[Kictanet] Fw: Gender and Development In Brief - Issue 16

alice at apc.org alice at apc.org
Wed Sep 21 17:00:08 EAT 2005

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Subject: Gender and Development In Brief - Issue 16



Gender and Migration - October 2005

* Gender and migration: an overview
* Promoting the rights of women migrating from Asia to the Middle East
* Want to know about trafficking? Ask any sex worker

Over the past four decades total numbers of international migrants have more 
than doubled but the percentage of the world population migrating has 
remained fairly constant. There are now 175 million international migrants 
worldwide or approximately 3.5 per cent of the global population, about half 
of whom are women. Yet internal migration in India and China combined 
exceeds total international migration globally. Is migration positive or 
negative for both gender equality and development? In fact it can be both. 
How can policy and practice foster the positive potential of migration and 
mitigate the risks? This In Brief hopes to inspire thinking on this 
question, with a short overview of the connections between gender and 
migration, an article on UNIFEM's work changing policies and supporting the 
rights of women migrating from Asia to the Middle East and a piece from the 
Durbar sex worker collective challenging us to re-evaluate work on 

Gender and migration: an overview

In 2000, 1 in every 35 people was an international migrant; and what some 
may find more surprising is the fact that half of these are now women. For 
internal migration, the total numbers are even higher (IOM 2000). 
Nevertheless, little progress has yet been made by development cooperation 
agencies on mainstreaming gender into migration interventions, and research 
into the gendered nature of migration has yet to hit the development 

People's experiences of gender are central to the patterns, causes and 
impacts of migration. Gender roles, relations and inequalities affect who 
migrates, how, why, and where they end up. Consider the following two 

'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 (UNIFEM 2004 
section 2, p1).

'I can't believe I did it. If I had someone to talk my problems over with, 
this would not have happened' twenty-one-year-old Leonor Dacular, is 
reported to have said this to a Philippines embassy official in a prison 
cell in Saudi Arabia as she awaited execution. She had complained to her 
employers that she had been raped twice by their sixteen-year-old son but 
they did not seem to care. She finally killed the son and his parents in 
their sleep and tried to kill herself. She was executed on 7 May 1993 
(UNIFEM 2004 section 2, p4).

Gender and migration connections
Looking at migration through the lens of gender can show us how futile it is 
to try to divide up experiences of migration as either forced or voluntary, 
positive or negative, empowering or restrictive. Real-life stories of 
migration might include a family from Niger faced with famine moving for 
survival; a daughter in the Philippines sent by her family to work as a maid 
and required to send her earnings back home; a Bangladeshi woman divorced by 
her husband who is sent back to her parents' village; a woman fleeing feared 
violence from the militia to a displaced people's camp in Darfur; an English 
boy who runs away from home to escape sexual abuse; a transgender adolescent 
in Brazil thrown out by his family moving to the nearest city to seek out a 
transgender community; or a Serbian woman who has willingly migrated for sex 
work, but has been deceived into believing that she will earn good money 
rather than be trapped in conditions of virtual slavery.

Do gender roles stay as they were when people were 'at home', or do they 
change? What employment opportunities are open to which genders? What 
specific needs or vulnerabilities may women face when coping with new 
countries or communities?

It is true that migration can lead to a greater degree of economic and/or 
social autonomy for women, and the opportunity of challenging traditional or 
restrictive gender roles. Through migration, both men and women may develop 
skills or earn higher wages, some of which they can send back to their 
country of origin as remittances. However, migration can also entrench 
restrictive gender stereotypes of women's dependency and lack of 
decision-making power. The gendered division of labour in destination 
societies may result in women's skills being under-utilised, or lead women 
into sex work or domestic service, even if they had no intention of doing so 
on departure. In addition, services such as health, education and employment 
protection may be hard to obtain in destination countries, particularly if 
you are in informal (or indeed illegal) employment. Such service deficits 
can be particularly acute for women if they are unused to negotiating their 
rights to help when they need it, or if they face barriers of language and 

Gender, migration and development
Despite the absence hitherto of development policy around migration, 
agencies like DFID are increasingly seeing it as a potentially important 
livelihood strategy for poor women and men - and one which can provide 
development to both sending and receiving countries. And yet, if both women 
and men are to benefit from migration, a shift to a gendered human rights 
approach is needed which ensures that development policy and practice are 
not limited to the economic aspects of migration (remittances or diasporic 
investment for example), but that they address a broader development 
'picture' which includes culture, human rights and equality. This requires a 
much closer look at factors such as invisibility, lack of protection, 
illegal status, poor labour standards, violence and stigma. Such factors are 
critically gendered in terms of the different needs of men and women in 
relation to health, employment, resources, information, and power over 

There are currently some positive examples that we can learn from. 
Government initiatives like that in Sri Lanka can provide essential 
pre-departure training to both women and men migrants which ensure a firm 
footing for all on arrival. Bilateral agreements between sending and 
receiving areas can also prompt receiving countries to provide a better deal 
for women migrants, as well as formulating policies to respond to large 
numbers of skilled workers leaving their countries of origin (the so-called 
'brain drain'). A project of UNIFEM South East Asia is currently 
facilitating the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding between 
Jordan and Indonesia and between Jordan and the Philippines that outlines 
the rights of women migrant workers. Important work can also be done by 
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as ALMATERRA in Turin, Italy 
which provides legal support, information, cross-cultural mediation, 
childcare and skills training for migrant women (Lean Lim et al. 2003).

