Accueil du site > Dossiers > Sous dossiers > The feminisation of migration

The feminisation of migration

lundi 30 septembre 2002, par Dominique Foufelle

Big enterprises increasingly prefer women workers before male workers, and the conditions for female migrant workers must be more be addressed in an international context.

A Big enterprises increasingly prefer women workers before male workers", says Marcela Ballara from Red de Educación Popular Entre Mujerers de América Latina y el Caribe (REPEM), and gives the explanation : "women are more flexible, work longer hours, their salaries are lower, and they rarely establish themselves permanently in the country of destination".
According to Marcela Ballara, the first immigration flow was characterized by the companies’ preference for male workers. However, since male workers more often try to organize themselves in trade unions, ask for higher salaries, and also often start a family and permanently remain in the country the migrated to, the trend is changing. The second flow or migration sees a sharp increase in female migrant workers. Another reason for the increase in female migration is also the difficulty in rural areas to sustain their livelihood. It has become a family survival strategy to liberate one of the daughters for work abroad. Although figures are hard to establish, the UN reports estimate that women now comprise 47% of the migrant workers. And the numbers are increasing.

Bodies for sell

The situation for women migrant workers is often even more difficult then it is for men. Women are more vulnerable to mafia networks that recruit people to different kind of ’slave labour’ and sometimes for sexual exploitation in prostitution. When speaking about female migration though, it is important to be clear about the fact that women who are recruited or duped into sexual exploitation, remain a very small figure. Marcela Ballara explains that the higher vulnerability are due to several reasons, among them the general status of women in their communities, the fact that many of them are illiterate, and have little or no education. Another important factor that increases the vulnerability of women, and that is valid at least for Latin America according to Marcela Ballara, is that the decision to migrate is rarely a choice of the woman herself, but a family decision. "The family chooses to free one of the daughters from productive and reproductive labour, in order for her to be able to migrate and work".
Women are recruited to work in various sectors, although domestic work is one of the larger domains. Another is export processing zones, such as the maquiladoras in Latin America. Although there are some figures, Marcela Ballara says that it is very difficult to estimate how many women migrant worker there actually are, and how many are suffering from the illegal working conditions in the maquiladoras. "Many governments define migration as a ’security issue’, and thus no official papers are available". It is almost impossible to get access into the maquiladoras that now in Latin Americas exist mainly in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These export processing zones are also numerous in Asia, and exist in Africa as well.

New policies needed

In order to improve the situation, and address the needs of women migrant workers, Marcela Ballara emphasizes the absolute necessity of developing sustainable policies, which enable people to find local employment, and support their livelihood. Pursuing and punishing traffickers and mafia networks with much more intensity is another urgent action needed in order to prevent the exploitation of female migrant workers.
The position of Marcela Ballara is also that we need to develop migration laws, that on the one hand protect the migrant population, and that recognizes the value that migrant workers bring to the country of destination. The projects that are now being put in place aim to a large extent to get increased control and overview of the large populations of migrant workers. However, this work must not be pursued with the objective of throwing irregular migrants out. In this context the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) receives a dose of fierce criticism : "they speak beautifully about their work for humanitarian return of migrants, while in the reality they are merely an instrument for governments to expel people". In her view, the issue of the feminisation of migration has only just started to be addressed, and she insist on the international community to do much more to improve the situation of female migrant workers.


Malin Björk - février 2002

SPIP | | Plan du site | Suivre la vie du site RSS 2.0