The Feminization of Migration (excerpt)

Excerpt from an article by Zuhal Yesilyurt Gündüz in Monthly Review; full article available to Questia subscribers

“Even though it’s paid well, you are sinking in the amount of your work It [is] also very depressing. The only thing you can do is give all your love to [the two-year-old American child]. In my absence from my children, the most I could do with my situation is give all my love to that Child.”

-Vicky Diaz, domestic care worker in Beverly Hills, who had to leave her children in her home country

“I’m living here in this hostel, and my classes are fine, but I can’t talk to my mother. I can’t tell her things. I can’t see her face. I can’t hug her My mother misses me, too. My mother will retire at some point, but how old will I be then?”

-Priya, Keralian (India) college student, whose mother works as a foreign domestic worker

Migration, Care, Care Drain, and Care Chains

The history of migration is as old as the history of humanity. Since the very beginnings humans have migrated to build a new, more hopeful existence somewhere else. Today migrants often break away from their home countries as a consequence of warfare, political repression, or severe poverty. Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller write that “migration has become a private solution to a public problem.” As political, economic, and structural keys to a narrowing of the global North-South gap are still missing, individuals “close the gap privately, by moving from South to North at great emotional cost.” Migrant labor is also of course associated with a myriad of other problems to which such workers are subjected.

Employers, recruiting agencies-as well as both sending and receiving states-profit from migrants’ hard work and contributions. For the sending countries, migration is a successful development and growth policy. It not only decreases unemployment rates, but also brings in remittances. Some states market the image of female migrants by praising them as “‘economic heroes’ who not only sacrifice themselves for their families but also for the nation.” Receiving countries, too, gain from the hard, but low-priced, work of migrants. These states are able to reduce labor shortages in sectors such as information technology or health and domestic care and provide upper-middle-class families the possibility of private child or elderly care as a kind of limited recompense for the shrinking welfare state. They also benefit from the brain drain of sending nations-the siphoning of highly educated professionals from their home countries, where they received their education, towards the economically developed countries. And of course by taking advantage of the availability of low-cost, migrant care workers, relatively privileged families in the rich countries are able to acquire a higher standard of living.

The astonishingly high number of women migrating is a new global trend. In the past it was mainly men who went to countries far away; women came as followers. In the last twenty years, however, this has changed so much that today over half of all migrants are women. Furthermore, female migrants have often become the main or single wage earners of their families. Saskia Sassen calls this the “féminisation of survival”-societies, governments, and states more and more depend on the work of women in the labor force. Thus the necessary conditions of work and survival fall increasingly on the shoulders of low-waged, deprived, and exploited migrant women.

Driving the “feminization of migration” are global social and demographic trends in developed countries such as aging populations in general and the elderly in specific, and the growing number of women in paid labor (over 50 percent overall, and close to 70 percent of women in some developed countries). This all contributes to the increasing demand for “care work”-in sectors like health, nursing, food service, hotels, housework, and care for children, elderly, or ill people. Care work-also called intimate labor-includes care and nursing of children, sick, or elderly people, as well as housework and housekeeping. …

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