Increasing numbers of independent women labor migrants leave countries in the Global South every year to work overseas. However, our understanding of how exactly gender and migration intersect at the decision-making moment is still inadequate. The new economics of labor migration (NELM) argument that individual migration is a household-level decision has been criticized by feminist scholars for ignoring the gendered social norms and inequitable intra-household power distribution that can make it difficult for prospective independent female labor migrants to leave their homes to work overseas. To reconcile NELM with gender reality, I propose an explicitly gendered, "negotiated migration model" that separates the pre-migratory process into three parts: an individual-level aspiration, the household-/family-level negotiation, and only then, the migration decision. The intermediate negotiation phase is a dynamic, two-sided, discursive site where both the aspiring migrant and her relatives engage in gendering practices and gender performances to bolster their respective positions. Interviews with 139 Filipino migrant domestic workers reveal that successful female migrants win their families' support by coopting gendered scripts prevalent in Philippine society. Rather than attempting to "undo" gender, these women reframe their migration aspirations as a duty, rather than a right, to migrate, and a logical extension of their traditional, supporting roles as daughters, wives, sisters, and/or mothers. Thus, even though these women migrants break gender barriers when it comes to their independent labor migration, they do so by "doing," rather than "undoing," gender.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science