Introduction Introduction Chapter 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Notes for Indicators Notes
Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Noties for quotations Notes for quotations
Chapter 3 Chapter 3 Notes for boxes Notes for boxes
Chapter 4 Chapter 4 Indicators Indicators
CHAPTER 2 Printer Friendly printer friendly version
Chapter 1 A Mighty but Silent River:
Women and Migration

Globalization and the Migration of Women

Millions of Faces, Many Experiences

The Socio-economic Implications of the Migration of Women

The Migration Experience: Seizing Opportunities, Overcoming Obstacles

Millions of Faces, Many Experiences

Migrant women move to marry, rejoin migrant husbands and family or to work. They are domestic workers, cleaners, caretakers of the sick, the elderly and of children. They are farmers, waitresses, sweatshop workers, highly skilled professionals, teachers, nurses, entertainers, sex workers, hostesses, refugees and asylum-seekers. They are young and old, married, single, divorced and widowed. Many migrate with children. Others are forced to leave them behind. Some are educated and searching for opportunities more consistent with their qualifications. Others are from low-income or poor rural backgrounds and are seeking a better life for themselves and their children.


Marriage has played a significant role in female migration and still does.(10) In today's globalized world, however, marriage migration has taken on an added dimension-the growing phenomenon of international unions, including mail-order brides and arranged and forced marriages.

Arranged marriages are quite common in some cultures, especially among émigrés from the Indian sub-continent, where both men and women migrate for this purpose. (11) For many, arranged marriages can lead to a lifelong supportive partnership. But where a woman or girl's own wishes and human rights are disregarded, such unions can be more accurately described as "forced".(12)

Governments of receiving countries are now struggling to come to grips with the issue. In 2004, the United Kingdom established a Forced Marriage Unit in a bid to halt the practice and provide support to victims.(13) In Australia, recent legislation includes sentences of 25 years for anyone sending a minor abroad for marriage against her will.(14) In Denmark, authorities have established a nationwide network of crisis centres for women and girls who have been forced into marriage.(15) The French Government has also expressed concern and plans to curb the automatic recognition of foreign unions.(16)

In Asia, there is also a high demand for foreign brides(see Box 5). Migration to Taiwan, Province of China, for the purpose of marriage is skyrocketing. Foreign brides, mostly from China and South-East Asia, now number about 300,000-half of the total foreign population.(17) Since the 1990s, nearly 100,000 Vietnamese women have married Taiwanese men.(18) There is also a surge in the numbers of women migrating to the Republic of Korea to marry local men.(19) Nevertheless, even where marriage is "consensual", women from poorer countries still face unequal terms and conditions because these unions usually involve men from wealthier countries.(20)

When it comes to the global trade in mail-order and internet brides, women, on the whole, are willing participants-whether out of a desire to find a supportive partner and economic security or as a means to gain legal entry into another country. The trade-off, however, is that they are dependent for their legal status on their grooms-to-be.(21) In this case, demand is also driving supply. In Russia, for example, nearly 1,000 agencies offer intermediary services,(22) with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Russian women emigrating every year on fiancée visas: According to the Department of Justice, 80,000 have entered the United States in the past ten years.(23) In addition, mail-order bride businesses can act as facades to recruit and traffic women-including those that send Russian women to toil in the sex industries in Germany, Japan and the United States.(24) Worried about the possibility of abuse, the US passed a law in 2005 authorizing consulates to share information with would-be brides regarding their husbands-to-be.(25)



In parts of Asia, various factors are fuelling the demand for potential brides. In many East and South East Asian countries, the increase in women entering the workforce-coupled with a trend towards delaying or forgoing marriage and childbearing altogether-is leading to a demand for more "traditional" brides in order to maintain the household.(1) Female rural to urban migration is another factor accounting for the bride deficit. And researchers are also attributing the shortage to the as many as 100 million "missing" women and girls-eliminated through prenatal sex selection and infanticide.(2) A strong preference for sons and exorbitant dowry demands are the leading reasons behind the quiet decimation of girls. In China and India, an estimated 40.1 and 39.1 million women and girls are "missing" respectively.(3)

Men are increasingly scouting outside their own borders to fill the gap. In India, villagers approach brokers to procure Bangladeshi and Nepali women and girls, who often face discrimination on account of being poor, ethnically different and paid for-a justification for abusive behaviour by some husbands who may feel that they "own" their wives. For some women and their families, these arrangements offer an escape from poverty. But for others it is a one-way ticket to hardship, social exclusion and forced labour.(4)

A 2005 study of 213 Vietnamese migrant women who had once lived in China found that close to 30 per cent had been sold as brides. Many reported that they had entered into the arrangement because of poverty (91 per cent reported income insufficient for "survival", and 69 per cent cited unemployment) and to provide for elderly parents (80 per cent). Though many planned to send remittances back home, most found themselves confined to the household instead, or working on the household plot. Researchers also uncovered evidence of physical abuse and reproductive rights violations.(5)


Domestic work is one of the largest sectors driving international female labour migration. As more North American, Western European and East Asian women have entered the workforce, fewer are available to attend to the elderly, children and the infirm. In the United States, for example, the proportion of working women with children under the age of six soared from 15 per cent in 1950 to upwards of 65 per cent today.(26) Despite the rapid entry of women into the labour force, a corresponding shift that would have more men carry an equal share of household responsibility has not occurred.

