Women continue to migrate at an increasing rate, particularly in Europe, Africa and Oceania, and have developed a prominent role in the global labor market (Pew Research, 2006). A dialogue has spread across the international community to include gender in migration research and highlight the diverse experiences of migrant women. Gender-specific differences affect who migrates and where, what risks are associated with migration, how people migrate and use their networks, what resources are available and what relationships exist with the country of origin (IOM, 2019). In gender migration debates, understanding how the fundamentals and changes in dynamics, roles and expectations of gender power are changing the flow of female migration is fundamental. Changes in migration trends have linked labor market needs to the reasons women may migrate. In fact, more migrants migrate independently of one another in order to work, receive further training or take on a role as head of household (Migration Data Portal, 2020). The presence of migrant women in the labor force is also greater than that of non-migrants in all countries with the exception of those with low incomes (Migrationsdatenportal, 2020). In order to further examine the gender-specific experiences of migrant women and how these experiences are reflected in the global workforce, this paper attempts to answer the following question: What driving factors lead to the decision to migrate among migrant women?
Most migration studies have tended to focus only on men or to group the migration patterns of men and women into one category (Boyd, 1989; DaVanzo, 1978; Todaro, 1969; Pessar & Mahler, 2003; Boyd & Grieco, 2003) . The unique experiences of women migrant workers are often overlooked in the scientific community, with the persistence of assuming that women either migrate as relatives of a male breadwinner or are left behind by their emigrated husbands (Pedraza, 1991). Even the general assumptions that women include in the migration process in the first place still make them a secondary actor for male migrants. However, female migrant workers have a dominant force in migration trends, and their experiences differ from those of their male counterparts. Indeed, the presence of women in work flows into the United States has been increasing for several decades (Donato, 1994; Sassen-Koob, 1984). The number of migrant women in relation to the population has risen steadily worldwide. 79.6 million emigrated in 1995 and 130.2 million in 2019 (Migration Data Portal, 2019).
There are several risks associated with the migration of women. While migrants are generally subject to the lowest wages, women migrants in particular are increasingly oriented towards dead ends and often temporary low-wage work (Fernandez-Kelly, 1994; Fernandez-Kelly & Garcia, 1988). Overall, migrant women are more exploited due to lower wages, risky working conditions and the types of jobs available to them. Highly skilled migrant women are very often underemployed and receive less wages and status for their qualifications. This has been observed in developed countries like New Zealand (Fleury, 2016). Migrant workers play a dominant role in the service sector, including housework, and in the clothing and microelectronics industries (Fernandez-Kelly & Garcia, 1988; Boyd & Grieco, 2003). For undocumented workers in sectors such as domestic work, there are many labor rights violations that occur regularly, including sexual harassment, underpaid services, and extended working hours (Chavez, 1992).
The risks associated with migration do not rule out the representation of migrant women. Indeed, women play a fundamental role not only in improving their own migration conditions, but also in a wide range of transnational interactions. The theories that best convey this role also serve as a more pragmatic model for international migration than traditional interpretations. In the next few sections, various viewpoints are examined in order to identify the reasons for women’s migration and apply relevant theories to critically examine such claims. This paper will analyze gender disaggregated data on migration of women and conclude that the world system model is the most authentic indicator of the determinants of migration and work of women abroad.
Push-pull migration theories come from Ernst Ravenstein’s “Migration Laws” (Ravenstein, 1876, 1885, 1889). The main expansions to the laws dealing with gender conclude that women migrate more than men over shorter distances, men are more represented in international migration than women, and the main drivers of migration are universally economic (King, 2012 ). Ravenstein’s research has initiated subsequent studies to introduce a mathematical model consisting of various factors that “push” migrants out of one country and “pull” them into another (Dorigo & Tobler, 1983; Lee, 1966; Tobler, 1987) . As a result, the original push-pull model for migration has been expanded to take into account a different set of push and pull factors with different influences in order to predict migration patterns.
