Gender, Generations and the Family in International Migration

Author:   Albert Kraler, Eleonore Kofman, Martin Kohli & Camille Schmoll
Publisher:   Amsterdam University Press
Reviewer:   Tasha Agarwal
Designation:   Book Review

Gender, Generation and the Family in International Migration, Editor: Albert Kraler, Eleonore Kofman, Martin Kohli & Camille Schmoll, Amsterdam University Press,        ISBN 978 90 8964 2851

Migration has been a highly discussed phenomenon in several public gathering. The issues faced by migrants vary according to the socio cultural and economic aspect of both the host and well as destination country. There has been several public debates and discussions which focuses towards the pressing need of migration policy in order to cater the issues of migrants. However the whole discourse on migration policy threads around migrant as an isolated individual where the policy remains silent on the aspect of family migration, filial obligation, minor care, marriage etc which forms the integral part of the migration process. Against such backdrop, the author has tried to bring in the perspective and scenario from around the world in order to emphasize the need to address the issues which have been ignored from several decades.

The author has divided the book into four different sections where each section focuses on different aspect of family migration issues and challenges. The author introduces the book by touching upon all the aspect covered throughout the book in brief. S/he discusses the family migration debate which has existed across different time frame. The ignorance of any specific family migration policy prior to World War and the subsequent change in perspective for the same, post feminist movement has been discussed in detail. The changing role of state in order to address the issue of children, women as well as old parents have been introduced to the reader to provide them with a perspective which is discussed throughout the book. With the optimistic note on the importance and relevance of family and gender, the author concludes the introduction by emphasizing the need of policy making in this direction.

The first section of the book discusses about family being an epitome of moral and social order where the social institution of marriage has been contested. The fine line between arranged, love and forced marriages has been discussed in the context of migrants in the study by Ralph Grillo. The chapter could have provided comprehensive information, had there been case studies for each type which would have helped the readers to draw a fine line of demarcation in between these three forms of marriages which are generally used interchangeably. The section also tries to touch upon the moral values and principles concerning the migrants towards their family members. The study by Schans and Valk, though tried to bring in an important perspective of migrant family, their work hardly brought in any new dimension. The findings on difference in perception between natives and non natives regarding filial obligation was quiet expected pertaining to the difference in the socio-cultural capital of the nations involved. However where there were differences within non native perception, the possible reason for the same has hardly been addressed. Vidal’s work on unaccompanied minor brought in an excellent picture of the issue and discusses the existing laws in details. By making an extensive use of case study s/he further presents how the policy which were meant to provide necessary care to the unaccompanied minor, leads to reinforcement of the distress and make the situation vulnerable for the children.

The section brings in several new aspects of the migrant family’s issues which are unaddressed in policy documents of various countries. Henceforth this guides in further avenues for research in the context of different countries so that it might be easier to gain a global perspective. The chapter within the section has been appropriately arranged however several other important social orders could have been placed simultaneously such as religion, education of migrant children in destination country etc. Overall the information provided by the section was enriching and language used was simple which makes it convenient to understand the prevailing issues.

