By: Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration and Citizenship and Deputy Director of COMPAS
Women are no longer rendered invisible in the migratory process. Their movement―as workers, as refugees, as partners, dependants, and students―is now firmly on the agenda. While this is often referred to as the ‘feminisation of migration,’ the fact is that women and girls have always moved: what has been ‘feminised’ is the debate about migration.
Re-reading this joint blog series co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS it’s striking how varied and rich the contributions are, from Mothers’ Migration Motivationsto Gender, Race and Detention. Importantly they aren’t only about women―though disappointingly we had only one male contributor. Gendering migration foregrounds social relations, exposes the fallacy of the atomised cost-benefit calculator that so often dominates immigration policies. Several of the contributions, for example, discussed matters of consent, agency, and force, and complicated the idea of the victimised woman. We see how ‘migrants,’ female and male, are woven into relations that shape their opportunities for and experiences of mobility. We also see how immigration controls reinforce gender relations for example through the Sri Lankan government’s requirement that husbands signal that they have no objection to their wives’ independent migration, and how the gendered implications of law and practice intersect with class, as in the differential treatment meted out to those who are ‘highly skilled,’ predominantly, but not always, male. Yet immigration controls can also undermine ‘traditional’ gender relations, as the experience of the undocumented father dependent on his British wife indicates, and they can also trump male privilege, as with the case of the foreign national criminal.
Judging by this blog series researchers have moved beyond assumptions about women’s vulnerability towards a far more complex, textured understanding of ‘migrants’ as social and embodied. Yet it’s clear that policy has to catch up. Where progress had been made, it has tended to be in areas associated with the vulnerability of migrant women and where the confusion between ‘feminisation’ and gendering of the debate brings its own challenges. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the take-up of anti-trafficking policy, which, at a national level, typically gives women rights as victims and often only if they agree to take action against a perpetrator. In the introductory blog post for this series, I cited Spivak, and ‘saving brown women from brown men’―whether from FGM, prostitution or honour killings―has given a humanitarian face to immigration policy even as immigration policies themselves contribute to deaths and detention.
As well as reflections on gender and migration we also hosted some reflections on gender and migration researchers. I have just come back from Greece where I was lecturing at a summer school. One of the days was spent on a field trip including a visit to a former immigration detention centre, now an immigration processing centre. There were about forty students, almost all of them young women. Walking to the gates we passed by small tents, people outside the processing centre, waiting to get in and camping out with no toilet or washing facilities, surrounded by rubbish. Almost all of them were men, from Syria or Afghanistan. Many were keen to talk to these young women, sharing watermelon and Facebook contacts. ‘We’re nice guys, nice guys!’ I wondered how the interactions would have changed had the group been predominantly male, or older, or indeed had it been night time. The male guards then let all of us into the detention centre―with no passport checks (thank goodness as I didn’t have my passport!)―again I thought this might have been different had there been more men. Social relations are always gendered, and immigration and immigration research are no exceptions.