Gendering the Irregular

By: Melanie Griffiths, Research Associate, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol.

Melanie is an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow undertaking a three-year project, ‘Detention, Deportability and the Family: Migrant Men’s Negotiations of the Right to Respect for Family Life,’ about the family lives and Article 8 rights of men at risk of removal or deportation. She’s on Twitter: @MBEGriffiths.

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until the end of June. 

Hope has been living in London without a secure immigration status for nearly 20 years. Much of this time was spent waiting for an asylum appeal that never materialised. It has been an arduous wait, and Hope has struggled on the margins, with neither financial support nor permission to work. A few years ago Hope fell in love with Alex, a white Brit. The relationship has never been straightforward however. Whilst Alex is a high-earning professional and home owner, whose life revolves around work, Hope can do little other than stay at home, bored, listless, and entirely reliant upon Alex. Hope describes the ‘pocket money’ Alex provides as being a source of dependency and shame, but one that’s too precious to refuse.

After a couple of years, the couple found out that they were expecting a baby. Still without any immigration status, this wasn’t something Hope would’ve planned, but nonetheless was pleased. Raising their daughter fulltime gives Hope purpose and also provides an avenue by which to actively contribute to the household, balancing out the relationship. However, Hope remains dependent upon Alex’s money and is frustrated by Alex’s under-appreciation of the difficulties of childcare. Coming home from work, Alex expects dinner at the table and resents Hope for apparently having done ‘nothing all day.’

The Home Office within the Home

Photo: Home Office, Eaton House, by Melanie Griffiths

Photo: Home Office, Eaton House, by Melanie Griffiths

Hope’s story illustrates how the immigration system enters into the home lives of precarious migrants. The effect can be to amplify and entrench a traditional gender (im)balance, with a citizen man supporting a female partner whose immigration status ensures her total dependency.

However, Hope is a man and Alex a woman, and as such, the pair has experienced, in Hope’s words, a ‘role reversal.’ This has produced some unexpected benefits, such as Hope’s close bond with his daughter. But it also hinders his ability to perform his masculinity as he would like, particularly in terms of providing for his family. Social scientists have long recognised an association between masculinity and work, and precarious male migrants such as Hope experience the prohibition against employment as a fundamental challenge to their identities. Although Hope found alternative means to contribute to the household, he still talks of the shame ‘as a man’ of being financially impotent: ‘She wears the trousers and I wear the skirt. My manhood is being ripped away from me.’

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The right to have rights: Safeguarding children from destitution

By: Ben Gidley, Associate Professor and Senior Researcher

The legal framework that governs how a child in Britain with migrant parents can access welfare rights is incredibly complex: on the one hand, a century of immigration and nationality legislation that has created a seemingly endless proliferation of statuses and entitlements short of those of full citizens; on the other hand, the sedimentation of case law, of European and UK legislation on the rights of children and families, and the heritage of a welfare system based on universal provision.

foldersWhile public opinion deals in terms such as “illegal migrant” and “bogus asylum seeker”, for service providers working with migrant families, the categories are infinitely more complicated. An alphabet soup of acronyms and initials that specify who has rights to which benefits – NRPF, s17, ARE, ILR, LLR, DVR, and many more – spell out the formula by which a family may claim housing benefit or carers allowance, or not, and under which conditions. Navigating this complexity is left to local authorities, and specifically to the frontline workers (“street level bureaucrats”, as they are called in the research literature) tasked with granting or denying families access to the welfare state.

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Gender, Migration, ‘Trafficking’ and the Troublesome Relationship between Agency and Force

By: Julia O’Connell Davidson, Professor of Sociology, University of Nottingham

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until mid-July. 

2010_Agnieszka Rydzik - Life in MotionThough anti-trafficking campaigners often state that men, as well as women and children, can be ‘victims of trafficking,’ the concept of ‘trafficking,’ especially that of ‘sex trafficking,’ actually provides a highly gendered lens through which to view the experience of migrants who are subject to various forms of exploitation, abuse, and violence in the destination country. This is because it hinges on an imagined line between those who’ve actively chosen to move and consented to the type of work they will undertake and the conditions under which it will be undertaken, and those who’ve been tricked, cheated, bullied, and trapped. In other words, it conceives of migrants as either willing selves, acting on the basis of their own freely made choices, or as forced to submit to the will of another. Some campaigners even describe ‘victims of trafficking’ as having ‘lost’ their agency along with their freedom. And here is where we enter territory that’s profoundly gendered and aged because adult men are regarded as almost by definition authors of their own destinies, whereas women and children’s grip on their own wills is understood to be already fragile and tenuous. They are readily imagined in the garb of victimhood.