International rights frameworks on migration, refugees, women's human rights 
and trafficking are an important starting point and direction for the 
mobilisation of resources and efforts within government and civil society. 
At the end of the day, people's rights to health, education and information 
are inalienable. Access to and enjoyment of these rights requires an 
acknowledgement by policymakers and practitioners of the migration context. 
What (or who) has made someone migrate, where they find themselves, and 
whether they are in physical danger or isolation, will all partly depend on 
their gender. Gender affects how people are able to contribute to and 
benefit from their destination community - and how, therefore, they are able 
to ultimately play a part in achieving basic goals of both social and 
economic development.


Promoting the Rights of Women Migrating from Asia to the Middle East

'When I was migrating to work as a domestic helper, I was told that I needed 
the permission of a male guardian to apply for migration. Even after 
obtaining the official permission, I had to cover my face and leave after 
sunset... When my brother migrated, everyone put red tilak on his forehead 
and bade him farewell. Now that I am back the discrimination continues, I am 
looked down upon while he is respected as a seasoned person' Nepali migrant 
worker migrating to Hong Kong. After her story was told in UNIFEM's briefing 
kit on empowering migrant workers (2004) she commented, 'My story was 
featured as a success story. Ever since, people approach me for information 
on foreign employment. Today I feel that I and my work have been respected.'

Around half of those migrating within and from Asia are women, the majority 
of whom are concentrated in low-end stereotypical jobs such as domestic help 
and entertainment, often as irregular migrants. In Indonesia, irregular 
migrants may outstrip regular migrants by seven to one. Treating these women 
as victims will not help them. Instead what is needed is an empowering and 
rights-based approach which respects their choices, and challenges the 
policies and prejudices in sending and receiving countries which make their 
lives more difficult. Examples of UNIFEM South Asia's work to strengthen 
women migrants' rights are described below.

Sending countries - Nepal
In many sending countries, negative ideas are associated with female 
migration. In Nepal, UNIFEM organised a media campaign to dispel these and 
promote the idea of a woman's right to livelihood and mobility as part of 
her human rights. The campaign included articles in leading newspapers, 
radio programmes, panel discussions and spots on television. 'The Media 
campaign attracted the attention of Social Justice Committee (SJC) of the 
Parliament and compelled us to create pressure on the Ministry of Labour to 
lift the ban on women going for work in the Gulf', remarked the Honourable 
Ambika Pant, President of SJC and Member of Parliament. The Government has 
now lifted the ban on female formal sector workers migrating to Gulf 
countries and the Foreign Employment Act has been amended to incorporate the 
rights of Nepali female migrant workers.

Receiving countries - Jordan
There are an estimated 35,000 Sri Lankans and 7,000 Filipinos working in 
Jordan (according to the relevant embassies). Domestic workers in the Middle 
East mostly lack labour rights or protection from abuse. In Jordan, UNIFEM 
has facilitated efforts by the Ministry of Labour and non-governmental 
organisations (NGOs) to develop the ground-breaking Minimum Standard 
Contract for Migrant Domestic Workers introduced in 2003. This contract 
recognises domestic work as productive labour and domestic workers as 
workers with legally recognised and enforceable rights. It covers migrant 
workers' rights to life insurance, medical care, rest days, timely payment 
of wages and the right to be treated in a humane way in keeping with 
international human rights standards.

Cooperation between sending and receiving countries
For sustained improvement in migrants' lives and to maximise the positive 
impacts on people's livelihoods and women's empowerment, sending and 
receiving countries need to work together. To this end, UNIFEM has been 
supporting cross-regional learning and cooperation both within and between 
countries through exposure visits and regional conferences. In a recent 
regional workshop, commitment was gained for multi-stakeholder collaboration 
within and between countries of origin to protect workers' rights - from 
governments, NGOs and international organisations in Indonesia, Bahrain, 
Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Jordan, Nepal, Philippines and Sri Lanka.

UNIFEM hopes that in the longer run, both sending and receiving countries, 
governments and civil society, will collaborate to promote safe migration, 
and evolve gender- and rights-based policies and programmes which empower 
migrant workers.

Meenakshi Ahluwalia is Program Officer on Economic Security and Rights for 
UNIFEM South Asia Regional Office.
223 Jor Bagh, New Delhi-11003, India
Tel: 91-11- 24604351/24649752/24649165
Fax: 91-11- 24627612
Email: meenakshi.ahluwalia at undp.org


Want to know about trafficking? Ask any sex worker
NANDINEE BANDYOPADHYAY, PATH India and a sex workers' rights advocate

My friend Bahar, who has worked as a sex worker in Mumbai and in different 
parts of Calcutta says, 'Ask any sex worker, what is the question that she 
encounters most frequently from outsiders, and she will invariably tell 
you, - "how did you come into the sex trade?" And you know why, because all 
you pious do-gooders cannot bring yourself to believe or accept that anyone 
can be a sex worker willingly - you want to hear a story that she had been 
forced into sex work, - blindfolded, gagged and dragged, just like in Hindi 
films, ... what is the word you use these days, ah yes, "trafficked".'

