold the human rights of migrant women, emphasizing women’s right to mobility to reduce their vulnerability to human trafficking. Other policies that restrict women’s mobility include sponsorship policies inciting employers to limit the mobility of migrant domestic workers outside their homes. On this day when we celebrate women, it is important to confront many of the social and gender stereotypes about efforts to combat trafficking of women and reframe these dialogues in terms of women’s rights to gender equitable home lives, mobility and employment.

Women who work with the ILO in the Work in Freedom Programme


Igor Bosc is Chief Technical Adviser at the International Labour Organization (ILO) working on the Work in Freedom Programme - a UK Aid funded partnership initiative to find effective ways of preventing trafficking of women in South Asia and the Middle East. See also his questions and thoughts on the framing of the human trafficking discourse, Why framing the discourse on human trafficking is important - some thoughts.

Migration as a route out of poverty in Zimbabwe: remittances and gender

by Julie Litchfield

This year on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016, I will be speaking at a conference on migration at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare, presenting some of the Migrating out of Poverty research undertaken in collaboration with the Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS) at the University of Zimbabwe.[1]

Colleagues at CASS have carried out extensive qualitative fieldwork in migrant-sending communities across the country and one of the observations they have made is that families often describe women migrants as the “saviour of the family”, less likely to forget their families at home and more likely to send a range of cash and goods than male migrants.

Just over a year ago in April 2015 we carried out a fairly large survey of households to probe deeper into migration and remittances. We have been able to collect data on the type of remittances sent home by individual migrants, the frequency and value of remittances as well as data on each household’s living standards, and I have been using this data to investigate the belief that women are the saviours of the family.

First I wanted to explore if families regard migration as a positive or a negative development. We asked households several questions about their perception of migration as a route out of poverty and were surprised that only around half felt that households with migrants were generally better off than those without. Digging deeper, I found that migration is seen as a good thing by those households who receive remittances, especially among female headed households.

Looking at who remits, I discovered that what migrants remit differs. Male migrants are slightly more likely to remit cash than female migrants, a large proportion of whom send goods, such as food, clothing and school items. Interestingly however, proportionately more women than men migrants send both cash and goods, and while the cash they send is lower in value, the value of goods is higher. This resonates strongly with findings of our CASS colleagues in the qualitative research. Perhaps this mixture of remittances suits households’ needs better and that is why women migrants are described as saviours.

To explore the idea deeper, I estimated a simple econometric model of remittance receipt. This helps me to explore what factors affect the probability that a household receives remittances. As my independent factors, I included variables on the household size and composition, whether the migrant has left behind children at home and also variables that capture the household’s assets and current living conditions. The theory behind this model is that remittances might be motivated by altruistic reasons (concern over aging parents, younger siblings for example) or for exchange reasons (for example the need to continue to contribute to the household and protect inheritable assets, or to maintain a certain social standing within the home community).

My results suggest that the independent factors that affect whether or not a household receives remittances differ between male and female migrants. Remittances to households from male migrants depend heavily on the assets of the household: households with bigger houses or a higher standard of living are more likely to receive remittances than those households we might regard as poorer. In contrast, remittances from female migrants are unaffected by these factors. Instead, female remittances depend almost entirely on the demographic make-up of the household: older heads of households, larger households and households where the migrant has left children behind are the only factors that appear to play any role in the remittance model. These factors also affect remittances receipt from male migrants[2] but what is striking is the absence of any relationship between female remittances and household wealth and living standards: female migrants remit regardless of whether the household is rich or poor. 

What does this tell us? We need to be careful about jumping too quickly to the conclusion that women care more about their families than men. One interpretation is that what underlies these differences is a complex set of rules and norms that are highly gendered and work at numerous levels within the household and the wider community. Male migrants may need to send remittances home to maintain their social standing not just within their own household but also in the community. Perhaps more is at stake the better off their household, both in terms of what they might inherit or the role they might be able to fulfil when they return.  A preference for sending cash might help with this aim. Women on the other hand may be seeking only the approval of their household as a caring, dutiful daughter for example, and thus send goods which they believe the family needs and demonstrates thoughtfulness and concern.

Understanding this complex set of rules and norms is difficult and warrants further research, especially when designing policy. Policies to reduce the transaction costs of sending formal cash remittances for example may have little effect on remittances from women if they continue to place value on sending remittances in the form of goods. A so-called diaspora bond may only be attractive to male migrants. What is clear is that policy on migration in general and on remittances in particular needs to be informed by a deeper understanding of these gendered patterns of behaviour.

Julie's presentation slides can be accessed here.

[1] I would like to thank the National Gallery of Zimbabwe for their kind invitation to speak at their conference and the British Council (Zimbabwe) for generously funding my visit.
[2] Their remittances are very responsive to whether they have a child at home, much more so than female migrants. 

Dr Julie Litchfield is the Theme Leader for Quantitative Research for the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium (MOOP) and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Sussex. The Working Paper discussing aspects of the findings of the Zimbabwe survey is now available. See also Eva-Maria Egger's presentation of the preliminary findings of MOOP's household survey conducted in Zimbabwe  and her related blog discussing the context:  Migration in Southern Africa: A Visit to the City of Migrants.