Women in Comparative Societies

Women on the Move in a Globalizing World


Based on Introduction to Global Woman, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russel Hochschild and “Migration Trends:  Maps and Chart” by Robert Espinoza and other ideas.


Fact:  Women are on the move in the globalizing world


Types of mobility to consider

Socio-economic (class):  upward, downward, lateral

    Economic migration

    Human smuggling, trafficking

Refugee movements

    Asylum seeking




Proposition:  the upward mobility of 1st World women depends on the geographic mobility of 3rd World women


Millions of women migrate from poor countries to wealthier

countries to obtain work as domestic workers, nannies, or sex workers


Women in developed countries use the supplementary childcare provided

By migrant workers to obtain more affluent careers


Is this situation just? 


Who benefits?  Who pays and how?


What problems are created or exacerbated by women’s migration?







   1. Impact on the children, families, societies they leave behind


   2. Economic justice

the migrants are poorly paid

generally underpaid relative to native workers

       downward pressure on wages in receiving societies


   3. Vulnerablity to criminal predators:  traffickers, pimps, abusive employers/husbands

have little recourse for being held as slaves, prisoners

for unfair or no pay, horrible living/working conditions, etc.



Why are these issues given little scholarly or media attention?






    1. Intersection of gender-race-class

Triply disadvantaged, discriminated against

women’s work” – not really work; “natural”

sex work” – esp. for minority women who are sexualized – seen as not really work because of

natural” inclination to sex, pleasing men

 racial discounting” – migrants are often from groups that are seen as inferior

class bias – the attitude that some are put on this earth to serve, others to lead


    2. Invisibility

These jobs are primarily indoors and hidden

Stigma in western cultures against dependency on migrant labor

Hard to measure/know. Lack data on illegal/informal patterns




Historical Perspective on Migration to Perform “Women’s Work”

The first world way of life is made possible by the transfer of

Classic “wifely duties” to domestic servants


This is not the first historical precedent of shifting child-rearing

Duties to transplanted women


    1. In the ancient Middle East, women of defeated populations were made into slaves



2. In the American slave trade of the 19th Century, one-third of slaves brought from Africa were women who became “domestic servants,” i.e., cleaning women, cooks, nursemaids, concubines, sexual slaves to their masters and mothers of their children



    3. In the nineteenth century, Irish women migrated to English towns to serve wealthy households




What, then, is distinctive about today’s waves of migration?



Scale, magnitude, rapidity, “global-ness”






Why do women migrate today?







Economic Reasons

    Push factors: 

Many poor governments support the migration of women

    Economic development impact:  Women are estimated to send half of what they earn back home

Institutions like the World Bank and IMF require developing countries to restructure fiscal policies

These reforms often reduce public goods such as welfare and education (forcing women to seek a larger    income)

Desire for upward mobility in home countries



    Pull factors:

There is relatively more wealth to be found in developed countries (even non-western countries)


In Hong Kong the wages for a Filipina domestic are about 15 times the wages of a school teacher in the Philippines


Family Reasons

   An alternative to divorce

    Abandonment, widowhood

    Family’s best option economically, even for professional women (downward mobility across space)

    To escape abuse

    Sold, forced by family




Source: Stalker’s Guide to International Migration (click on map to be taken to interactive map on Stalker’s site)



Think about the flows with women in mind

Why do women migrate?

What kind of work do they do in the receiving countries?


See p. 280 in Global Woman for trends related to women not revealed by other maps in the book


Latin America to Europe

    Domestic Workers:  DR and Peru to Spain

    Sex Workers:  Guatemala to Spain; Colombia and Brasil to W Europe


Within Asia

    Domestic Workers:  Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand to HK, Singapore, Malaysia

    Sex Workers:  Phil, Cambodia, Laos, China, Burma to Japan, Taiwan, HK, Malaysia, Thailand

       Vietnam and Thailand to Cambodia

Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India to Pakistan

Bangladesh, Nepal to India


Within Europe

    Domestic Workers:  from PL, AL, BG to Greece

    Sex Workers:  AL to Greece; Ro to Turkey; Rus and Ukr to W Europe


N America

    Philippines to US, Canada

    Caribbean to US

    Sri Lanka to Canada