Shafiq R Khan

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WOMEN AT WORK: RIGHTS AND VULNERABILITIES II

Women and Migration
Migration is not a new phenomenon, but there are several characteristics of contemporary migration that are  distinctive. Today it is the changing context of a globalised world and the extent and scale of migration which makes it a key feature of the times. Most significant is the increase in female migration as  independent migrants and not merely as associational migrants. According to the World Migration Report 2003, almost half of the estimated 175 million migrants worldwide are women. This phenomenon has been termed  “feminisation of migration”.
Migrant,  refugee, displaced person, illegal migrant, trafficked  person – class and location determine how these different categories are viewed. The educated, upper middle class professional woman  who migrates for work, the woman who migrates for marriage, the woman migrating as labour into the export processing zone factory, the woman migrating  for seasonal agricultural labour, domestic labour, sex work,
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entertainment –the list is vast. The experience of these women is different and is shaped by different circumstances and  the position of the woman, her family, community and the nation within a globalised economy and polity.
Globalisation and neo-liberal economic  policies have precipitated migration  due to increased opportunities for finding work in certain  areas and impoverishment
and disruption of livelihoods in others. The growth of exportoriented industries like  garments, electronics and practices such as outsourcing and flexible  labour have created a demand for female labour in certain locations. In addition migrant women are in
demand in jobs of care, specifically domestic work, child and elder care. Another feature of contemporary  migration which has contributed to the demand for female labour has been the growing sex, entertainment and tourism sector.  
The transnational character of production and services has created a market for migrant female labour which has led to large numbers of  women migrating, nationally and
internationally, whether from villages in Bangladesh to garment factories in Dhaka, Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia as domestic workers,
Thai women working in bars in Germany and Denmark, from Mexico to the US, northern Africa to Italy,  and so on. 

Migration and Trafficking

Migration takes place both legally and illegally and this has been the primary concern of governments.
Though migration is a worldwide  phenomenon, it is highly controlled. States regulate the numbers and kinds of labour power that they want. Limited legal migration opportunities often lead to irregular and illegal forms of migration. Trafficking has been located as one of the possible outcomes of this process. Women in these situations are more likely to face human rights violations. Thus illegal crossing of borders, irregular migration and involvement of agents compound the vulnerabilities that women face when they migrate. The contexts within which trafficking and migration take place are often similar.
Over the past two decades, studies of cross border movements especially of women has been largely located within the framework of trafficking. Located within the framework of illegal crossing of borders and prostitution as the final  destination, trafficking discourses foster strategies which will curtail movement.  This has led to conceptualisation of the process of migration as dangerous and negative
for women. Women are seen as victims who need to be protected and the language is one of rescue, repatriation and rehabilitation.  
There are multiple factors that increase women’s vulnerabilities which are enhanced because of their structural position within patriarchal society. The conditions which allow for deception, coercion, bondage, violence and exploitation of labour are the daily realities of the lives of many girls and women.  The inherent vulnerability that women face is enhanced when it operates in conjunction with other factors that limit the rights of workers in general - for instance, the nature of work (sex work, domestic work, dangerous work, prohibited work and so on) and the location of work (own country/foreign country, at home/outside home and so on). 
It is important to recognise that less extreme forms of violations of these rights also exist but are less visible - in fact there is a continuum of violations, with "voluntary" migration at one end and trafficking at the other. If we accept that movement of people is a part of our history, present and future, then we need to explore new ways of understanding women’s experiences of migration and labour.

Feminisation of Labour
From the seventies, there has been a significant change in the process of industrialisation. Some of its features are a new international division of labour with relocation of production from developed to developing countries, growth of export oriented manufacturing industries, increasing influence of transnational companies and the feminisation of the labour force.  Factors for this include industries wanting to keep costs low, decreasing household budgets and loss of employment for men.
Gendered notions emphasizing the "nimble fingers" of young women workers and their capacity for hard work, especially in Asia, facilitated the recruitment of women for unskilled and semiskilled work in labour-intensive industries at low wages and unsatisfactory working conditions. The percentage of women in export processing factories, electronics and garment factories is very high, in some cases even 90% whereas in other industries it would normally be around 30-40%.  In the nineties there has been a fundamental shift towards “flexible” labour, to new forms of working and outsourcing, including temporary, part-time, casual, home
Usha Kumari Convener Jharkhand Chapter : in a Anti trafficking
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based etc. Flexibility has several different layers of meaning such as flexible job delineations, flexibility in hours of work, and in financial terms. The flexibility also includes a flexible labour force which can move and adapt to any of the new industries. Women often accept flexible working conditions because of their double and triple roles, but in most cases it has also meant casualisation and tremendous insecurity. The trend towards flexibility has meant that less workers have a formal position, increased subcontracting, and loss of any benefits that come with full time work within the formal economy.  The entry of large numbers of women into the labour market usually takes place under two different sets of extenuating circumstances – either when the economic situation is so terrible that women are forced to work under any kinds of conditions (and often accept very poor working conditions, e.g. the garment factories in Bangladesh); or in cases where due to rapid growth, multi-national corporations (MNCs) are willing to offer higher wages than those existing and better working conditions, including a modern lifestyle (electronics industry in Malaysia and Singapore).  

