The effects of migration and displacement are usually considered to be the same for men and women. However, this is often not the case. It is important to recognize how gender relations in both origin and host communities influence women’s and men’s experiences as migrants and refugees. This blog reflects on issues related to migration.
New GEM Report analysis on the intersections between gender, education, migration and displacement is being discussed today at a side event in New York during the 63rd session of the Commission of Status of Women with the African Union and the UN Girls Education Initiative. It offers a preview of the 2019 Gender Report to be released on July 5 at the G7 Ministerial Meeting in Paris.
Just under half of global international migrants are women. However, looking beyond averages, some countries are major hubs of gender-specific emigration, such as the Philippines for women and Nepal for men. And although this average figure has not changed in decades, women are now increasingly more likely to migrate to take up jobs, rather than to join male family members as dependants. This phenomenon has been termed the feminization of migration. Demand and supply for migrant women’s labour are affected by unequal gender norms in the labour market.
Migration can potentially liberate female migrants from restrictive family control and rigid gender roles. Becoming a breadwinner, not only abroad but also at home by migrating to the city, can enhance a woman’s status within their community back home.
But this opportunity can also be a major challenge. First, their departure can complicate the life and education of the children they leave behind. Second, migrant women can suffer from disadvantage related to class, race or ethnicity that intersect with their immigration status. They can be more vulnerable to sexual and racial abuse, harassment and discrimination at the workplace.
When mothers migrate for work, the education of children left behind can be badly impacted
In Indonesia, analysis of data gathered between 1993 and 2014 found that when the mother migrates for extended periods of time, there could be a decrease of up to 30% in educational spending. Children were also more likely to miss school and achieve lower grades. New analysis conducted by the GEM Report using the China Education Panel Survey data found that, when mothers migrated from village to city, the grades for mathematics, Chinese and English were substantially lower than when both parents were present. The children of migrant mothers from the Philippines were about 5 percentage points more likely to be behind in school compared to children with migrant fathers.
When both parents migrate internally, children suffer, but particularly girls, whose education is often de-prioritized. They had to take on heavier household workloads, which often kept them out of school in the absence of mothers. A study of 400 children who lived separately from their parents in ten rural communities in China found that the children and their guardian experienced increased stress and workload. In Cambodia, left-behind children were more likely to drop out of school, and the effect was worse for girls: three-quarters of 600 household heads suggested that, if necessary, they would take a girl out of school instead of a boy.
Migrant women are more vulnerable to having their skills underutilized
Female migrants are more vulnerable to end up in jobs for which they are overqualified, a phenomenon known as deskilling. An analysis of skills wastage of highly skilled immigrants in the United States estimated that between 2009 and 2013, 32% of foreign-educated women and 27% of foreign-educated men were underemployed or unemployed, compared to 21% of US-educated men and women.
In the care industry, which employs vast and growing numbers of migrant women, deskilling is very common. In the United States, over one-quarter of home-care workers are immigrants, 85% of whom are women. Many migrant women, who were once professionals, work in jobs well below their skill level, for instance, as care assistants. They are penalized for perceived or real language challenges and suffer discrimination.
Many young female migrants have cut short their education to work as domestic labourers. In 2012, around 17.2 million children aged 5 to 17 were in paid or unpaid domestic work in an employer’s home; two-thirds were girls. In Indonesia, about 59% of child domestic workers in Jakarta and other metropolitan areas were girls from rural areas. More than half had primary education only; a further 26% dropped out at grade 7 or 8. In Peru, over 95% of domestic workers were women, and most were rural to urban migrants who migrated at a young age.
Governments and the private sector need to provide skills development and vocational training programmes to empower domestic workers, improve working conditions, and reduce perceptions that domestic and care work is unskilled. They must also put mutual qualification recognition agreements in place to guide skills assessment and recognition at the national and regional levels for varied careers as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has done.
As more and more women migrate to work, they play an increasingly critical role in the survival of their families as well as in the economic development of their countries. But it is vital to support female migrants who often arrive with fewer literacy and language skills with education tailored to their specific needs to help them achieve their full earning potential and escape exploitative work conditions.