Published in May 2019
This module is a resource for lecturers
Gender and migration
This Module examines the links between gender and migration as a means of better understanding the association between gender and Trafficking of persons (TIP) and Smuggling of Migrants (SOM). While this section of the Module looks at the interconnections between migration, and mostly irregular migration, this does not imply that migration is primarily linked with irregularity, smuggling, and trafficking. Not all irregular migration includes the use of the services of smugglers or will involve trafficking.
Economic, social, political and gendered inequalities all form part of the root causes of trafficking and often also the motives for migration. Globalization has increased inequality worldwide, and restrictive migration policies decrease paths for legal migration and, consequently, prevent people from moving easily in search of better work opportunities and/or political stability. In turn, irregular migration becomes a key avenue to migrate, with all the risks it may involve for migrants.
People will migrate in search of better employment opportunities, to improve their lives, and to flee political unrest and instability, armed conflict, crisis, environmental disasters and climate change impacts, local violence (threats from criminal gangs) as well as to escape threats of recruitment by local criminal groups, or intra-familial and personal situations, such as domestic violence. Different forms of violence against women may also push women and girls to escape and migrate. As now well established in migration studies, motivations to migrate may be multiple, and overlap, people's situation can change during the journey and when they reach destination countries. Different legal frameworks can apply to the same people at different moments, thus at times rendering blurred the legal distinction between economic migrants, refugees and other persons of concern.
The term 'feminization of migration' is commonly used to refer to the increased presence of women in migration. However, there is also literature that criticizes the use of this term given that it suggests that female migration has increased, while in fact female mobility is not new. Rather, it is the gendered patterns of migration that have evolved (Marchetti 2018). Historically, and given the traditional gender roles that ascribe to men the role of bread earner of the family, the men would migrate to find work, and the women and children would sometimes follow him. Women's mobility was more invisible and dependent on male migration. One important gender change is that women nowadays do migrate more frequently alone in search of employment, and/or as the breadwinner of the family (Marchetti 2018). There has been an increased acknowledgement of the role of women in migration.
Gender is a key dimension that influences both the motives for and the experiences of migration. Socially constructed roles, expectations, and power relationships impact the migration process. In some regions, women do not have equal opportunities regarding access to education and employment to acquire independence and emancipation.
The gendered division of labour, and the gender-segregated employment sectors, influence the labour migration of women and men. Women more frequently migrate to work in textile, electronics, food industry, in certain sectors of agriculture, and domestic work (Marchetti 2018). Female migration to work in the sex industry has also received a lot of attention in the literature on gender and migration (Schrover 2008). As for men, construction, fisheries, manufacturing, mining, metal industry and other sectors according to the region, predominate. Of course, labour opportunities differ across regions.
Migration policies may also have differentiated impacts. An intersectional analytic framework to gender migration casts light on the interplay between different social factors, such as sexuality, gender, class, race, which are also intertwined with politics and economics, notably border politics. Migration and border management policies impact on international migration opportunities, possibilities and of course, on the access to different migration statuses.
Legal avenues for migration of women (and girls) may be more difficult in some countries. For example, migration bans may affect disproportionally women and girls, or directly target them in the name of their protection. In turn, migration bans (as well as restrictive migration policies) increase the risks taken by migrant women.
Example: Young Burmese women forbidden to cross borders
"Since 1997, unaccompanied young women between 16 and 25 in Eastern Shan State have been forbidden to travel to the Thai border, according to a directive by the SPDC Regional Commander. This has limited the rights of young women and placed them further under the control of people [military, border guards, family members, government officials]. Young women forced to leave home to work in Thailand to support themselves and their families have simply ended up paying more to bribe officials to reach the border. Since 2004, young women in this area have also needed a recommendation letter or permit from the local Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation to travel to the border, supposedly to prevent possible cases of trafficking. In reality, this process has turned into a means for the MWAF [Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation] to extort money. In early 2006, the cost of a MWAF permit was 200,000 Kyat (about $200)."
Source: Women's League of Burma, 2008 CEDAW Shadow Report (pg. 34); cited in Ham, J. Lecture 'Is anti-trafficking a dirty word?', April 2016 (unpublished)
The example of domestic work
Domestic work is a highly gendered form of labour. It is mainly composed of women and girls worldwide and is still an undervalued form of work. This under-appreciation is linked with the fact that it is perceived to be a women's and girls' work, unprofessional and historically unpaid or very low paid labour. Scholars have also highlighted the racialized dimension of domestic work. Households and employers may search for women of certain ethnic groups (Anderson, 2007; Cox, 2006), given that they may be perceived as more suitable for the job, more caring, or more obedient.
In the literature, it is acknowledged that domestic work is a sector in which workers are particularly at risk of exploitation given the workplace, the employer/employee relationships and the fact that it is often performed under informal, unregulated and under-valued arrangements. Domestic work is usually performed in the private homes of the employers, which makes it an isolated setting. The work relationships are often very close between the employer and the worker, and at times even intimate (Anderson 2007) and emotional (Lutz 2008) given the type of tasks that may be required: such as taking care of children or the elderly. Especially when the worker lives in the employer's house, the boundaries between paid and unpaid tasks, as well as the distinction between free time, working time and time-on-call become often blurred. Working hours slip easily into long hours and dedicated work that goes uncompensated. Furthermore, despite being an essential form of labour, it is still not considered a formal type of work. There are also family-type arrangements, such as sending a child to extended family members abroad to access education in exchange for domestic chores. This type of arrangement blurs further the line between legitimate work to be compensated and loosely defined arrangements of accommodation for "help" with domestic chores.
Workers are often migrants and many of them undocumented. Domestic work is commonly performed under undeclared and informal arrangements. These elements render the worker even more dependent on their work as the key source of income.