How can researchers challenge this gendered vision in work on migrants who end up in appalling and highly exploitative conditions? One approach is to question the dominant liberal emphasis on the voluntariness of contract and whether or not violence or its threat is used to prevent a migrant worker from freely ‘walking away’ from an exploitative employment relation. This emphasis reflects a preoccupation with the form of compulsion produced by the exercise of direct, personalistic power, and so a very narrow and distinct understanding of ‘force.’ It reproduces a liberal vision of a world in which people are either abject, passive objects and slaves or freely contracting subjects, thereby missing the unseen, structural factors that force fates on men as well as women and children under the social relations of capitalism. It privileges a very particular kind of ‘freedom’―what G.A. Cohen described as the ‘the bare bourgeois freedom which distinguishes the most abject proletarian from the slave.’ We might, then, look to Marxist inspired critiques of neoliberal capitalism for tools with which to uncover how force works upon subaltern men, women, and children alike in the contemporary world.

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Mothers’ Migration Motivations

By: Brandy Cochrane, PhD Candidate, School of Social Sciences and Researcher, Border Crossing Observatory, Monash University.

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until the end of June. 

Summing up mounting pressures and trying to find a way to leave Iran, Sabeen, a mother of three, stated:

Don’t push me to go by boat… I’ve tried my chances and unfortunately I couldn’t find a way. The only thing that I found is this. You say to me it is a terrible way. You say it is not a safe way. You say to me it is a dangerous way. Everything you say I believe in it, but I have no other way. Sabeen (45 years old)

Problems of Push

BC_1Triggers of movement are complex for refugee mothers and, as the above quote makes clear, many feel they have little choice other than to migrate. There’s no one reason, nor can the decision to move be boiled down simply to fear. Examining these migration motivations isn’t to say that mothers don’t cite fear for their lives as a reason for migration. However, there are specific gendered triggers of movement for these mothers which are also affected by other factors, such as country of origin and class. Theory around push and pull factors is often credited to Everett Lee’s work on migration in which he outlines how people (in this case, men) decide to leave ‘origin’ countries and move to ‘destination’ countries. Push factors can be defined in a multitude of ways, on levels from macro to micro reasons (see, for example, work by Silvia Pedraza and Saskia Sassen-Koob) which contribute to life situations which cause, in the words of Guido Dorigo and Waldo Tobler, someone to ‘be dissatisfied with one’s present locale.’ This definition cannot fully encompass the complications around why people migrate and how these may culminate in a migratory journey. Push factors as a terminology may also dismiss the agency in decisions to migrate. Beyond these issues, women travelling with children clearly extend the framework of decision-making beyond an individualised model of push and pull factors which have been previously discussed within the literature. Due to the problematic nature of the push/pull dichotomy, I’ve chosen to use ‘migration motivations’ and ‘triggers of movement’ instead of ‘push factors.’

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Italy’s oldest and newest migrants: Challenges for second generation Somalis

By: Giulia Liberatore, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, COMPAS and Ismail Einashe, freelance journalist and researcher

Long known for its history of mass emigration Italy is today one of Europe’s migrant hot spots, with an estimated 4.6 million foreign nationals residents amounting to 7.5% of the total population. Yet Italy has struggled to define a path to deal with this historic reversal.

Italian arrowRecent media attention has focused on migrant arrivals on Italian shores. The country has been depicted as a transit zone for migration to northern Europe—a place of arrival and reception—as migrants aspire to reach more prosperous economies and welfare states. What is often forgotten is that many do remain and seek (and struggle) to make Italy their home. Although migration to Italy began in the 1970s, it was not until the 1990s that mass migration set in, attracting a diversity of migrant groups to work in the northern factories, agriculture and in domestic spheres. Filipinos, for example, stereotyped in the public imaginary as docile migrants, took up many of the jobs in the care sector. They now constitute one of the largest migrant groups just behind North African, Eastern European and Chinese communities. The second generations have grown up in the 2000s and are now entering the work force with Italian qualifications in hand.

Colonial ties

But another group of migrants who constitute some of Italy’s oldest and newest migrants has almost been forgotten. Italy was once a colonial power in Somalia, Eritrea and Libya, and it occupied Ethiopia, a fact that is rarely acknowledged in Italian public debates.  Italy’s history had been intertwined with that of the Horn of Africa long before the recent arrival of East African migrants on its shores.

In March this year we conducted a short stint of research with Somalis in Rome. Somali communities in the capital city are polarised between the more established communities—who came to study and work in Italy after the 1970s—and recent arrivals that escaped the civil war that broke out in 1988 in Somalia. Many of the latter are referred to by the more established Somalis as ‘titanic’, drawing parallels with the mass emigration of Italians in the 19th Century. The label is also used to evoke the perilous journeys on which Italians once embarked to reach the Americas, and those that Somalis endure today to cross the Mediterranean. In retaliation, recent arrivals have developed their own names for these older communities: ‘mezze lire’ (half liras) is used to deride Somalis for having lost their roots and culture in becoming ‘half Italian’.

