Gender & migration: An introduction and a conversation

Published 6 March 2015 / By COMPAS Communications

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This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published in both blogs every Friday until the end of June.

Scholarship on migration suggests that women’s and men’s experiences of mobility and of being a ‘migrant’ diverge in important ways.  In some contexts women have greater opportunities for moving – gendered inheritance practices contribute to immobilizing male South Korean farmers and to female mobility, both in terms of South Korean women leaving the countryside and international marriage migrants from Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines, moving to the South Korean farms. In other contexts there are specific attempts to immobilize women, such as the ban imposed by the Nepalese government on the migration of domestic workers to certain Middle Eastern States.

Основные RGBIt is important to make gender visible, but this is not simply about examining how immigration and migration policies affect women differently from men - ‘adding women and stirring’ – but also considering how immigration and citizenship policies actively contribute to constituting gendered relations. The basic binary of migration policy and scholarship of the ‘Refugee’ and ‘the economic migrant’ is gendered as male, and has obfuscated a third key category of ‘family member’, which is gendered as female. Drawing attention to this gap however risks reinforcing particular ideas of family, and Eithne Liubheid (2004) has explored how interest in the feminization of migration and the shift towards examining ‘the migrant woman’ has reinforced the heternormativity of much migration scholarship.

Interestingly in Europe at least the basic conceptual map to navigate migration has shifted from its reliance on the refugee/economic migrant binary in two critical ways, both of which demand a gendered analysis. The first is greater focus on family migration. A broader range of family life is recognized in immigration policy, with same sex and unmarried partners being considered as family members for the purposes of immigration controls. This should not be interpreted as a relaxation in policy however, as actually numbers admitted are generally in decline as requirements regarding income, language and ‘cultural adaptation’ are becoming harsher. The second change is the shift from the refugee as non-citizen beneficiary of human rights protections, to the victim of trafficking. Both the refugee (gendered male) and the victim of trafficking (gendered female) are victims of the illiberal Other. However, unlike the refugee, the victim of trafficking is protected by being prevented from leaving ‘home’ in the first place. Moreover, the victim of trafficking has an evil partner, the trafficker, strongly imagined as a foreign man, a criminal. The attempts to protect these victims on the part of state authorities bring to mind Spivak’s (1994) pithy formulation of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized as ‘white men saving brown women from brown men’.

This blog series will examine the relationship between gender and migration and will both reflect on the role gender plays in the causes and consequences of migration and explore how migration policy and scholarship is itself gendered and constitutive of gender. We hope you will participate in the conversation.

See the post in the Border Criminologies blog


Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1994) ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ ed Williams, P., Chrisman, L. Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader Harvester Wheatsheaf: Hertfordshire

Luibheid, E. (2004) ‘Heteronormativity and Immigration Scholarship: a call for change’ GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 10(2): 227-235