While Ravenstein’s original laws found that economic factors govern both push and pull factors, recent studies have found that a variety of “push” factors can more accurately predict migration than “pull” factors (Jenkins, 1977; Massey , et al., 1994)). These conditions include the state of economic development, institutional conditions, government policies, and the regime of the country from which one is emigrating (Jenkins, 1977; Massey, et al., 1994). Push-pull theories create an equation for different causes of migration in relation to the actual outcome of the migration, but do not necessarily capture the structural inequalities within the systems of international migration. The push-pull model often neglects other important influences such as historical implications, family dynamics, and socio-political and economic interdependence between nations (O’Reilly, 2013). The legacy of colonization explains, for example, the cross-border relationships between groups and states and maintains economic, political, interpersonal and social relationships between post-colonial and colonizing states.
The microeconomic model of migration observes individuals and their households to indicate that people are more likely to migrate in order to maximize their own human capital. Microeconomic theories are often perceived as idealistic because they give the study of migration human agency and emphasize the importance of an individual’s decision to emigrate from their country of origin (Wood, 1982). Models that emphasize the freedom of choice for one’s own migration decision are particularly relevant for the migration of women, since migrant women are often overlooked as the main actors in migration processes. DaVanzo (1978) found that families whose heads of household are unemployed or unsatisfied with their current job are more likely to emigrate than families who are not looking for work. Although this finding is significant, the study did not look at single parents, wages or employment relationships of wives. Therefore it cannot be determined whether the employment status of women is specifically an indicator of family migration as interpreted by this microdata model.
Household units in migration have been criticized in previous scholarships for lack of representation of the role of women in labor migration (Matthei, 1996). It is significant that women, alongside their relatives and children, are particularly active in determining their own migration (Matthei, 1996). Traditional household measures also include non-single households, divorced or separated women, and single women who have never been married. Hence, this interpretation is insufficient when considering a broader spectrum of family migration, of which the decision to marry or divorce can be a determinant of the decision to migrate (Mincer, 1978). A study that observed three countries in the Asia-Pacific region found that microeconomic theory can be applied to highly skilled migrant workers, but family and lifestyle conditions were also important determinants of emigration and remigration (Gibson & McKenzie, 2009). This literature suggests that economic prospects alone are not a sufficient model for family or women’s migration.
The world systems approach regards migration as an indicator of interactions between countries and within a transnational lens of communication and movement. With regard to the migration of women, it can be shown how women contribute to an international network of migrant communities and employment opportunities. While social networks have been identified as a fundamental role in the decision to migrate, the relevant literature often neglects the importance of women by assuming that they are dependent on male colleagues or are housed in the household (Massey et al., 1989 ). On the contrary, Barbara Pinto has found in her experience as an immigration attorney in the United States that many, if not most, of the women who use immigration services are single and do not belong to any other household (Pinto, 2020). In developing and underdeveloped countries, more women emigrate independently rather than as dependents or household members (Sorensen, 2004). Previous research on migrants from countries in Central America, Southeast Asia and Europe shows that women use their international social networks to organize their own transport for migration (Hondagneu-Sotelo, Triano & Phizacklea, 1996; Georges & Wiest, 1990; Stivens, 1987 ; Singh, 2006; Richter, 2004). It is also found that migrant women support one another in getting jobs upon arrival (Chavez, 1992). However, this advantage of transnational networking is especially true for women in domestic and poorly paid work and not for employed or highly qualified women (Hagan, 1998).
Transnational migration is a more recent characterization used to describe migrants who settle in a new country but maintain close ties with their country of origin. A study of the transnational ties of migrants from St. Vincent, Grenada, the Philippines, and Haiti shows that these economic, political, and social ties encourage migrants to continue to invest, and often do, in the family relationships and economic stability of their home countries leads to return migration (Shiller, Basch & Blanc, 1995). Transnationalism can serve as a powerful indicator of decision to emigrate or return home to modern migrants, and this complex movement contributes to culturally diverse communities. Social remittances between sending and receiving countries enable transnational communities to “adopt certain new ideas and practices and filter out others” (Levitt, 1998, 943-944). Women are particularly active in sending financial transfers to families in their country of origin, and immigrant female domestic workers in New York are known to spend between 20 and 75 percent of their income on remittances (Colen, 1986). Migrant women also initiate “parenting” with the family to participate in international labor migration (Matthei, 1996).