The mezze lire

The more established Somalis are mostly professionals working as doctors and engineers. Among them was Yusuf Ali now 75 who grew up in Mogadishu under Italian colonial rule, and looks back fondly to this time. Having spent some time in Italy prior to the civil war in Somalia, he resettled his seven children and wife in Turin in 1993, where he worked as an engineer in a large factory. He is now retired and lives near Rome’s Termini station, where he spends his days at the local run Somali café. Most of his children have now left Italy, but he prefers to stay, regarding Italy as his home now. Many like Yusuf who were raised during colonial rule had ties to Italy through the colonial educational system and moving to Italy was seen as a homecoming. ‘Italians and Somalis are the same’ Yusuf remarked.

la mia casa e dove sono_GLpostYet many did not share Yusuf’s sentiment, having settled in largely white Italian urban areas during the 1970s and 80s and confronted with racism and discrimination. They quickly came to realise that Italians did not consider them co-nationals. This has continued for many second generations born and raised in Italy. Novelist Igiaba Scego, whose father was a former Foreign Minister in Somalia who came to Italy for study and training, describes in her books and articles the difficulties of being accepted as Italian. Her autobiographical book La mia casa e’ dove sono (My house is where I am) deals with her enduring attachments to Somalia, and her own struggles of growing up in a country where she was considered foreign for the colour of her skin.

Race and Italianness

During our stay we also met with Amin Nour a young Somali actor recently featured in Spike Lee’s 2008 film Miracolo a Sant’Anna, Claudio Noce’s 2009 Good Morning Aman. He spoke little Somali and preferred to talk to us in Italian. He moved to Italy when he was 3 with his mother who worked as a housekeeper for an Italian family. In his primary school in Colle Verde, a residential area outside the city centre, he was the only black student. His Somali childhood friends have all left Italy for the UK and Norway: ‘they left because they didn’t have anything here… what are you going to do in Italy, they don’t accept you’.  But Amin has made a point of staying in the country: ‘I never wanted to leave. I’m Italian and I don’t want to be the millionth person to leave without having given anything to the fight… the struggle’ he told us. Through his art he hopes to change the situation for future generations.

Although Amin has been in the country for most of his life he only recently applied for citizenship. Citizenship laws were made more restrictive in 1992 and children of foreign nationals born or raised in Italy are not granted citizenship and must wait until they are 18 in order to apply. Amin’s mother had never considered acquiring citizenship, so Amin only applied for a study visa when he turned 18. This, however, limited the number of hours he could legally work, and he was forced to turn down job offers in film when employers realised his visa restrictions. Having grown up in Italy he suddenly realised he was a foreigner. In recent years the second generation campaign group ReteG2, and other initiatives, such as the campaign supported by hip-hop artist Amir Issaa, have been calling for a change in the law.

But Amin like many others realise that being Italian is more than a legal status. Despite identifying as Italian he knows that he will never be recognised as such. According to Amin the term second generation is unhelpful as it denotes foreignness: ‘I hate the concept of second generation, I don’t feel it…my origins are Somali but I feel black Italian… I grew up here’. Mario Balotelli, the Italian-born 24-year old Liverpool striker has endured a similar fate. He was not eligible to play for the Italian national team until he applied for citizenship aged 18 despite having been fostered by Italian parents, and has endured all manner of racist attacks in stadiums across the country.

Amin struggles to break free of the stereotypical roles he is given in Italian cinema. ‘In Italy black people always play the losers, the victims…’ In one of his recent auditions they were looking to cast an African who spoke Italian with a foreign accent and Amin put it on for the audition. ‘When I was on the set a week later I spoke Romanaccio (with a Roman accent)! That was my revenge!!’ he giggled.

He has recently set up his own production company which produces, what he calls, ‘politically incorrect’ films. His recent Babylon Fastfood explores the ways in which Italianness is essentially a matter of race. In a scene where Amin is cooking on an outdoor grill a bistecca fiorentina (steak Florentine style) he is approached by a group of recently arrived migrants who are on their lunch breaks. They ask why he is cooking his steak in this way rather than according to his own tradition and Amin defends himself with ‘I’m Italian so I want to cook this way!’ as the others laugh at him incredulous. As a black man he is not recognised as Italian despite talking and cooking as one.

Mass migration to Italy is a relatively recent phenomenon, and migrants have been largely invisible, working late night shifts or in domestic settings away from the public gaze. But young people born and raised in the country, such as Amin, have begun to make it onto Italian TV screens. They have challenged Italianness as a racialized identity and worked to loosen the cultural definition of what it means to be Italian in the 21st Century. In March this year over 30 associations presented a Manifesto for the Second Generations to the President of the Senate with suggestions on improving integration in the areas of work, education, culture and civil society. Perhaps there is hope that Italy is changing and beginning to recognise that migrants are here to stay and that those like Amin really are Italian.

Giulia is currently working on a manuscript on changing religious engagements among two generations of Somali women in London and Ismail is writing a book on Somalis in Europe. They can both be found on Twitter: @liberagiulia and @IsmailEinashe

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