These factors create fertile grounds for exploitation and, in some instances, trafficking. Domestic work is often excluded from labour laws, or when included, there may still be unequal treatment and work standards. Besides, some policies can even create or maintain conditions facilitating the occurrence of exploitation. One example is the system of work visa for domestic workers that is tied to one employer. This type of system exists in many places, for instance in the United Kingdom (Kalayan, 2013) it requires that the domestic worker lives in the employer's house (called a live-in arrangement). This type of visa scheme (overseas domestic workers visa) has been criticized and has proven to increase the worker's dependence. The work permit (and right of stay in the country) relies on the employer's needs and decisions to renew. In the Middle East, there is also a similar type of visa regime, called kafala, which is a temporary working permit that is also linked to one employer.
Domestic workers worldwide have mobilized over the last two decades in order to defend and promote their rights to decent work conditions and full recognition of domestic work as a formal form of work (see a brief article from Garofalo and Marchetti, 2017). One key achievement that this movement has strongly pushed is the adoption of the ILO Convention 189 - the Domestic Workers Convention - which came into force in 2011.
Claiming rights under the kafala system: How can domestic workers organize when the legal system places them at the complete mercy of their employers?
The Middle East plays host to the largest number of migrant domestic workers in the world. National statistical sources collated by the ILO estimate that 1.6 million migrant domestic workers are working in the Levant and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Another estimate, from the International Trade Union Confederation, puts the number even higher at 2.5 million. These women traditionally hail from Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India, however Ethiopia, Madagascar, Kenya and Uganda have also emerged as new countries of origin.
The admission, residence and exit of migrant domestic workers are governed by the kafala system, a private sponsorship scheme for temporary migrant workers. Kafala ties the work and residence permits of a domestic worker to a specific employer; makes residence permit renewal the responsibility of the employer; and makes employment termination, transfer from one employer to another, and exit from the country contingent on the sponsor's approval. It is a system that leaves workers at the complete mercy of their employers.
Further, domestic workers continue to be excluded from the scope of national labour laws with the argument that domestic work cannot be regulated like other sectors without violating the sanctity of the employer's household. Employment contracts thus regulate the employer-agency-worker relationship; however, these documents carry little weight without adequate inspection mechanisms. Even where standard unified contracts exist - such as in Kuwait, Jordan, and Lebanon - agreements negotiated bilaterally with countries of origin supersede them, promoting a race to the bottom in the working and living conditions of domestic workers from different nationalities and encouraging stereotypes about the quality of the work performed by women from certain countries.
As a result, domestic workers are overworked, underpaid and cheated by brokers and recruiters. They face considerable barriers to accessing justice and their embassies and consulates do not have the resources or capacity to respond to the volume of complaints. Furthermore, when domestic workers - faced with unfair laws, barriers to justice, and employer impunity - decide to leave the homes of their employers they are declared "absconded" and become susceptible to arrest, prolonged periods of detention, excessive fines, and finally deportation and blacklisting.
Over the past 10 years, international organizations and NGOs in the Middle East have launched advocacy campaigns, submitted legislative proposals, and offered a variety of legal and socio-medical services to migrant domestic workers. These initiatives were rarely guided by the priorities of domestic workers, in part because very few spaces exist for domestic workers in the Middle East to articulate their concerns. The result has been a plethora of well-intentioned but incongruent programmes and services for domestic workers. This is progressively changing. Inspired by images on Facebook and Instagram of domestic workers taking the streets across the world, domestic workers across the Middle East are consolidating in nationality-based or sectorial organizations to make their demands heard.
Excerpt from an article by Marie-José L. Tayah, published on openDemocracy Beyond Trafficking and Slavery Blog. (17 August 2017)
The example of domestic work illustrates that the sources of vulnerability are multiple. They stem from socio-economic and political contexts of gendered inequalities, little access to employment opportunities and gendered division of labour. Factors of vulnerability also stem from the legal and policy regimes in place and gender discrimination that shape employers' attitudes. Indeed, gendered views on domestic work influences the under-valuation of this work. Race and class discrimination further reinforce a depreciative view on domestic work, maintaining in place sub-standard working conditions.
LGBTI and migration
Over the last ten years, a body of literature looking at how sexual orientation and gender identity affect and intersect with migration has emerged. The concern for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) migrants, refugees and asylum seekers within the international human rights arena has also grown (Lewis and Naples 2014).
Homosexual sexual orientation is criminalized in numerous countries. According to the annual report of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), 72 countries criminalize homosexuality ( ILGA, 2017). Numerous LGBTI persons worldwide flee their country because of discrimination, as well as violence and threats to be incarcerated or killed.
Hence, sexual orientation and gender identity may impact on the decision to migrate, but also increase risks during the migration process. Along their journey, LGBTI persons may be subject to social exclusion, discrimination and violence in the different settings for displaced populations as well as by the host community.
LGBTI persons of concern face a wide variety of protection risks in countries of asylum, including further persecution by authorities, host communities, family members, and other asylum-seekers and refugees. These threats extend to areas where LGBTI persons live, work, and convene, and implicate various aspects of their lives, including their rights to fairly avail of local law enforcement and judicial services, arrange appropriate living arrangements, access health services, and remain free from subjection to violence on account of their [sexual orientation and gender identity] SOGI (UNHCR 2015: p.27)
People who identify as LGBTI are also victims of trafficking. As mentioned earlier, the discrimination, social exclusion and threat to their safety that they face, both in their community of origin and along their migratory route, foster vulnerabilities to violence, exploitation and trafficking. On the topic, see the work of Precious Diagboya on male sex workers in Nigeria and the perceptions of trafficking in the community (2017). The author highlights the gender gap in the research on TIP for sexual exploitation, the focus still being on women and girls.