As migrants develop a strong presence in the community over time in the receiving countries, their movements also create social ties and economic dependency. I assume that these connections between the country of origin and the host country offer more security in international migration systems and contribute significantly to the decision to migrate among migrant women. Transnational Feminism refers to an anti-war activist movement that was predominantly active during World War I and Second World War, whose feminists helped build transnational networks and work together to achieve peace while solving global problems. I contend that this movement can apply to the laws of migration as well, as the migration experiences of women seeking something missing at home, at work or in the community largely contribute to transnationalism. This can be illustrated by the cooperation networks between migrant women, who determine their movement to host countries and their financial stability on arrival, and those who trigger the international migration of other women. The implications of these networks apply to the economies and the various sectors in which migrant women are strongly represented, as well as to the creation of immigrant communities over time. Therefore I suggest that transnational networks in particular lead to women migrating and looking for work abroad. This hypothesis can be derived from world systems theory as it takes into account the foundations created by historical interactions between states and their peoples and how this applies to the structure of these power relations today. These fundamentals include the settlement and emigration of migrants into the global workforce, and the unique treatment and experience of women in these systems.
After the rise in women’s migration, a feminist perspective on transnational migration has developed. This area of study investigates how gender inequalities differentiate migration experiences and divisions in labor and care services (Parreñas, 2009; Boyd & Grieco, 2003). The gender perspective on migration highlights the social institutions that deal with race and gender and contribute to contrasting experiences between men and women. Some of these differences, such as the tendency to rely more on family ties between women, have been interpreted through the development of this paper. However, the targeted identification of gender-specific indicators for the decision to migrate is less addressed in the literature, as the answers lie in a complex network of theories that apply differently to each type of migration: such as work, temporary work, refugee, illegal and permanent (Boyd & Grieco, 2003). Differences between migrant experiences and the decision to migrate were also observed in relation to the place of sending and receiving of communities or countries (Ghosh, 2009).
After the 2004 World survey on the role of women in developmentMigrant women are increasingly present as migrant workers and are more likely to move voluntarily “to become the main breadwinners of their families” (World Survey 2004, 2006). This finding could suggest that migrant women chose to work in order to improve their own human capital, job security or job opportunities, which supports the microeconomic model. It could also suggest that women are trying to collectively exercise control over their own movement and capital, and this conclusion may explain the transnational networking between women while rejecting the household model. Migration has also been found to promote autonomy, capital, self-esteem, authority and value within families and communities, social equality, access to services, and reproductive, political and human rights for women (Fleury, 2016) .
Education and employment rates have a pervasive influence on migration trends, and their relationship to the migration choices of working women varies by region and status. Needy or underserved women are more likely to migrate in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, higher education and employment rates in Mexico are causing more women to migrate, and high levels of employment and dissatisfaction in professional positions indicate intentions to migrate among Moroccan women (Fleury, 2016 ). Despite the differences in these results, it is evident that educational level and job satisfaction motivate emigration and certain movements. Other observations relate to gender norms, structural inequalities, and gender discrimination at home and in the community as main drivers in a woman’s decision to migrate from countries in Africa, South Asia, Central America, and Europe (Fleury, 2016). Social networks within the transnational and at home encourage international migration among women. In El Salvador and Morocco, migrant women reduce the stigma and insecurity associated with migrating other women (Mahler, 1999; Crivello 2003).
An increase in the global labor force participation of women and limited access to social services in industrialized countries have made high-income countries dependent on the labor force of low-income countries (Omelaniuk, 2005, cited by Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2002). This dynamic between developed and less developed countries has increased the dependence on globalized economies and opened up various job opportunities in the service sector for migrant women (Omelaniuk, 2005, quoted by Sassen, 2003). This realization supports world systems and models of dependency, since the migration of women is at the center of the exploitation of resources (including labor) in underdeveloped countries of the “periphery” at cheaper costs by “core countries”. While migration offers various benefits to women, including increasing their economic independence and human capital, job opportunities may still be limited to the needs of developed or emerging countries. For migrant women from countries that are integrated into certain areas of the global economy, such as the Philippines and India in the medical care industry, the incentive to migrate may become more secure.
