Nov 132010

Excerpt from the Executive Summary

Download the full report from here.

Written by Anja K. Franck & Andrea Spehar
Published by Women in Development Europe (WIDE)

Migration is an integral part of today’s process of global economic, social and political integration. Nowadays, no country in the world is unaffected by migration. While migration to OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries attracts much attention, South–South migration is equally significant, given that a large share of migrants from developing countries (an estimated 74 million; 47 per cent) live in other developing countries. Globally, more than 210 million people are estimated to be migrating. Around 105 million of them are women, which is about half of the total. There are diverse reasons and causes for migrating, but labour migration driven by large economic and social inequalities in the world is a key aspect in this context.

The report Women’s labour migration in the context of globalisation offers an introduction to important contemporary political analysis on the influence of globalisation on women’s work, mobility and empowerment. It explains that globalisation shapes women’s labour migration to a great extent. Global shifts in international trade and investment have had a significant impact on the geographical distribution and mobility of the workforce within and between countries. In recent decades we have witnessed a dramatic increase in international trade and investment globally. Alongside this, international and internal migration has increased. Today, large Transnational Corporations (TNCs) drive and control the production and trade of goods and services and technological development all over the world. Their activities have major impacts on regions, countries, communities and people in most of the world. Factories are closed and reopened in new areas or countries, natural resources and common goods are privatised, traditional knowledge is patented, agricultural production is ‘modernised’ through export orientation, and labour is exploited in both the formal and informal economies.

Countries create a regulatory environment to enable TNCs to operate smoothly and free of barriers all over the world, facilitated by a broad set of trade liberalisation policies at multilateral level through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and by a growing number of bilateral free trade agreements. The European Union (EU), with its aggressive push to open up new markets through wide-ranging bilateral trade agreements and its ambition to secure access to natural resources and cheap production costs, including labour, is a main player in this respect.  

Women – and migrant women, in particular – are affected by these immense economic restructuring processes in many ways. Growing unemployment and underemployment, reduced social services, labour displacement, increasing poverty and inequality, and violence against women have created and will continue to create rising pressure on women to look for new survival strategies for themselves and their families in foreign countries.

Women migrate for work in many different sectors; the analysis of internal and intra-regional migration patterns shows that many of them find work in agriculture and export-oriented sectors, where women’s relatively low wages constitute a comparative advantage. In these sectors, working conditions are often exploitative and employment is insecure and informal. The report illustrates these trends by referring to women’s labour migration in the manufacturing export sectors, highlighting that the hiring of (young, flexible, cheap) women workers forms an explicit strategy of governments and big corporations in the export sector. The low wages of women and women migrant workers have been fundamental to economic growth and export-oriented development strategies in many developing countries.

Millions of women are forced to migrate out of pure necessity to secure their own or their families’ livelihoods, health or security; others migrate as a way to improve their living standards, career opportunities or to increase their personal freedom by escaping political, cultural or social restrictions. Many of them have in common that they migrate autonomously and become the main income earners of the family. The patterns that shape women’s migrations are manifold: while migration due to uneven economic development plays a major role, state policies, such as immigration policies in receiving countries and emigration policies of sending countries, labour market and social policies also contribute to defining patterns of migration. The level of women’s autonomy in the sending country or societal environment is an additional factor. Moreover, increase migration due to a degraded environment is expected.

Finding work abroad as a way to support family members in the home country by remitting part of their wages is a motivation for many people who migrate as workers. The study notes that women and men exhibit important differences both in terms of sending and receiving remittances. For example, women play a leading role as recipients and managers of remittances and are thus important actors in the remittance-to-development paradigm and in promoting development and poverty eradication. However, although the remittances of migrants sent back home has raised the standard of living for families with a household member abroad, most migrants have no substantial savings even after years of working abroad. The impact of remittances on sustainable and just development needs further in-depth exploration.

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