The changing roles of gender in migration

​As the country focuses on the issues of women this month of August, the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Department of Sociology hosted a seminar exploring migrating nations in relation to women on Thursday, August 6 2021.

Titled ‘Migrating Nations: Researching migration and gender’ the seminar explored the lived experiences of women migrants across the world.

The seminar took into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on migration as well as the impact of class and citizenship of immigrants.

Prof. Nthabiseng Motsemme of the UJ’s Department of Sociology said black, African migrant women, due to their gender, race, class and non-citizen status, are often the most desperate for any kind of work and face some of the highest risk and dehumanising work conditions.

“Migrants and migration calls to our attention the bodies and spaces that challenge all our metatheories on concepts of nations, citizenship, belonging, political economy and diversity. There is something inherently powerful about theoretically focusing our attention on migrants, migration and immigration in terms of reimagining new worlds and mirroring back the status quo of the world today.”

Prof. Nelago Indongo, Director: Centre for Research Services, University of Namibia, presented on the perceived impact of Covid-19 on internal migration.

Indongo said the economic impact caused by the pandemic has been felt among female migrants who have also suffered the socio-economic consequences of their spouses losing jobs resulting in families relocating, loss of housing or accommodation and, in most cases, exposed them to domestic violence.

“We anticipate that post Covid, there will be an increasing number of female-headed households or single parent households. It is important to think of innovative ways of building resilience during the pandemic. I believe this impact is not only unique to Namibia but also many other lessons we can learn from other countries. It is vital to document the experiences and calamities which will serve us rich references for future generations.”

Raman Fellow Prof. Ajailiu Niumai is the Head of the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion & Inclusive Policy at the University of Hyderabad in Gachibowli, Telangana, India.

Niumai examined two aspects – how the sociological construction of Indian diaspora women enterprises several reasons for them to migrate to the US with their baggage of class, ethnicity and religious backgrounds as well as how they are the ambassadors of their homeland and culture in the US.

She spoke on how Indian diaspora women attempt to define their gender identity through food and the circumstances of dominance that result through patriarchy.

“Culture helped these women to have a sense of belonging and to understand their identity in their community and other cultural groups. This is moulded by values, norms and also attitudes and traditions of their homelands and host countries.”

Dr Mary Setrana, a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Migration Studies, College of Humanities at the University of Ghana in Accra, explored how the Ghanaian female domestic workers’ migration to the Middle East was full of irregularities.

Setrana focused on the multiple discriminatory situations women find themselves in. These are compounded by the loss of jobs by husbands and sons, the highly informal nature of the sectors where the migrants found themselves with no social support for them and their children and sometimes absence of child care support. She added that many of these women experience abuse in the host countries without any help from their governments.

She said Ghana was an emerging destination when it came to sending female migrants to the Middle East.

“How do we address these issues? Maybe the government thought the best way was to ban it but people are still going and finding ways of migrating. Going forward we can look at bilateral agreements with two year temporary contracts and monitor the activities of informal recruits who are not registered. This is a global issue that needs attention.”

Women’s Day is celebrated nationally in South Africa on August 9.


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