Previous research has developed several important insights into changes in the determinants of female migration, as well as demographic changes in migrant women. Global competition and its leverage in the labor market have resulted in more migrant women looking for work in the service sector than in agriculture and manufacturing (Pew Research, 2006). As migrant women have become more dominant in the service sector, this may indicate that their substantial presence in certain markets is contributing to the increase in migration of women. In addition, women are more likely to migrate to gain control over their mobility and standard of living. This reflects a liberalization of gender relations (Pew Research, 2006). As women also migrate to take advantage of greater socio-political freedom, it is an issue of migration intent to gain control over an aspect that is not immediately accessible. Since 1980, female migrants have been better educated regardless of their region of origin and age, fewer emigrate in their youth or childhood, and fewer arrive married or have ever been married (Pew Research, 2006). The rise in education among migrant women may reflect global efforts towards equal access to education and youth enrollment, particularly in rural areas. The increasingly individual movement of female migrants can be traced back to changed gender relations, which determine the intention to migrate.
The expansion of women’s migration has enabled a more balanced flow of international migration. Significantly, the increase in migration of women applies to both less qualified and highly qualified women, with more highly qualified women emigrating from less economically developed countries (Dumont, Martin & Spielvogel, 2007). Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) literature states that the increase in international mobility of highly skilled migrant women is disproportionate to the general migrant population, considering that women have unequal access to secondary education compared to men (Dumont , Martin & Spielvogel, 2007). This raises further questions as to why women with higher education are more likely to migrate, especially from less developed countries.
In particular, women intentionally or indirectly support each other in expanding international migration and job opportunities for migrants in all regions. There is a correlation between the gender benefits of migration and the intention to migrate to better wages or jobs, a greater enjoyment of civil liberties and authority over one’s own capital and security. There are also gender-specific risks both in entering a host country and in treatment on arrival. Migrant women often rely on the previous migration experiences of other women and their connections with communities in the sending and receiving countries to reduce these risks. Both limited and higher education correspond to women’s intentions to migrate, and improved employment rates in the sending region may affect actual opportunities or the perception of employment opportunities in the receiving community.
Based on the data interpreted in this article, it is suggested that world systems theory is the most accurate model to explain why female migrant workers choose to migrate. The complexity of transnational networking and international mobility can reflect the multi-dimensional conditions that influence migration of women. More and more women are emigrating single, and the desire for better job opportunities and a higher status in another country can be reassured by the experiences of generations of migrant women. Established transnational networks reduce the risks for single women and women with children. There is a major security-on-arrival affirmation that is specifically tailored to the migrant’s rich networking experience. Additionally, these connections are likely to reduce the risks associated with transportation, immigration status, lack of community, low capital, and limited job opportunities. In addition, international work demands have placed migrant women in a role in which they do not compete with non-migrant women in their sectors in industrialized and emerging countries. As this does not apply to migrants who have entered less developed countries, the dynamics between states shows the role of migration in the world economy and in the labor force. In addition, fewer job opportunities in low-income countries and a strong desire for economic independence may indicate why more women are migrating to work. In summary, the differences in women’s migration between higher and lower income countries support the world system model.
In light of the previous discussion, I propose further research to identify differences in experience and decision to migrate between high- and low-skilled workers. As indicated in the data above, there are discrepancies between these groups, e.g. B. the benefits of networking. While some findings suggest that high employment may indicate migration of women, this may better indicate limited access to resources or barriers to advancement while in employment. Further research on the motives for women’s return migration and its implications would advance the study of gender-based migration, as transnationalism is known to be involved in this movement of people.
In light of the documented experiences of migrant women, I note that many countries around the world need a full reconstruction of their immigration policies in order to meet international migration requirements and basic standards of human dignity. While exploitation, violence and discrimination against migrants have gender-specific connotations, they are tolerated by all migrants to varying degrees in accordance with the intersectional analysis. A comprehensive and universal policy must therefore be applied to protect the human and labor rights of all migrants while recognizing the experiences and vulnerabilities of women. In particular, I recommend guidelines to ensure that migrants have equal access to resources, including legal, medical, reproductive, educational, financial, and basic needs. Policies should aim to protect migrants and immigrant communities from discrimination and violence at work, at home, in public and on the move. The protection of migrants’ labor rights must be implemented equally regardless of their immigration status. It is recommended that all government agencies and immigration officers be closely monitored and instructed to protect migrants’ rights.
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 “Child Fostering” refers to an interaction between female kin to launch transnational migration. When a woman migrates and leaves her children with family in the country of origin, she may send remittances to family for child care and economic security. The women receiving remittances are then able to build enough capital to secure their own migration.
Written at: California State University, East Bay
Written for: Dr. Kim Geron
Date written: May 2020