I interject hesitantly, 'But do not most sex workers say that is exactly how 
they were introduced into sex work?' Bahar laughs, 'We sex workers are in 
the business of meeting our clients' demands, be they men wanting sexual 
gratification or social workers like you wanting to save us. So we supply 
what you demand - you want spectacular, gory, heart-wrenching stories - we 
give them to you.'

'Here you have a trade - be it brothel-based or more unorganised 
street-based sex work - where the workers have the least bargaining power 
compared to those who profit from them. Of course the controllers of the 
trade would try to get workers who they can exploit most easily and 
profitably.' Bahar explains, 'See, most of us come from very poor 
households, where we have had little education or training in marketable 
skills, not much opportunity to live a life we would like to. Take my case, 
I left home because I felt I was not loved enough - my brothers always got 
the lion's share of food, toys or parents' love. So I ran away with the 
first boyfriend I had - and landed up in Bombay. It was this boyfriend who 
took me to a brothel-manager - and of course he made a small profit out of 
the transaction, like any agent supplying goods would do. So I was 
"trafficked" into the sex trade. But I knew what I was getting into, and 
there did not seem much point in protesting as by that time I had realised 
that the boyfriend was weak-willed and penniless on top of it.

'The first few months were grim - no choice over anything then - over which 
client to take, what fees to charge - that was "trafficking" according to 
me - when I had no control over my life. But after a year, I managed to 
strike a deal with the brothel-manager where I could keep half of what I 
earned and had complete control over my movements. At that point I could 
have left sex work, gone back home - not that they would have taken me back, 
tainted as I was by then - but I stayed on.

'The only way you can stop trafficking is to make it unprofitable for 
employers to recruit trafficked labour. Ensure all brothel owners and 
managers abide by norms barring them from recruiting trafficked sex workers. 
You "rescuers" never consult sex workers to find out what they want, you 
violate our rights by evicting us from our homes and workplaces, often 
insult and physically abuse us during the raid and then imprison us in 
remand homes for destitutes and delinquents. Ensure that sex workers, or any 
worker in any industry for that matter, have a degree of control over our 
working conditions and terms of engagement.' As with most of my encounters 
with Bahar, I have no choice but to accept the wisdom of her words.

This article is a composite of many conversations with sex workers across 
India and Bangladesh, and on an action research for a programme on Gender, 
Citizenship and Governance conducted by Durbar in collaboration with the 
Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) in 2000-2002.

For more information on Durbar's work see 'Gender, Citizenship and 
Governance: A Global Sourcebook' (2004)

Nandinee Bandyopadhyay is an advisor for Durbar, a collective of 60,000 
female, male and transgender sex workers
PATH India,
53 Lodi Estate, New Delhi 110 003
Email: nandinee at pathindia.org


References and further reading

BRIDGE, 2005, Gender and Migration, Cutting Edge Pack, Brighton: 
BRIDGE/Institute of Development Studies

Deshingkar, P., 2005, 'Maximising the benefits of internal migration for 
development', background paper prepared for the Regional Conference on 
Migration and Development in Asia, Lanzhou, China, 14-16 March 2005

The Initiative Against Trafficking in Persons, 2005, Resources and Contacts 
on Human Trafficking, Washington: The Initiative Against Trafficking in 

International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 2005, World Migration 2005: 
Costs and Benefits of International Migration, Geneva: IOM

Lean Lim, L., Landuyt, K., Ebisui, M., Kawar, M., Ameratunga, S., 2003, An 
Information Guide - Preventing Discrimination, Exploitation and Abuse of 
Women Migrant Workers, Geneva: International Labour Organization

Martin, S., 2005, 2004 World survey on the role of women in development: 
women and international migration, New York: United Nations Department of 
Economic and Social Affairs and Division for the Advancement of Women

Sørensen, N., 2005, 'Migrant remittances, development and gender', DIIS 
Brief, Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS)

UNIFEM, 2004, Empowering Migrant Workers in Asia, Briefing Kit, New York: 

Valk, M., Cummings, S. and H. van Dam (eds), 2004, Gender, Citizenship and 
Governance: A Global Sourcebook, Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute (KIT)

Useful websites:

Durbar Sex Workers' Collective website

Human Rights Watch web pages on 'Refugee and Internally Displaced Women; 
Gender-Based Asylum Claims'

Siyanda - for gender and migration research, tools, discussions and 

Southern African Migration Project

UNIFEM East and Southeast Asia Programme 'Empowering Women Migrant Workers'

Please note, all internet addresses are current as of August 2005


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© Copyright: Institute of Development Studies 2005 ISSN: 1358-0612

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