Samiksha Jaiswal

Feminization of migration

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Feminization of migration

In gender studies, the term feminization of migration has been proposed as a suggested "gendered pattern" in international migration. This means that there is a trend of a higher percentage of women among voluntary migrants.


According to estimates published by the World Bank, there has been only a slight increase in the percentage of women among international migrants over the past fifty years, with 46.7% estimated for 1960 and 48.4% for 2010. The term feminization of migration is mostly applied to an increase of migrant domestic workers to industrialized countries, especially those working as nannies.

The term "Feminization of Migration" was used in a 2007 working paper of the United Nations. Some of the issues this research addresses are remittances and their economic impacts, family cohesion, the racialization of migrants, human trafficking, gendered division of labor, and economic as well as educational opportunities. Prior to the gender studies boom of the 1990s, statistical evidence on migration patterns have not often been classified by gender.

A more recent shift in migration, in September of 2014, patterns relates to an increase in the migration of single women and partnered women who migrate without their families.

Gender-specific division of labor

Much of the work made available to women migrants is gendered and concentrated in the entertainment industry, health services, and most of all in the domestic services.

The gendered division of labor includes reproductive labor, which refers to work performed within the domestic or private sphere and which helps to sustain a household (e.g. cleaning, cooking, childcare and rearing, etc.). Reproductive labor enables paid, productive labor to take place. Reproductive labor is typically performed by women and, as dominant gender discourses are threaded throughout labor ideologies, domestic work has historically been considered a "natural" part of a woman’s duties and identity. As such, feminized labor has typically been considered "unskilled" and, thus, has gone unpaid.

As noted by Filipino popular culture studies professor Roland Tolentino, when women migrate to perform domestic labor, "unpaid home labor in the domestic sphere becomes paid labor in international spaces."

Analyses of migrant nannies

It has been argued that women migrants working as full-time nannies support the shift in division of labour in the First World because it becomes affordable to outsource child-care for a larger portion of families. At the same time, it has been argued, the absence of the migrants working as nannies in high-income countries in their home countries create a shift of gender roles in developing countries as well.

Thus, both the first-world mother and the nanny are arguably outsourcing child care to someone else―the mother to the nanny and the nanny to either her husband, one of her children, or a family relative. The First World mother gives up her time as mother by going to work and paying the nanny to take care and raise the child. The mother passes on her role as mother to the nanny. At the same time, the nanny is giving up her time with her children and passing on her role to another person back in her home country. And, when a woman migrates to a First World country, she is taking on the gender role of “breadwinner” of the family―a role that has traditionally been the role of the man in the family, yet the restructuring of the family and globalization have started changing this ideology of the man being the main financial caretaker of the family.

Those men within the familial unit are displaced as the “breadwinner” for their family―the migrant mothers take over this role when they leave for a First World country and send her earnings back home as remittances (Add source). This may lead to the perceived emasculation of the husband, who is left with three options: 1. Take on the role of the women in her absence 2. Find a job of his own within the Third World country in order to still be seen as a financial contributor and still be considered a man 3. Reject the womanly role and continue to not provide to the family in relation to child care and house work.

Nannies leave their children back in the Third World countries, taking their love with them. The mothers (nannies) then need someone to love at the moment, therefore most usually giving their love to the closest children possible―the ones that they are nannies for. The child that is being taken care of by the nanny is also lacking someone to love because his/her parents are working during the day, and depending on the exact situation it is hard to tell how much of a parenting role they take when they get home from work.

In many cases the children in turn love the person that is most like a parent to them; the person they spend most of their time with―their nanny. Parents often become jealous of the nannies; however, they are the ones who decided to have kids, the ones that decided to pursue working jobs, and those who decided to hire a nanny. This often leads to the parents firing the nanny. Yet, most children have created a bond with their nanny, and they have come to assume that the nanny is going to be a part of their life for some time. The firing of a nanny in some cases leave a child heart-broken and the nanny as well for she has treated this child as one of her own.

From studies and personal stories of family members, scholars have noted that nannies transplant their love for their own children into the children in which they take care of. It is rare for the families of nannies to migrate to the First World with them. Also, nannies do not often get to return home to visit their children―in some cases, every two or three years. Nannies still try to stay in connection with their families, and the advancements of technology and communication have made this easier to do.

Most all migrant mothers are seen as “here and there” at the same time―nurturing her children from another country. Physical love is not present within the transnational family. Mothers cannot nurture up close and the physical love is not allowed to be transferred from two different countries. Cases have shown that many of the mothers transfer their physical love onto the children that they nanny.

Power shifts among Third World families when the mother leaves the country to find enhanced and better paying work. The breadwinner holds the power within the family unit because they are the one that provides the family with (the most) monetary assets. The reason mothers of Third World countries are leaving their homes is due to the lack of well-paying jobs within their country―not only for women, but for men as well.

