Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A seventh man

A good friend of mine Aidan Jolly (check out his work at Virtual Migrants) told me recently about a book by John Berger called ‘A Seventh Man’ - a book of images and text about the experience of Migrant workers in Europe. It’s a great book, combining photographs with words, text being a combination of factual data, Berger’s Marxist take on it, and his poetic descriptions of the migrant worker coming from Turkey, Portugal, Yugoslavia... to the cities of Western Europe . I’m not finished with reading it, but am finding that it is opening me up in thinking of ways to talk/represent the complexity of the issue such as the ‘guest workers’ or to use a more contemporary label ‘labour migrants’. Berger says in his introduction that this book is limited to the experience of male migrant worker, and to write of the female migrant workers' experience would require a whole book in itself. In 1975 he hoped it will be done.

In 2000 in the world there were 175 million migrants, out of whom 85.1 million are women. In 2002 the overall number of women migrants in Europe was 51% , so a significant number of women are migrating, and participating in the labour market of the receiving countries (data based on selected United Nations data, statistics of the outflow and inflow states and EU statistics, from Slany, Kristina. 2008. ‘Female migration from Central-Eastern Europe: demographic and sociological aspects’ In: Migration and mobility in an enlarged Europe: a gender perspective). ‘In the migration literature, migrant women and their experiences often remain invisible and get subsumed under those of men’, write Erdem and Mattes (Erdem, Esra and Mattes, Monika. 2003. ‘Gendered Policies – Gendered Patterns: Female Labour Migration from Turkey to Germany from the 1960s to the 1990s’. In: European Encounters: Migrants, migration and European societies since 1945) and this is echoed by Morokvašić who says that ‘mobility and migration have a specific significance for women due to being historically associated with immobility and passivity, regarded as dependents rather than migrants in their own right, their migration often tied to migration of men’ (Morokvašić, Mirjana. 2007. ‘Migration, Gender, Empowerment’. In: Gender Orders Unbound. Globalisation, Restructuring and Reciprocity. Also see Morokvasic: 'Settled in mobility': engendering post-wall migration in Europe').

In 1973 in West Germany women made up 31.9 percent of the entire guest worker population with the Yugoslav women as the largest group amongst the female guest workers (Erdem and Mattes 2003; Dobrivojević, Ivana. 2007. ‘In Quest for Welfare: The Labour Migration of Yugoslav Citizens).

I will continue to expand on the relationship of gender to migration, as I am curious to unfold its complexity and to see what it means for the migrant women and men today. Even though my focus is on the migrant women, I am looking at gendered conceptions of both women and men, and also gendered policies of the receiving countries and their home countries, which often shape and affect their migrations and positions within societal and family structures. And even though I am researching the period of the late 60’s, its echoes are still present today and these echoes are growing louder with each headline speaking about the effects of globalised recession (it seems that finally word globalisation is loosing its aura of positivity) and the ‘collapse’ of capitalism.

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