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Femmes en mouvement

Fenneke Reysoo
Christine Verschuur


Summary of the Colloquium ‘Women on the Move’

Wendy Harcourt

Texte intégral

1We have been discussing for two days the very complex issue of the movement of migrant women and how we understand this movement in terms of human rights, labour rights and identity. From a gender and cultural analysis we have been looking at the movements of migrant women both academically and practically through a whole series of narratives, some analyses, and from a very diverse range of positions. Given the subject and the time we have had a very rich discussion, particularly today. I think yesterday we teased out many of the issues and today we have pulled it together.

2I will summarize these discussions in seven points.

1. Migrant women and the global economy

3The first point we focused on was how migration is part of the global economy in its current configuration. In this sense migration is not new or incidental, it is integrally part of an ongoing global economic process. Transnational migration is today’s international division of labour. Therefore migrants are not marginal or excluded but their work and lives are deeply imbedded in the world economy. Despite rhetoric there is no ‘new’ migration crisis as such.

4We have talked throughout the seminar about migration as part of the global economy in relation to South-North migration flows and also very importantly within the South itself, with the phenomena of South-South migrations. These movements are not short term, indeed they are long term. Migration has been happening for centuries. As Domenica Ghidei Biidu said it started with the Bible and even before. So we placed the discussion within a historical time-frame and avoided depicting what has happened in the last decade as something ‘new’.

5We have also made it very clear that migrant women are not invisible in this global economy. They are now organising and the subject of much research and policy. They are no longer ignored and their contribution to society is recognised, if undervalued. The papers and discussion showed that their social and financial contribution, the remittances they are making to their country are all needed and all part of the world economy. However, what is also clear is that economic, political and social rights are very unevenly achieved. Some have succeeded: the Rumanian women in Canada for example have achieved rights and status. But for other women discrimination and vulnerability have led to rights abuse and horrific situations. Interestingly, we have not dwelt so much on the negative situations, overall we have been fairly positive. But nevertheless, we also know that there are vulnerable women and the ability to enjoy economic, social and political rights all depends on what type of migration, what type of situation women find themselves in and what type of work they can do, how they understand their role and what access they have to the information on their rights.

6So whether they are illegal, displaced, refugees or migrants, whether the work is described as skilled or unskilled, there will be various strategies taken by individuals, within the family, within the community and nation. One of the things we have spelt out is that at a global, regional and national level we are still not able to ensure rights and security for migrants, and that the experience of migrant women is still not well understood, and not well addressed by policy. There are a lot of power plays, and we need to understand how these economic, political and social power struggles are played out in relation to individual women’s situation.

2. Racism, xenophobia and orientalism

7The second point which came out in discussion is the considerable concern we have about racism, xenophobia and orientalism. Fears of migrants are manipulated by the media, by the public opinion, with issues around September 11th and security. These are stated and unstated fears – the idea that migrants are taking European people’s jobs or the fear of the ‘other’ (culture, religion, behaviour etc.). It is clear that the research and the activism of migrant women that have been discussed in the colloquium are trying to undercut those fears and to change the popular images of migrants. The research and migrant women’s publicity and writings aim to counteract the negative images of women migrants so often shown as either vulnerable and poor or on the margins in questionable jobs. This work, including this colloquium itself, tries to create places and spaces for migrants to speak. The brochure of the ‘cameleon’ migrant woman is one very good example of correcting popular images and therefore fears. We try to understand how women migrants confront the differences in their lives and how they are maneuvering through very many different sorts of cultures. And also we are trying to analyse the impact of their decisions, and therefore understand their lives.

8By taking into account the type of racism and xenophobia and orientalism which normally informs migrant discourse we are moving away from a discourse of managing or helping or protecting migrant women. We are moving away from the idea of victim and therefore trying to demystify the concept of victimhood, while at the same time being very careful about using those terms. And therefore we are able to move into a much healthier discussion of agency, class and power. In this regard, I thought these two days were very illuminating.

3. Migration and development

9The third point was the whole issue of migration and development. The colloquium made it clear that we really need a much better response than the traditional economic development response to migration. We have to go beyond the paradigm of the vulnerable, poor, migrant women who need better conditions at home so that they will not be forced to migrate. We have to look at much more complex concerns around transnational change, the problem of dualism, crossborder lives and the concept of citizenship – what determines whether a woman can be a citizen or not, and why. Most importantly we have to know multilateral and national responses to migration. But it is not about institutions it is also about the people who carry out decisions on who migrates and who does not, and from where that authority derives. I am saying people because there are people who make life and death decisions for migrants – the airline staff who can determine who can embark or not on an airplane. It is a critical issue to tease out – how do these people get the power to decide whether somebody can go on a plane and escape or not? This critical question has not yet received sufficient attention. This is a psychosocial issue as well and that has to be taken into account.