It is easier for mothers to move to First World countries to find work due to the increase in the need of child care and household work. These jobs that the mothers are searching for are very well paid―much better than any job in Third World countries. The women are leaving home, working at well-paid jobs, sending their wages back to their families in the Third World countries in the form of remittances, therefore becoming the member of the family that holds the most power―the power that is traditionally seen as masculine power, and the highest power (based on cultural ideology) being held by the ‘man’ in the family.

Most fathers lose their masculine power and the children can gain more power if more responsibility is placed on them in the nonappearance of their mothers. The family should theoretically gain more power within their respected community due to the increase in wage earnings and newfound wealth due to the remittances sent by the mother―power in the sense of moving up of the social stratification

The families that outsource child care and home work are in power of their hired nanny. Those that pay for a service hold most of the power in the employee-employer relationship. The mothers and fathers have power over the nanny’s day-to-day schedule, along with her employment and pay (Zdravomyslova, 218). The employers determine if the nanny is suitable for the job and if she can be trusted to occupy a place in their house and oversee the care of their child and house. They are allowed to set up cameras inside the house in order to watch the nanny’s actions and the care their child is receiving.

Employers can also be in communication with their nanny at any time during the day, allocating jobs for the nanny to do. The employers decide when the nanny works and does not work, the labor that the nanny is responsible for, when the nanny is allowed to return home, and the overall stability of the nanny’s job. Power is defined as control over the one that is hired in the sense of the employer-employee relationship between parents and their nannies

All nannies hold power in the employee-employer relationship. The nanny is in control of the child and its health and security, and she is the manager of the household while the employers are away. This allows the nanny to have say in the conditions of her contract with the family. Most nannies and the children under their care, after time, create bonds and become attached to one another. Some nannies use this attachment against the parents if their employment is at stake―parents not wanting to take away a stable relationship from their child, limiting the risk of abandonment issues present in the child, and the feeling of guilt felt by the parents.

Emigration from Sri Lanka

It has become more common for women from Sri Lanka to immigrate to the Middle East to work as domestic servants. This migration forces those in the villages of Sri Lanka to create new gender norms and ideals, going against cultural ideology.

A few men reluctantly take over the work of women in their absence, and when possible, pawn this work off to female relatives. Reconstruction of gender roles occurs, creating uncomfortable situations for the men of the communities. Men have the chance to take on different roles of which they themselves choose:

  • Drinking in order to maintain a masculine identity and showcase wealth
  • Find work
  • Take on the work of the women
  • In Sri Lankan communities drinking of alcohol is seen as a masculine activity. Unemployed and underemployed men take to drinking in order to still be seen as masculine and to protect their identities within the social sphere of the community. Drinking is also a sign of wealth. Creation of male groups comes out of drinking―a group of men that wish to still be seen as masculine and instead show laziness and unwillingness to provide. Men that drink spend much of their wives’ remittances, making her migration of little use financially to their families. Some men find work of their own in, and outside, of the communities. These men do not give up their entire role of breadwinner; yet earn less than their migrant wives. This man is still seen as taking on a masculine role and is still considered a ‘man’.

    Very few men take on the work of the women by taking care of the house, the preparation of food, and the care of their children. These men are looked down upon as ‘not-men,’ therefore making them look as ‘women.’ This work comes with the loss of the prestige of being a ‘man’ and doing ‘men’s work.’ This job is not paid and the men that do this job are not breadwinners. These men are taking on responsibility, unlike those that drink and do not work and only spend remittance money. However, they are seen as ‘not-men’ by others within the community. With the ability to be humbled and take on responsibility in order to provide, in other ways than the earning of money, these men are still looked down upon as failing to be a ‘man’.

    Migration within East Asia

    Since the 1970s, the economic growth in East Asia has spurred workers to migrate from low-income Southeast Asian countries, like the Philippines and Indonesia, to wealthier, but typically more crowded locations, like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, in search of employment. As a result of globalization, women are migrating in large numbers and entering the domestic field of work, a phenomenon which scholars refer to as "the global nanny chain" or "the international division of reproductive labor".

    Economic growth in China in particular has led many women from the rural areas of China to migrate to urban areas in search of employment. These women want to be a part of the push for the modernization of China, leaving behind the traditional practices of their rural families in favor of a chance to be a part of the modern age. This motivation, as well as the sense of duty they feel to help provide for their parents, is one of the most commonly cited reasons rural women decide to migrate to bigger cities. In order to find jobs in China's bigger cities, like Shanghai, they rely on social networks. By connecting with family members or other villagers who have already left for the city, a wide range of jobs are available. Rural women take up a wide variety of jobs, from domestic and factory work to owning their own businesses to working as hostesses in China's popular karaoke bars. These women usually spend their income on education for themselves or family members, sending any leftover money to the rest of the family that remains in the village.

    Not all migrant workers come from poorer regions, however. In the Philippines, for example, workers often come from more economically developed regions. Thailand has seen an increase in the migration of women from higher classes as well. Once practiced exclusively by the wealthy elite, the 1960s marked a time when middle-class Sino-Thai families began to increasingly send daughters overseas in pursuit of higher education.


    Feminization of migration Wikipedia

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