Women and International Migration: a Cross-Cultural Analysis

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Women and International Migration: A Cross-cultural Analysis

Statement of the Problem

International migration is a global phenomenon. There is increasing international connectivity and flow of information, capital and people. Further, the liberalized immigration policies of some of the developed countries (Zlotnik , 1998:429-430) have accelerated the pace of international migration of both men and women for settlement and temporary residence. Women are an important component of international migration: nearly half the international migrants are women (Jolly, Bell and Narayanswamy , 2003; Russell , 1995; United Nations , 1998). The impact of international migration on women, both those migrating and those left behind has been a sorely neglected issue in international migration research (Boyd , 2003). The male bias in this research is undoubtedly based on the assumption that most women migrated for reasons of family reunification. This assumption is epitomized in The ILO Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Recommendation, 1949 (No. 86) , when it refers to a migrant worker’s family as being “his wife and minor children”. Gender has been neglected in the international migration research The increasing participation of women in international migration processes and gender-related issues in causes and consequences of emigration can no longer be ignored. An increasing number of women in the Asia and Pacific region are migrating either with families or autonomously to more developed countries to seek employment and higher wages, better lifestyle, social and economic benefits, social security and to escape cultural constraints (United Nations, 1997 ; Jolly, Bell, and Narayanswamy, 2003).

Feminization of the labour market, demand for women’s labour and the ready supply of these from developing countries and changing views on women’s mobility have motivated women to seek employment in overseas destinations. According to ILO (2001), It is the gender-segregated labour markets as well as the sexual division of labour in the household that determine gender-selective migration flows. Stated simply, men and women follow different migration patterns (e.g. they migrate for different reasons) because they do different things in the sending country and are expected to engage in gender-specific occupations on arrival in the host country.

The social, economic and environmental contexts of the society determine the different roles men and women have in the migration processes. Women migrants not only show different demographics, motivations and strategies but they also have significant influence on social transformations at family, household and community levels both in places of origins and destinations.

The explanations for international migration are diverse, complex and inter-linked (Massy, et. al. , 1993 and Russell, 1995). Titelbaum and Russell (1994:229) suggest, “International migration may be best seen as a focal point of intersection among economic, demographic and political differentials. As these disparities widen, so does the potential for (although not necessarily the actuality of) international migration.” International migration is a strategy used by women and men in developing countries with problems of low income, poverty, unemployment and limited economic opportunities and socio-political problems such as ethnic tension and violence, and personal and group insecurity.

Over the last 25 years, there has been little concerted effort to incorporate women issues into theories of international migration. Yet, understanding these issues are critical in the migration context. In part because migration theory has traditionally emphasized the causes of international migration over questions of who migrates, it has often failed to adequately address gender-specific migration experiences. Without clear theoretical underpinnings, it becomes difficult to explain, for example, the conditions under which women...
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