The next section, gender, generation and work, probes into one of the important aspect concerning the restriction imposed on the migrants. Immigrants, particularly immigrant’s family, in most part of the world are unwelcomed due to the probability that they may not be joining the labor force and hence may end up being dependent on state provisions. Thus the section tries to explore the aspect of gaining economic independence either by the means of their own venture or by joining the labor force of the country. The whole feminist discourse of unpaid work of women being considered as ‘unproductive’ has been looked from Bordieu’s perspective of capital, situated in the context of migrant workers in the article by Gillian Creese, Isabel Dyck and Arlene Tiger McLaren. Bordieu’s concept of three forms of capital namely social, cultural and human; has been extended to include symbolic as well as emotional capital. Placed in the context of Canada, where Canadian law welcomes skilled immigrants, the economic capital is prioritized above other forms of capital, where the latter one is mostly being carried by female members. Hence female becomes instrumental in converting different forms of capital into economic capital. Unfortunately this task of conversion is largely ignored and neglected and is commonly termed as ‘unproductive’. Another important issue raised by the article is how the skills and training or the cultural capital is devalued according to the location of the individual. Canada being a multicultural nation is expected to display respect towards other forms of capital possessed by different nationals. Moreover it also questions towards the system of education and training being imparted in the country which, in present era, is highly globalized and is expected to meet the need of global labor market. However inclusion of a limited number of cases has made the scope too shallow. Had there been different mix of families, a comprehensive issue could have emerged more clearly. In similar lines, the article by Amparo Gonzalez-Ferrer has contested the idea of family reunification, especially that of spouse, to be the burden for the economy where the immigrant spouse, in most case women, does not take up the ‘productive’ role of joining the labor market. The author has used quantitative techniques of logit model to study the probability of active, employed and unemployed family migration status for both men and women and linear regression model is used to study how various factors such as age, education, citizenship, duration of residence etc determines family reunification. However job analysis with respect to the job description, regularity etc in the post migration period could have added some useful information to compliment the same.  The author has made use of Spanish Labor Force Survey data which in itself answers for the reason of excluding the above mentioned aspect of labor market. The study by Christine Catarino and Laura Oso is an excellent as well as an intense piece of work which covers lots of aspect regarding commitment for family business and various intra & intergenerational factors affecting the same. Using case study method to explore the situation and context of immigrants from different countries, each argument has been justified in an apt way. Use of extensive case studies with inclusion of several names would have led to a chaotic reading. However the presence of a comprehensive table in the appendix of the article was the most appropriate thing as it makes easier for the reader to connect the background of each individual whenever the same has been mentioned in the text. The article also brings forth the issue of female headed household in the immigrant family and hence makes its position justifiable for the book. The conclusion is brief, crisp and brings out the crux of the article.

The section has rich collection of articles suited for the purpose of exploring the interplay of gender, generation and work in migrant family. The section could have possibly had an article explaining the gendered nature of work which is generally available to immigrant women such as domestic help, care worker etc. The special cases for such women where work is assigned of a particular nature, along with being an immigrant as well as an emotional labor; adds to their vulnerability.

All the articles in the third Section primarily discusses about the implication of the migration law which focuses on controlling the immigrants entering into the country. The section describes cases of three developed countries namely Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland and their subsequent laws in place to check migration. However due to the stringent law which restricts entry into the country for economic reasons or for permanent settlement, the immigrant takes marriage as a last resort to integrate into the developed nation. With the aim of getting permanent residence license, bi national marriages followed by separations are a common phenomenon. This phenomenon is widely prevalent in case of Germany where the Cameroonian men marry German women to obtain the residence license after which they separate their ways and family migration subsequently takes place. The article by Annett Fleischer explores the scenario by interviewing both German women as well as Cameroonian men. However in other cases like marriage of Thai women to Dutch men or the foreign women to Swiss men, the reason for transnational marriages have been diverse and extends much beyond the scope of economic wellbeing. Gender emancipation being one of them where the article by Panitee Suksombaan explores the social taboo concerning marriage of girl above certain age, highly educated women, and divorced women to be inappropriate for marriage in home country. Thus marring a person established in developed country is a means of liberating oneself from the social stigma. The author has also explored the historical stance of Dutch migration to Thailand and the subsequent role of technology, entertainment and sex industry in maintaining a link between Dutch men and Thai women. The article has been beautifully written and well connected with historical facts and current developments. The article by Yvonne Riano has raised a very important concern regarding the role of government agency towards gender equality. Looking through the lenses of migrant women, the article has explored the reality behind achievement of gender equality in the Swiss society. On one side where the society fights for gender equality, on other hand, migrant foreign spouse, by the nature of government law, make the migrant women dependent on their spouse. Thus the condition of migrant women becomes even more vulnerable.

The section was well binded together with a common thread and the similar kind of transnational migration cases being put up in the section which can be used to understand the similar scenario existing in different other countries. This section points towards an important loophole in the government policy which leads to people taking up different path to gain access into developed nation. The whole institution of marriage has turned up into a profit making business devoid of any emotional binding.

