One of the more striking trends in the nature of cross-border labour migration in recent years in this region has been the increasing number of women involved – also referred to as the ‘feminization of migration.’ This has been caused by a complex variety of supply and demand factors and includes new forms of temporary contracts (e.g. for Cambodian women in Malaysian factories) and increased demand for domestic labour as more families move up from poverty into the aspiring middle classes.
The increasing involvement of women changes the nature of the social and policy issues that migration causes. Men working overseas, for example, tend to have different behavioural issues in their leisure activities than women do; while the nature of the family left behind and the issue of remittances and income generation also affects the family dynamics. Since many of those people involved are moving from subsistence to capitalist forms of economic activity, they tend not to have much in the way of experience or accumulated family knowledge to guide them in their new lives. As Piper (details below) explains:
“What is still missing from the debate on the migration-development nexus are the broader connections between migration and development from a rights-based approach and a more fundamental understanding of the type of ‘rights’ at stake. Social rights (social security benefits, child care provisions etc.), and thus considerations for the various social dimensions, are largely absent from this debate and hardly ever contextualized with migration rights. The broader right to family life has only recently become a topic on the agenda of migrant rights’ advocates in Asia.”
These ideas are, of course, far in advance of the kinds of issues that are even being widely considered in Thailand and those most directly involved in them have, generally, little capacity even to join in any form of debate. Nevertheless, within perhaps a decade, it may be possible to start looking for ratification of conventions along these lines.
For more details, see the UNIFEM paper ‘Gender, Migration and Development – Emerging Trends and Issues in East and South-East Asia,’ written by Nicola Piper: