CARIM - Consortium for Applied Research on International Migration

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Gender and Migration

Click here to see the papers available in this series.

I. Introduction: The feminisation of international migration

Long distance and, in particular, international migration has traditionally been regarded as a predominantly male phenomenon. However, statistics show that this is not, or no longer, true and that women form around half of the stock of migrant population worldwide (105 million women against 109 million men) in 2010. This, however, varies greatly according to countries of origin as well as of destination.

The feminisation of international migration reflects changes that are taking place in both source and host countries. In source countries, changes such as increasing education among women, delayed marriage, decreasing fertility, rising participation in the labour force, growing empowerment and agency of women, may result in their higher propensity to autonomous migration. In host countries, several forces are playing, among which: the momentum gained by family reunification starting from the second half of the 1970s, i.e. at a time when labour migration became increasingly constrained, and the former two-way migration of mostly male workers was gradually substituted with the one-way migration of mostly female dependent family members; the rise in job opportunities available to migrant women in response to shortages of labour in services that local workers neglect, or in response to positions created by the ageing of local populations, or as a result of the emergence of female entrepreneurship among migrant populations. Feminisation, however, is far from being an even phenomenon in migration from, to and through the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (SEM) and Sub-Sahara African (SSA) countries (hereafter the Region).

II. Emigration and Immigration patterns at a glance

Regarding emigration, according to statistics of destination countries (years around 2008), the stock of women equals 38.4% of the total of emigrants originating from the Region worldwide (3,8 million women against 6,1 million men). However, the proportion of women depends upon the destination: for example, migrants to Europe have been offered more opportunities for family reunification than those destined to the Gulf States; Gulf labour markets, on the other side, offer more opportunities than Europe in specific female employment such as teachers in primary and high schools, as well as health-related professions. The feminisation of migration also depends upon factors pertaining to the source country, such as the development of human capital through female education unmatched by demand on the local labour market, or the level of female autonomy that varies greatly from country to country in the region. Finally it depends upon institutional developments, whether in the direct management of migration (such as the creation of specific programmes for migrant women) or in domains that have an indirect impact on migration (such as reforms of personal statuses).

Regarding immigration, the same factors explain its feminisation even though it may have remained more limited as suggested by UN statistics (2010): in North Africa, there would be 871,000 female immigrants against 1,134,000 male immigrants; in Western Africa 3.9 million against 4.5. The distinction between independent migrant women and dependent members of migrant men’s families is often blurred: for example, foreign domestic workers in SEM countries may be family members of refugees or migrant workers who are part of an emerging international labour market for women (low- or high-skilled).

III. Key issues to be addressed

For a systematic, analytical and comparative description of the topic of gender and migration in SEM and SSA countries, the following key issues will be investigated and discussed within the three modules - demographic and economic; legal; socio-political - .

Demographic and economic module

In the demographic and economic module, the main questions to be answered will be related to: personal and economic status and cause of move.

More in depth, on personal status (dependent vs independent), the research will be aimed at answering to the following key questions: is independent migration of women an increasing phenomenon over time? What are its determinants at three levels (according to available data): Individual; Household; Greater society. Do recent demographic and economic trends in Arab countries (declining fertility; rising education and economic activity among women; growing female unemployment) affect the autonomous migration of women? What is the potential for family dependent migration flows? On economic status (active – inactive – student), research will be two-folded: on the supply side (origin countries) it will attempt to answer to the following questions: what is the proportion of women active at the time of migration and did it change over time and in which direction?Are employment opportunities equal for men and women in the country of origin? Would gender segmentation of the labour market of the origin country be a factor of autonomous female migration? While, on the demand side (destination countries), the focus will be shed on which are the main sectors of employment of active migrant women from SEM and SSA countries. On cause of move (voluntary vs forced), two main issues will be investigated: firstly, if women are affected differently from men, in the event of forced migration. Secondly,if there are any studies on the gender dimension of smuggling and trafficking, including sexual exploitation, prostitution, forced marriage and forced labour.

Legal module

In the legal module, the key issues to be addressed will be focused on: family reunification, personal status, asylum right, protection of vulnerable persons, discrimination (affecting nationals and foreign nationals).

Regulations governing migration are initially non discriminatory and do not focus on a gender. Nevertheless, some provisions concern women above all, either because the object primarily and de facto affects women (like family reunification), or because women’s specific situation has required de jure changes (e.g. refugee’s definition). Consequently, the contributions on legal issues regarding gender and migration should highlight rules which specifically focus on women, and also rules whose implementation mainly concerns women.

Research will focus on each country, which will be regarded as a host, origin and transit country of female migrants.

Socio-political module

The socio-political module will investigate the aspects related to outward migration: trends, patterns and policies; inward migration: trends, patterns and policies; and policy-making recommendations.

Given that international migration trends have become increasingly feminized, studies have been conducted on the multiple causes prompting women to migrate as well as female migrants’ integration in receiving contexts (rights, participation in the labour market, incorporation in private and public spheres). Further, policy-making has devoted increasing attention to conferring a gender sensitive approach to migration agendas.  

In the SEM and SSA contexts, two remarks seem worth highlighting. On the one hand, while there is noticeable feminization of migration, the patterns and the causes lying beneath these new dynamics are not well-researched. In particular, not enough light is shed on the sending countries’ perceptions of feminizing migration trends as well as their role in managing these trends. In a nutshell, it is worth emphasizing the paucity of knowledge on these trends.

On the other hand, whereas the local associative sector in SEM and SSA countries of origin emphasizes the necessity of stressing female migrant workers’ rights, the governmental apparatus has so far failed to develop adequate policy frameworks. Contextually-based factors such as political or violent conflicts as well as socioeconomic inequities have impeded the emergence of a gender sensitive approach at policy-making levels. These factors have also instigated forced female migration trends across the Region.

At a policy-making level, there is increasing need to take gender into account, therefore research needs to frame more accurately the gender dimension of migration in the SEM and SSA contexts.

Click here to see the papers available in this series.

Gender and Migration

CARIM has launched the new research topic: "Gender and Migration". Click here for more details and information on related events.

Highly-Skilled Migration

CARIM is currently publishing papers following research into Highly-Skilled Migration into, through and from the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa. Click on the link to view the papers in the series.

Migration Profiles

CARIM Migration Profiles provide an overview of demographic, economic, legal and sociopolitical aspects shaping migration in the country.
Click here for more information

Irregular Migration

CARIM has published 36 papers as a result of research into Irregular Migration in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Countries.
Click on the link to view the papers in the series.

Circular Migration

CARIM has published 38 papers as a result of research into Circular migration in the Euro-Mediterranean area. Click on the link to view the papers in the series.

Iraqi refugees

CARIM has just published 10 papers on Iraqi Refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. Click on the link to view the papers.

Page last updated: 19/01/2011NULL