Furthermore, a lack of family-friendly policies and childcare facilities makes hiring nannies and domestic workers essential for those who can afford it. Indeed, two-income households have become a necessity where costs of living are high. More prosperous families, declining social benefits (owing to welfare reform and privatization) and increases in the longevity and size of the elderly population are also adding to the demand.(27) These factors have all spurred massive outflows of women from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and now also increasingly from Africa (see Chapter 3). In Spain, for example, approximately 50 per cent of annual immigrant quotas are designated for domestic workers.(28) Most Asian domestic workers head to the Middle East, where prosperity is driving demand.(29) Domestic workers also move within regions, from poorer countries to richer ones.

For millions of women and their families, the "global care chain" offers considerable benefits, albeit with some serious drawbacks: i.e., separation from children and other loved ones (see Box 6). Aside from salaries that are several times higher than what they receive at home, international domestic workers also gain personal and social benefits, including improved educational and health opportunities for their children, gifts, extra cash to send back home and travel with employer families. In the case of Muslim domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates, the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Mecca can lead to the fulfilment of a lifetime dream.(30)



Many of the international domestic workers and caregivers who leave their homes to care for others abroad also have their own children and elders to look after. Migrant women usually either pass on this responsibility to other female relatives-or, with their higher foreign earnings, hire lower-income domestic workers to manage their own households. This phenomenon is known as the "global care chain", an international system of caregiving stratified by class and, often, ethnicity.(1)

Many domestic workers wind up running two households, their employers' as well as their own, from afar. Both they and their female employers continue to shoulder disproportionate responsibilities: Women spend 70 per cent of their unpaid time caring for family members-a contribution to the global economy that remains largely unrecognized. (2) Needless to say, leaving one's family in order to sustain it takes a huge psychological and emotional toll. These women provide love and affection to their employer's children in exchange for earnings that can improve the quality of life of their own children- whom they sometimes never see for many years.


Globalization has resulted in an explosion in the entertainment and sex industries. These are providing additional migration channels for women-albeit largely owing to few other alternatives.

In 2004, United Kingdom records revealed that the second largest category of work permit applications from foreign women were for "entertainment and leisure" at 5,908-with another 4,627 applying for "hospitality, catering" and "other" occupations.(31) In Canada, over 1,000 temporary work permits a year were granted to exotic dancers in the mid-1990s.(32) In 2004, Japan admitted nearly 65,000 women on entertainment visas, the majority of whom were from the Philippines.(33) These high numbers (coupled with concerns over trafficking) have prompted the Government to review requirements for entertainers.(34)

The boundary between "entertainment" (singers, dancers, hostesses) and sex work is often blurred-especially for those women who have been coerced and/or abducted.(35) For instance, in 2004, more than 1,000 Russian women were engaged in sex work in the Republic of Korea. Most had entered the country on entertainment or tourist visas but were then forced into prostitution by business owners and recruiters.(36)

Sex work is a lucrative business. Throughout the 1990s, it accounted for more than 2 per cent of the GDP in four South-East Asian countries.(37) Sex workers circulate in Asia and Europe, and also move from Latin America to Europe and North America, and from Eastern to Western Europe.(38) Given the largely unregulated and underground nature of these industries, actual numbers are hard to come by and are likely higher than available estimates. Many workers also remain in the host country once their visas have expired. Some estimates pin the numbers of women working in the illegal sex trade in the European Union at 200,000 and 500,000. Many have been trafficked. (39)

"Here there were a lot of opportunities for my children, so they could have a different kind of life. For all the opportunities, all the good things that my children have, I love this country, I love it. I am very thankful."

- Venezuelan domestic worker living in the US, who fled with her two children from an abusive husband.


More and more female professionals-teachers, nurses, scientists, technicians and business owners-are moving abroad, despite the fact that many face considerable obstacles just to have their qualifications recognized.(40) Since the early 2000s, roughly one quarter of employed migrant women living in Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom have been working in the education and health sectors.(41) Since 2001, both the UK and the US have been recruiting Caribbean teachers directly out of high school and college. This has had an adverse effect on the quality of education in Jamaican schools.(42)

In the United Kingdom, the number of migrant women participating in the information, communication and technology, finance and business sectors has also increased.(43) In Australia, recent data also show that more women are migrating to the country to work in managerial, professional and paraprofessional positions.(44) Educated and skilled women are migrating within Africa and Latin America as well. These include arts and sciences professionals from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to Brazil.(45)


A huge international demand for nurses is encouraging more and more women to migrate. But as wealthier countries strive to satisfy their need, others are experiencing troubling shortfalls (see Box 7). More than one in four nurses and aides working in major cities in the United States are foreign born.(46) In New Zealand, the nurse registry shows that in 2002, 23 per cent of nurses were foreign.(47) In Singapore, 30 per cent of the nurses registered in 2003 were born outside the country.(48) Virtually all of the foreign-trained nurses working in the United Kingdom migrate from Africa, Asia and the West Indies.(49) Indeed, the number of newly registered nurses from Africa quadrupled between 1998 and 2004.(50)



The massive outflow of trained nurses, midwives and doctors from poorer to wealthier countries is one of the most difficult challenges posed by international migration today. It highlights the complexities of migration as it relates to poverty alleviation and human development goals. On the one hand, skilled women and men are increasingly turning to migration as a means to improve their own lives and that of their families. On the other, their countries are facing a health-care crisis unprecedented in the modern world.