  • 1 ‘Migration: Citizenship, identity and rights.’ Development, Vol. 46, no. 3, September 2003, London: (...)

10The colloquium underlined that we need a much better policy response. It is commendable to have somebody like Ms. Rodríguez fighting the UN system, but there has to be much more than one person desperately trying to raise the issues of migrant rights, trafficking and all the issues she has been seeking to document and to which she advocates adequate policy response. Especially when we listen to the ILO on how it is beyond its mandate to respond adequately, and how the IOM is responding to refugee issues and legal migration in very legal terms but is not able to take on political concerns, even those we raised about women migrants. And many other UN agencies really are not taking migration as a development issue at all. I would even say that the SID The Hague Declaration, though it is certainly bringing out the concerns of development and migration for different stakeholders, did not include migrant voices enough and has not taken on the gender implications of migration in Europe at all. As an aside may I add that the Hague Declaration was a SID project, and as editor of the SID journal1 I did try to take up a much more migrant women focused set of questions in the issue on migration published just after the Declaration.

4. Identity and strategic response

11The fourth issue I wanted to raise is identity and the strategic response of migrants to this question. Identity is a complex issue, especially in relation to migrant women who often move between multiple identities. It is not only about a state of being that defines you socially and politically. It also needs to be about choice on what a migrant woman selects as her identity, depending on her experience. Jyoti Sanghera raised that, at different moments at different times people have different identities. That is part of the strategic response, that is why I link the two. In this way we can understand that identity is not a static state of being. It is clear that migrant women use successful and positive strategies to overcome difficult situations, and at the same time there are less positive strategies that women are using that assume identities determined by more conservative and restricting cultural impositions. During the colloquium we learnt of the very positive strategies that are being followed by Surinamese women in the Netherlands. We heard a very interesting study of how these women within their own community and also in the broader multicultural Dutch context asserted their identity as Surinamese entrepreneurs to set up an alternative source of savings to the formal banking system.

5. Migrant women and empowerment

12The fifth issue we touched on was empowerment. I was glad we did not go into the usual debate on what empowerment is. I think we have all understood to some extent what it means. But I particularly want to pull out that we were not referring to just social status or to improving economic status. It also included the empowerment for women to have pleasure and meet individual and community desires, to define their wants and needs and to take up their own responsibility to achieve them. And this means that we accentuated the power within a woman and not something that is given to her: empowerment as she has chosen it for herself and for her family, including the political choice to push forward solidarity with other women migrants and advocacy for the community’s rights. We explored a very multifaceted notion of empowerment. In this regard it was also important to see how men are being disempowered in becoming ‘housebands’. And I would add here the rights of the child, as it was raised in the colloquium. The issue of child rights is an issue for all of us, but also how it links to women’s rights and the shift in gender relations with men. This is a specific concern for migrant communities which often endure split families and strong generational tensions.

6. Strategies for alternative development

13The sixth point I would like to raise is alternative development. We kept touching on that possibility – what could be an alterative to today’s inequities and globalized inequalities. Many questions were raised about what form of sustainable development would provide migrant women secure places to live dignified lives. There were questions about whether alternatives could exist outside of global capitalism, whether there could be politically recognized and empowered global citizens. If with the break down of the nation-state migration changes the concept of nation, will there be new possibilities for migrant women? Are women’s migrations affecting patriarchy? Can women redefine their role in their new experiences and start to build another family structure, positively for them, their children and for the men in their lives? What are the political shifts resulting from migration? Does all of this point to a new type of development that is now being created? We raised all these questions but did not explore much further.

7. Institutional responses to migration

14The last point is the institutional response to migration. I was quite fascinated – as I said earlier – that the IOM, the ILO, the SDC gave very interesting contributions but were coming to the issue so differently from the rest of the colloquium’s discussions. I think the South Centre gave the most relevant intervention on the intergovernmental response to our concerns, the South’s strategic response to WTO, trying to understand how the southern governments could engage with very complex trade structure s, legally and economically speaking. Savitri Bisnath said very honestly how difficult it is for gender relations to be brought into an analysis when the legal and economic instruments to hand are not only gender blind but are pushing gender issues out. It was clear that we need new institutions that reflect the changes the colloquium was touching on. On the other hand we also need to have knowledge of all existing instruments. We were given a useful explanation of how the WTO functions. We need to know also very accurately about the Geneva convention, CEDAW and other instruments in order to act strategically and practically. We have to know the tools and understand them, not just reject them but learn to use them. That is a real challenge.

