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The invisible ones

February 25, 2009

I was taking a look in few researches about immigration, and I found interesting articles and numbers of women in the world, some of them are related to women in Europe (migration) , but they are very tight with the immigration worldwide too . They have the same hope, reasons and problems they are Americans ( oh yes! They cross the boarder too), Brazilians, Middle East , African doesn’t matter they are women out of their home town.

Traditionally, migration has been mostly a male phenomenon because men had the freedom to travel and a duty to maintain the financial upkeep of the family. Migration was a men’s world: migrants’ jobs were male jobs and migrants’ rights were men’s rights. But recently globalization has brought with it a feminization of migration, and the number of women who migrate alone, as men do, to make money for themselves and/or to support their families, is increasing.

“There are very limited job opportunities in this country (…) I remember how I suffered before securing a job in Yemen (…) things would have been worse for me and my family had I not gone abroad to work”, Ethiopian woman working in Yemen.

Who are those women?

They are married or single, divorced or widows, mothers and daughters, girls and older women. They are many but they are invisible as there is not enough data or sex-disaggregated statistics on migrant women. We know that women make half of international migrants and that they tend to migrate from poor to poor countries as they avoid long journeys, may not have enough money to travel far, or are attracted to countries similar in terms of customs, religion, language, climate etc. But the number of women migrating to rich countries is increasing and today women represent the majority of immigrants in North America, Europe and the Middle East and the majority of emigrants from many countries in Asia and Latin America are female.

Why do women migrate/ immigrate?



Whilst women migrate for similar reasons as men, there are incentives specific to their gender:
To join a migrant husband (family reunification) or to marry someone living in a different country.
 “I approved because she is a girl and so has to leave” said Hashim of his daughter leaving Ghana.



To study or to acquire work experience and economic independence in order to gain more respect within their family and community because of the contribution they make to their welfare. “While working in Hong Kong I experienced many things – the way people treat a dependent or independent woman. I have gained much experience and my confidence has grown. Now, I have a say in decision-making at home. My husband does not shout at me. I have bought a piece of land and four rickshaws and I am creating a means of livelihood for four other families” Sushila Rai, Nepalese migrant domestic worker.

To escape gender discrimination and constraining gender norms, such as the obligation to marry or have children, the prohibition to study or work.
Furthermore, women who might have migrated for other reasons often do not want to return home because they fear to lose their newly-won autonomy.

What are typical “female” jobs?

They are maids, cleaners and caretakers of the sick, the elderly and of children, as well as farmers, waitresses, sweatshop workers, highly skilled professionals, teachers, nurses, entertainers, sex workers.

Skilled women tend to go into care-related professions (education, health, social work); nursing is the most female-dominated sector (90%) and for this the term “care drain” is used. However, while male migrants often undertake work that is classified as “skilled”, such as management positions in the manufacturing sector, women frequently are engaged in so-called unskilled positions, such as domestic work: 60% of Latin American women immigrants work as domestic employees in the host country.

Challenges for migrant women

One of the key issues for migrant women is their vulnerability to violence, exploitation and discrimination, for instance:
Immigration policies in destination countries tend to give more rights and opportunities for the regularisation of workers in the male sectors, which are traditional migrants’ sectors. The female sectors tend to be characterised by their poor working conditions, low pay, insecurity and potential to be exposed to sexual abuse.

Women can be the subject of sexual or physical violence from transporters, fellow male travellers or border guards. Trafficked women are especially at risk as they are completely dependent on their traffickers who provide them with false passports and work (often within the sex industry). Traffickers regularly threaten women with hurting their families back home and keep them in abusive situations (loss of freedom, rape, torture).

Women can feel isolated due to the restrictions imposed by their social relations or relatives wanting to preserve their cultural identity in the host country.
Women are particularly exposed to infectious diseases and are not informed enough about sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. They are at risk not only when subjected to sexual violence or when they enter the sex industry, but also when migrant husbands return home.

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