The Work of Care and Love
Another significant aspect of contemporary migration is the growth in demand for migrant women workers within the service sectors, specifically domestic and sexual services. The low value and status attached to these traditional female services have been reinforced in the contemporary situation. There are several migratory flows fed both by demand and supply. These flows are shaped by racialised stereotypes such as submissive eastern women as better “wives” or companions in the case of Thai mail order brides.
Similarly Caribbean women are seen as highly sexual and that is their appeal as sex workers; or the Sri Lankan and Filipina women who are preferred as domestic workers. 
This process of racial stereotyping, though present in most occupations, is most evident in the work of care and love.
The change has taken place at a global level where increasingly domestic tasks are being relocated to the market, both as goods and services.  There is a shift of household functions to the labour market, which is serviced primarily by migrant women. The dynamic plays out whether it is internal migration from the village to the city, or from countries in the South to the North.  
The State often encourages migration of women as they are considered earners of foreign revenue. For example Sri Lankan women remitted US $880 million in 1998. The Sri Lankan government facilitates their migration as domestic workers to countries in the Gulf and even Italy by providing them lessons on working in foreign countries. Thai women are encouraged to work in Europe as entertainers, sex workers or wives and send money back home. Women are seen as more likely to remit money home to their families rather than spending it on themselves. The economic contribution of women migrant workers has been recognised in terms of foreign revenue, whether through remittances or the revenue generated locally.   Globalisation thus not only results in the mobility of capital, but also of labour, albeit controlled. It is important to locate all these forms of work within the global economy as they function to “sustain global corporate capital, First World identities and masculine hegemony” (Kempadoo,1999). Migrant women workers around the world are holding up the economy and supporting their families through their low paid, low status and often invisible work.  
  
Women and Work in the Informal Sector in India
In an economy segmented in complex ways to generate employment for millions of people, the informal or unorganised sector has an important role to play. This sector has not only been credited with creating opportunities for livelihood for almost 90% of the population, but in the last decade has seen a tremendous expansion with the disruptions caused by neo liberal economic policies. The informal sector is not just a characteristic
of the urban economy, as was suggested in early research by economists, but also predominant in the rural economy – an observation made by Jan Breman while working in South Gujarat (Breman, 1996). Both the rural and urban informal sectors are distinguished by their high absorption of both female labour and migrant labour. 
The 1971 Nairobi conference organised by the International Labour Organization provided the following characteristics of informal activity: ease of entry; reliance on indigenous resources; family ownership of enterprise; small scale operation; operation in
a semi-permanent or temporary structure or in a variable location; skills acquired outside
the formal education system; and operation in unregulated and competitive markets. In addition, scholars have pointed out that informal sector is also characterised by lack of protection of rights of workers and high degree of exploitation, absence of
labour laws, job insecurity, absence of workers' benefits and the absence of organised power for collective bargaining (Mazumdar, 1990). 
The urban informal sector inherently appears to be a doubleedged sword. While providing options for survival for millions, it brings with it a specific set of vulnerabilities and issues of rights of workers - including that of non payment of minimum wages, equal wages for equal work, harsh conditions of work, lack of
benefits, lack of organised ways of negotiating and sexual exploitation. 
These are compounded in the case of women workers, the majority of which are engaged in this sector and whose relationship with the labour market has by and large always been characterised by invisibility, undervaluation and vulnerability. In fact, the report of the Committee for the Status of Women 'Shramshakti' in 1975 brought to light for the first time the extent and nature of women's participation in the labour market and revealed that 94% of women workers remain untouched by labour laws. Feminist scholarship and
movements of trade unions and grassroots communities over the years have worked to give visibility and recognition to the work of women within the economy, and raised issues of their rights as workers. Being based on the availability of cheap, casual, unskilled labour the urban informal sector in particular provides "a universe of limited
opportunities and special vulnerability for illiterate desperate women" (Mazumdar, 1990).

Women in the informal sector are also found to be in disproportionately higher numbers
in certain occupations. Petty trading, food services, textile production, construction work and domestic service represent a few of the occupations typically dominated by women, occupations which are primarily an extension of the gender division of labour.
The context of an unregulated, and sometimes hidden (in the case of home based work) workplace and unorganised, atomised workforce only sharpens the vulnerabilities
inherent in the informal sector, and enables exploitation at different levels. This is made
worse in the case of migrant women workers, for whom new structures of economy and society and the circumstances of the migration mean that their ability to negotiate is
almost non-existent. Women have also been dependent on agents or middlemen to facilitate both their movement (in case of migrant women) and their entry into the labour
market, which opens up other avenues for exploitation.  It is clear from existing studies
and surveys that the work that migrant women are engaged in is primarily located within the unorganised or informal structure. Clearly this structures their experiences of the labour market and often increases the vulnerabilities that they have to face. 


References:
Breman, Jan. 1996.  Beyond Patronage
and Exploitation: Changing Agrarian
Relations in South Gujrat. OUP,
London, New York.
Kempadoo,K. 1999.  Sun, Sex and
Gold: Tourism and Sex Work in the
Caribbean
Mazumdar, Vina (ed). 1990.  Women
Workers in India. Chanakya
Publications, New Delhi
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