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Gender and irregular migration in South America

Tanja Bastia discusses the role of women in South American migration.
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So we’re going to jump right in. We have a few questions. And the first one is a bit more of a general understanding for the people who are maybe not familiar with gender studies. So, would you mind please helping us through, which is usually the role played by gender in the context of migration as a whole? Well, there are different uses– there are different ways in which gender can be used when you study migration. On the one hand, at the very beginning, like 50 years ago, when the subfield started, we would think about how the experience of migration should be understood through the female or male experience in particular. How men and women have different experiences when they migrate.
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And on the one hand, so it’s more identity issue at the beginning. Then, there was also a gender perspective in terms of the networks in which migration take place, and how these networks impact differently also in the case of women and men. And how, for example, a family network could help in certain situations, men. And in other situation, could harm women, and vice versa. So it’s not only on the subjective side or the personal side. It’s also in the network or more institutional sides, in which also the experience of migration should be gendered. So this implies also a second very important issue when you talk about gender, which is inequalities.
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So, when looking at migration, it’s also very important to realize that usually, migration is involved in a context of global inequalities, or economic inequality, social inequality. And yet, again, the experience of such inequalities in the lives of men and women is also very different. And, for example, in the labor force, migrants work in certain niches in the labor market that are very gendered. The care workers tend to be women. Domestic workers tend to be women. And migrant women account for many, many millions of women in those kinds of labor niches. So gender is also very important to situate our migrant labors markets are usually also gendered.
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There are certain works, certain jobs done by men, and certain jobs done by women.
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Social expectations around these roles, the gender roles, are also different from one country to another. And, this is not only like, a cultural difference or a gender difference as such. But it’s usually related with social inequality. the conditions for migrant women tend to be worse than labor conditions for migrant men in some contexts. In other contexts, could be that migrant men have more risky trajectories, for example, than women. So gender is important, because you look at social inequalities in the way.
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And when you look at how gender is applied by social institutions like state policies, migration policies, (which) usually or are also gendered, they have different functionaries tend to have different attitudes and behaviors when looking at male migrants, refugees, and so on (in comparison to women). Absolutely. I would like to ask you. Now that we have a general understanding of the language that we’re talking about, how can we contextualize it and maybe give an example of how this had an impact specifically in the case of Venezuela?
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Well in the case of Venezuela, it’s just a very interesting case of a massive phenomenon of migration, a very rapid phenomenon of migration.
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And a very recent phenomenon of migration also. Why I mention these three conditions? Because, what we are witnessing is family migration. It’s very different from the more traditional South American migration to Europe or to the United States, which was usually a masculine migration. Migration to the United States was usually a masculine migration that became feminized over the years. To Europe, it was more a female migration to social reproduction kind of works, domestic works and so on. And you have this issue of transnational families, family separation. All are progressive migration of the rest of the family once one of the member of the family has migrated.
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In the case of Venezuela, what we are witnessing is really an exodus of men, women, children, grandparents. And they don’t come together. Of course, there’s a kind of migration step by step. But, it’s more kind of a family migration. So this is the first feature that, when you look at it from a gender perspective, it’s very different from other South American patterns of migration. This is the first thing. The second thing is that you have this reproduction of some stereotypes towards Venezuelan migrants.
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And this is particularly important when you look at some of countries– receiving countries such as Ecuador, Peru, or Colombia– that were not used at all to receive many migrants. They don’t have a tradition of migration, of immigration. This is something relatively new for many countries. We were more used to be migrants rather than receiving immigrants. So we have more this culture of getting somewhere else, rather than understanding what does it mean to receive a new population. And so, what you can see, like, a second of features of this gender perspective, while looking at Venezuelan migration, is that you have a lot of stereotypes around female Venezuelans, or women and men.
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Men, very much this idea of decriminalisation, especially when they are related with informal workers, poor workers, insecurity and– and insecurity. These are usually masculine features, or masculine kind of representations. Women tend to be received or, the kind of stereotype or stigma constructed around women are very much related to some sort of sexual representation or sexual appearance. So it’s very different from what you see as a man.

Interview with Tanja Bastia, University of Manchester, UK

We asked Tanja the following questions:

Question no.1: What is the picture of irregular migration in Latin America?

Question no.2: What is the role of women in this picture?

Question no.3: What are the policy measures in this region?

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