This is causing substantial problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum ratio of 100 nurses for every 100,000 people, but many poor countries do not come even close. In some (Central African Republic, Liberia, Uganda) the ratio is less than 10 nurses per 100,000 people, as compared to more than 2,000 per 100,000 people in wealthier nations (Finland and Norway). In Europe, the average ratio is 10 times that of Africa and South East Asia.(1)

The yearly exodus of 20,000 highly qualified nurses and doctors from Africa(2) is worsening an already grave situation for a region ravaged by disease, HIV/AIDS and the tragic reality that one in 16 women will face a lifetime risk of dying from childbirth.(3) To meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of reducing HIV and infant and maternal mortality by 2015, sub-Saharan Africa will require one million more health workers(4)-including 620,000 nurses.(5)

The motivations for migrating, however, are anything but in short supply. In many poor countries, health systems are collapsing, under-funded and facing chronic shortages of basic supplies, equipment and staff. This is exacerbated by overwhelming pressure brought on by massive health-care needs. Nurses cite the following reasons behind their desire to migrate: being overburdened, low pay, poor opportunities for promotion, lack of management support and poor working relationships.(6) Meanwhile, the continued outflow of colleagues is aggravating existing health-care disparities and is contributing to low morale among remaining staff. In 2000, twice as many nurses left Ghana as graduated.(7) Two years later, the Ministry of Health estimated a nurse vacancy rate of 57 per cent.(8) In 2003, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago reported nursing vacancies of 58 and 53 per cent, respectively.(9) In 2003, an estimated 85 per cent of employed Filipino nurses were working abroad.(10)

Governments have begun to tackle the problem. In 2004, the United Kingdom Department of Health issued a revised Code of Conduct that restricts the hiring of nurses from developing countries unless there is an official agreement with the source country.(11) However, private agencies continue to recruit.(12) From April 2004 to March 2005, 3,301 nurses from banned countries registered with the United Kingdom-most were from South Africa.(13) Both Canada and the United Kingdom are supporting source countries (such as Jamaica and South Africa) in their efforts to train more nurses and teachers to help offset the negative impact of the brain drain.(14) The South African Nursing Council will not register nurses recruited from the 14 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries without a prior agreement between governments.(15) The Philippines has filed many bills requiring nurses to serve in the country for a two-year period before leaving.(16)

Nursing associations are also increasingly expressing worry over the impact of the brain drain, while searching for solutions that would still safeguard freedom of movement: The profession is one of the few migration streams that offer women formal sector employment at a decent wage. National nursing associations, the International Council of Nurses (with members in 128 countries),(17) the European Federation of Nurses Associations,(18) and the Caribbean Nurses Organization(19) are taking an increasingly proactive approach, including calls for the improved management of health sector human resources globally.

Nevertheless, such measures are unlikely to slow demand. WHO estimates that by 2008, Great Britain will require 25,000 doctors and 250,000 nurses more than it did in 1997. The US Government projects that by 2020, more than one million nursing positions will need to be filled.(20) Canada and Australia are projecting nursing deficits of 78,000(21) and 40,000,(22) respectively, during the next four to five years.


Self-employment allows women to juggle work and family responsibilities and offers an alternative to labour discrimination or exploitative work conditions.(51) In Southern and West Africa, this is best illustrated by a growing reliance on cross-border trade. Zimbabwean women, for example, are finding creative ways to supplement their family income by purchasing goods from Mozambique, South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia for resale in their own country, where runaway inflation has put consumer items beyond the reach of the average buyer.(52) Self-employment is also on the increase among migrant South Asian, Chinese and Turkish women living in the United Kingdom.(53)


Over the past decades, the establishment of factories, such as the maquiladoras along the United States-Mexico border and the textile industries in Asia, has increased employment opportunities for women. These rely heavily on female workers and have provided many with a springboard for work in other countries. In 2001 in Mauritius, women accounted for nearly three quarters of foreign workers labouring in the garment and textile sector. Though roughly half were married with children, most were drawn by higher wages-even if it meant leaving loved ones, including children, behind.(54) In the estimated 200 factories that pepper the landscape around Tak Province, Thailand, migrant women from Myanmar constitute nearly 70 per cent of the workforce. Wages are much higher: In their home country, women can expect to earn US$15 compared to approximately US$80 a month in Thailand.(55) However, abuses are not uncommon. These include withheld wages, under-payment, recruitment agency debt, inadequate health-care access, exploitation and poor working and living conditions.