Then let me conclude with our own response

15iuéd as an institution is showing a good response to the complex issues of women on the move, trying to bring together activists, policy makers, researchers and teachers in the colloquium. I was glad to see how these days were open to all students of the institute in order for them to learn, reflecting that the institute takes the issues of gender, culture and migration seriously.

16My final point, is about the need for us to continue to push for spaces for discussion and at the same time to build our own self-confidence and self-esteem that these are the critical issues, even if traditional learning and policy sideline them, in order for us to continue to push academic and policy shortcomings, and to enable us to act in solidarity with different migrant women’s groups and mobilize for change.

17Thank you very much.

Résumé des sept point en français (paru dans Horizons-IUED n° 43, mars 2004)

18Le premier point est que les mouvements migratoires des femmes et des hommes font partie intégrante de l’économie mondiale telle qu’elle est structurée actuellement. Il s’agit d’un processus continu qui va de pair avec une nouvelle division internationale du travail. La migration est donc un phénomène ancré dans l’économie mondialisée. Elle est là, elle a toujours existé et elle existera toujours. Parler d’une crise de la migration en soi n’a donc pas de sens. Nous avons également montré que les femmes migrent, non seulement en tant que migrantes dont le statut dépend d’un mari ou d’un père, mais en tant qu’actrices sociales indépendantes à la recherche de meilleures conditions de vie. Leurs contributions sociales et les mandats qu’elles transfèrent sont nécessaires à l’économie de leurs pays. Cependant, il s’avère que les droits économiques, politiques et sociaux sont très inégalement acquis. Quelques unes en jouissent, telles les migrantes roumaines qualifiées au Canada (Mihaela Nedelcu). Mais dans d’autres contextes, les migrantes souffrent de discriminations et se trouvent dans des situations de précarité. Bien que la teneur du colloque ait été plutôt positive, nous n’avons pas oublié qu’il faut comprendre les besoins des migrant-e-s et les actions à entreprendre en fonction du type de migration, des situations d’accueil et des secteurs de travail.

19Que l’on soit clandestin, déplacé, réfugié ou migrant, que l’on effectue un travail considéré comme qualifié ou non qualifié, tous ces facteurs déterminent les stratégies d’insertion que s’inventent les individus et les familles. Toutefois, nous n’avons pas encore trouvé comment ces personnes qui ont la nationalité d’un autre pays pourraient s’intégrer dans un Etat d’accueil en y voyant tous leurs droits fondamentaux, dont leur droit au travail, garantis. Cela relève d’un jeu politique interétatique et international.

20Le deuxième point récurrent dans les discussions est la question du racisme, de la xénophobie et de l’orientalisme (ce dernier s’accorde aux premiers). Cette question est manipulée par les médias, par l’opinion publique, par le discours et les craintes sécuritaires liés aux événements du 11 septembre 2001, par la peur que les « autres » prennent « nos » emplois. Quelques-unes des recherches présentées ici et les actions des organisations à la base contribuent à faire changer ces images populaires. En effet, des espaces et des lieux sont créés pour permettre aux migrant-e-s de se faire entendre. La brochure de la Femme caméléon de l’ONG belge « Le Monde selon les femmes » en est un bon exemple. Il est important de se distancier d’un discours d’aide, de gestion ou de protection et de démystifier les idées de victimes et de victimisation, pour introduire les concepts d’agency et les problèmes de rapports de force et de classes. Nous avons réussi à le faire ces deux jours-ci.

21Le troisième point concerne la relation entre migration et développement. Il est clairement apparu que nous avons besoin d’une autre réponse aux problèmes qui se posent que la réponse économique traditionnelle du développement. Nous devons surpasser le paradigme selon lequel les femmes n’auront pas de velléités à migrer si l’on améliore les conditions économiques au niveau local. Les transformations de l’économie mondiale, le problème du dualisme et la question de la citoyenneté doivent être pris en considération. Quel est le rôle des organismes nationaux et multilatéraux ? Mais également, quel est le rôle des individus – oui, des individus, tels que le personnel des compagnies aériennes qui peut décider quelles femmes et quels hommes embarqueront dans un avion ? Comment des gens à ce niveau disposent-ils d’un tel pouvoir ?

22Il faudrait également de meilleures politiques (policy response). Ce n’est pas une seule personne, comme Mme Gabriela Rodríguez, rapporteuse spéciale des droits humains des migrants, qui peut faire avancer les choses. Nous avons entendu comment le BIT essaie d’y répondre, que l’OIM se base sur des « paradigmes dépassés par les événements », et que bien d’autres agences des Nations unies ne prennent pas en compte le problème de la migration. Il est regrettable que la Déclaration de La Haye n’ait pas réussi à mieux intégrer la perspective du genre. Le numéro spécial de la revue Development est une tentative de remédier à cette lacune.

23Le quatrième point se réfère aux questions identitaires et aux réponses stratégiques. La migration est une expérience et pas seulement un état d’être. Comme l’a évoqué Jyoti Sanghera (conseillère sur le trafic de femmes auprès du Haut Commissariat des Nations unies pour les droits humains), nous avons des identités différentes selon le lieu et l’époque. La majorité des femmes migrantes utilisent des stratégies identitaires pour survivre dans des situations très difficiles. Aspha Bijnaar nous a parlé des stratégies des Surinamiennes à Amsterdam. Elles ont utilisé leur identité de femmes surinamiennes aux Pays-Bas tout en s’organisant avec des migrantes venues d’autres pays. Elles ont fait preuve d’entrepreneuriat en créant un système bancaire informel.

24La cinquième question débattue est celle de l’empowerment. Heureusement, nous avons dès le départ dépassé le stade de la définition, car nous avons tous et toutes une idée de ce que c’est. Il ne s’agit pas seulement de la position économique ou du statut social. Avoir du plaisir, réaliser ses désirs, définir ses propres besoins et avoir ses propres responsabilités sont autant d’aspects de l’empowerment qui montrent que le pouvoir est une force intérieure des femmes et que ce n’est pas quelque chose que l’on peut leur donner. Elles le mettent à l’œuvre pour elles-mêmes ainsi que pour leur famille ; elles le mobilisent dans les actions de solidarité et de défense des droits.

25Le sixième thème qui est revenu à intervalles réguliers est l’alternative au modèle de développement dominant… mais nous avons plutôt formulé des questions que trouvé des réponses. Y a-t-il une place pour un développement alternatif hors du capitalisme mondial ? La notion d’une citoyenneté mondiale a-t-elle un sens ? Est-ce qu’avec la migration on assiste à l’érosion de l’Etat-nation ? Les femmes migrantes transforment-elles les structures patriarcales ? L’expérience de la migration offre-t-elle aux femmes une redéfinition des structures familiales plus positives pour elles, pour leurs enfants, pour les hommes avec qui elles vivent ? On a soulevé un grand nombre de questions, sans pourvoir les approfondir, qui toutes sont très pertinentes en soi.

26Le dernier point concerne la réponse institutionnelle. Nous avons pu nous rendre compte que le BIT, l’OIM et la DDC ne discutent pas de la migration et des migrant-e-s comme nous en avons débattu pendant ces deux jours. L’exemple du South Centre, qui participe à un processus de réponse institutionnelle et intergouvernementale à l’OMC, est à cet égard novateur. Savitri Bisnath (South Centre) a abordé une question peu habituelle de la problématique de la migration, à savoir le mode IV de l’Accord général sur le commerce des services (AGCS) de l’OMC. Il s’agit ici du premier accord multilatéral de commerce qui définit les cadres légaux du mouvement et de la présence de « personnes naturelles » par-delà les frontières nationales. Cet exemple nous montre comment les gouvernements du Sud doivent se frayer un chemin dans le labyrinthe des structures légales et économiques du commerce mondial. C’est un grand défi de savoir comment introduire les questions du genre quand les outils légaux et économiques sont en train de les exclure. Il est très important pour nous de prendre connaissance du fonctionnement de l’OMC en ce qui concerne la libéralisation du commerce des services. Une même analyse est nécessaire quand au fonctionnement de la Convention de Genève, de la Convention sur l’élimination de toute forme de discrimination envers les femmes (CEDAW) et d’autres instruments. Les instruments sont là. Nous devons les comprendre et apprendre à les utiliser. Voilà où se situe notre défi.


1 ‘Migration: Citizenship, identity and rights.’ Development, Vol. 46, no. 3, September 2003, London: SAGE.


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