The last section of the book discusses about the most important aspect relating to female migration i.e transnational living of theses migrants. It has throughout been discussed in existing literature that female member of the family are majorly inclined towards provisioning of care to children as well as elderly family members. Thus is such scenario where migration for earning livelihood as well as care needs to be managed, female migrants are generally overburdened with the dual responsibility. The study by Ludovica Banfi and Paolo Boccagni elaborates the aforementioned stance via exploring the case of female migrants from three countries namely Poland, Ukraine and Ecuador into Italy. The author tries to explore the varying experiences of female migrants from these three countries with regards to remittances, familial care, and relationship with spouse etc. By using several secondary sources, it has been successfully cited that the majority of migrant from these countries are female. However the reason for the same was largely missing. The only reason cited for the same was the status of women being married yet single i.e. either divorces, separated or widow. Thus because of their role as sole breadwinner of the family, they migrate to earn their livelihood. It would have been clearer if the author could have provided the descriptive statistics of marital status of their female respondents. At the same time it also needs to be mentioned that towards the end of the study, a paragraph examines the transnational practices of married female migrants with husband living in home country. This section is self explanatory to the fact that the reason cited by the author for female migration is much beyond which needs deeper investigation. The loopholes of study by Ludovica Banfi and Paolo Boccagni, has been answered to some extent in the work by Paola Bonizzoni. The study explores the integration of Latin American families into Italy by examining the interplay of culture, structure as well as agency. With certain literature promoting culturalist approach to be dominant over the structuralist and vice versa; the author has revealed that the cultural as well as structural approaches are interwoven and is drawn on by the national and transnational agencies. The role of culture and structure cannot be looked upon individually to study immigrant’s family adaptation into the destination country. The author has clearly placed the context as well as the reason for migrants being female predominantly and has provided an in depth analysis of the range of issues faced by them during the process of integration in the destination country.

The first two studies of the section were almost along the similar line of discussion. Moreover the shortcomings of the first study were covered appropriately in the second study by Paola Bonizzoni. Hence there could have been a possibility to drop the study by Ludovica Banfi and Paolo Boccagni from the last section so that it may not appear to be repetitive.

Last two study of the section by Aurelie Varrel and Venetia Evergeti & Louise Ryan respectively provides a completely new perspective to look at the issues faced by a female migrant in a transnational arena. Where Aurelie Varrel examines the change in cultural setup of developed country and a third world country and the subsequent ordeal faced by female migrant associated with return migration into a third world nation. Placed in the context of Indian IT professional and their return migration to Indian cosmopolitan city Bangalore, primary for the reason of providing care to ageing parents and to provide Indian upbringing to their children, the study explores the compromises in the professional life which the female migrant has to face due to the patriarchal nature of the society. The stereotypical notion of ‘male as breadwinner and female as housewife’ in developing country like India have wide implication on the professional career of migrated women where most of them end up being either underpaid or quitting the labor market. The author prompts towards the need to extend research on transnational living beyond professionals, and include diverse family members, nuclear and extended family, for a holistic understanding of the scenario. Venetia Evergeti & Louise Ryan in their study tries to look at this dimension where an attempt to understand care work from the perspective of the migrant and their family left behind in the home country, is undertaken. The author questions the homogeneous notion of care worker migrant and tries to focus on the diversity of experiences with regards to the same.  He even questions the methodological framework of understanding ‘family’ and ‘care’ in the existing literature. According to the author family is a fluid concept and is constantly being reconstituted and negotiated, adapting across space and time. Similar is the case with ‘care work’. Thus diversity of experiences with regards to the notion of family as well as the care work could actually help us understand transnational practices, rather than depending merely on theoretical understanding. 

Overall, the book has a rich collection of articles on diverse aspects of family migration. In the existing literature on migration, the hassle free nature of migration within European Union (EU) countries and restrictive migration from non EU to EU countries are generally been discussed. The book provides a baggage of information on all these aspects were migration from diverse countries and culture are covered. The book draws upon the conclusion that there are several severe issues relating to migration of family in general and women in particular, which generally falls in the blind eyes of the policy makers. The policy at both national as well as international level should keep into consideration the major role played by women in any migration process, whether the male or the female member of the family migrates. Thus this calls for the attention for the specific policy in place so that the female may not end up being trapped in a vulnerable situation. The articles are enriching by its content and have been well connected together. The various sections formed in the books are apt as well and provides further research avenues to be undertaken by the researchers. The languages used across the articles are easy to comprehend. For the researchers working in the field of migration, particularly gendered nature of migration, the book will provide lots of insights into the existing issue and at the same time will also make the reader acquaint of the migration laws existing in various countries.

Review by Tasha Agarwal, M.Phil. Scholar, NUEPA, Email:

Publication Date:   Wednesday, Jan 07, 2015
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