Difficulties encountered by women migrants

There is an apparent difference between men and women. There are certain characteristics in both genders that are distinct. Men are physically strong and can withstand harsh working conditions. Women play a significant role in the society in bringing up children. However, both are equally important in economic development. Globally, women tend to be viewed as the weaker component of the society. This has led to women playing a subordinate role for many years due to the common cultural believe that women should indeed be subordinate. The gap between men and women is an intentional demonstration of a conventional structure of male supremacy regardless of the need for fairness. Men have always been in control of economic affairs especially in large businesses and governance. Women have mostly remained in the background, with a major task of caring for children and other household chores (International Labor Organization, 2007, p.3). This essay is important in order to highlight the issues that affect migrant women in the labor market, and identify some possible solutions to these issues.

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Human Migration

It is the movement of people from one place to another, either as an individual or in masses. People may either move over long or short distances to stay over long or short periods of time. Industrialization has been a major encouragement for migration. This is because people tend to move to the industrialized areas that present employment opportunities as well as market created by the large number of people who seek employment in the established industries. Financial globalization has also encouraged globalization of labor leading to high levels of migration, especially from the less developed economies to the developed economies. Initially, men were predominant amongst the migrants. However, with recent empowerment of women in acquiring skills, their competitiveness in the labor market has improved. The need to satisfy financial needs has seen women actively participating in the labor market (Anne Stewart 2007: 4 Dec. 2008).

With high dependence on agriculture in the less developed countries, population increase has led to reduced agricultural land and people have to look for alternative ways of earning a livelihood. Migration of women is mainly triggered by the desire to feed their families. With modern transportation, migration has been made easy. People can move conveniently all over the world so long as they can afford to meet the cost. Most of the migrants from the less developed economies move to developed ones to offer cheap and unskilled labor. Women from Asia and Africa have been migrating to the United Kingdom, United States and Canada to seek employment. International labor migration was highest in the late 1900s ranging from more than 3 million migrants per year. Women comprised 25 percent of this population (John Bruce 2001, pp.25-27). Over the last ten years, the number of women migrants in the United Kingdom has swiftly increased. The migrants are normally from economies that were former British colonies. However, the recent trends indicate that there are a considerable number of migrants from the neighboring less developed countries

Types of migration

There are two types of migration; internal migration and international migration

Internal migration occurs when individuals migrate from one locality to another in the same country. Women mainly migrate from the rural area to urban centers where employment opportunities are abundant. In developing and developed countries, Most of the urban populations are mainly composed of rural migrants. The rural communities mainly depend on activities that are carried out in small scale for subsistence. However, the population increase leads to movement of part of the population to urban areas to search for employment in the upcoming industries. The United States and other urban centers in Europe received a substantial number of women who came to seek employment in the garment industries and other services such as retail.

International migration is the movement from one country to another, mainly from less developed economies to developed economies. Developed countries present better employment opportunities as well as better standards of living. Poor economies are normally faced with high population growth rate, with corresponding high levels of unemployment. The standards of living are low due to poverty. Political instability is also a major problem as local communities compete for the available resources. Without restrictions in migration, the only factor that may hinder international migration is lack of funds to pay for transportation. The United States, Canada and United Kingdom are the major economies that recruit migrants (Howard Parlini 1999, pp.28-31). However, there are other countries in the South East Asia and the Persian Gulf that also receive a substantial number of migrants. Since 1950s, women have been amongst the international migrants. In a population survey carried out in year 2000, more than 48 percent of the total international migrants were women (Geoffrey Anderson 2004, p.14). Most of the women migrants were mainly in Europe while Northern Africa received the least. Convergent is an aspect of migration that tends to bring co-operation between the host country and the country where the migrants originated. Each country benefits from the association. Developed countries may benefit from manpower while the less developed ones gain from the employment created by its associates.



There are various types of women who migrate for various reasons;

  1. Married or single women who migrate to search for employment; these women move from one region where opportunities for employment may be minimal to a country where they might have identified employment opportunities.
  2. Single women who migrate to join their spouses; they normally migrate in order to join their husbands who had migrated to another country earlier, or to marry their foreign spouses.
  3. Women who migrate with no reason of either getting married or search of employment; these may be migrate due to the desire to live in a different environment to the one they have been used to. This may be associated with the need to settle in a more peaceful environment away from a country undergoing internal conflicts.

The last two groups might eventually secure employment in the country where they have migrated to.

Migrant women can be categorized depending on their levels of skills as well as the time they intend to stay as migrants in the host country. Some of them are normally trained women who migrate to work for multinational companies over a certain period of time. These do not reside permanently in the host country but leave after accomplishment of their objectives. On the other hand there are those who migrate to seek permanent employment, and would be glad if they could be allowed to change their citizenship. The skilled migrant women whose stay is defined do not always face the common problems faced by the other migrant women who migrate indefinitely. They offer important services such as teaching in higher institutions of learning as well as managing international organizations. Others offer health services and are recognized by the host countries due to their expertise in important sectors of the economy.


Factors that contribute to migration in women

  1. Financial globalization and integration has prompted people to move from one country to another to take advantage of the available opportunities in order to improve on their standards of living.
  2. As economies develop, agreements that allow movement of personnel between countries are signed in order to encourage trade as well as the desired international relations. This encourages movement between the cooperating economies
  3. Globalization of trade resulting in the formation of multinational companies has led to the movement of workers internationally.
  4. The less developed countries have been facing high rates of population growth, leading to high competition for the available resources, culminating in dissatisfaction and lack of employment opportunities in the developing economies. It forces part of the population to migrate to industrialized economies, which present more employment opportunities. The developing economies are characterized by low population growth and therefore are faced with labor shortage due to exit by the aging part of the population. They therefore recruit migrants who work mainly as unskilled workers.
  5. With the current development in the transport sector of world economies, movement has been made easy thereby encouraging migration.
  6. The information and communication technology has enhanced flow of information globally. The internet and mobile phones are normally used to convey information to the anticipating migrants about the available opportunities. This encourages migrants to move out of their country with confidence of exploiting the available opportunity to earn a livelihood.


Women are faced with hardships as they get engaged in the foreign labor markets. Discrimination, deprivation and abuse are common phenomena for women migrants. These come due to their status as migrants or gender based occupational segregation. In the United Kingdom, migrant women have restricted access to employment and usually earn less than their male counterparts as well as the native-born women. Many of the women are susceptible if their abode is dependent upon affiliation to a native or an already established migrant. It becomes detrimental if such an association ends. The rights of migrant women workers are occasionally violated and they normally end up living under poor conditions. According to Charlie Cornell (2007, p.26), “Migrant women workers in the United Kingdom may be subject to such levels of exploitation and control that they meet the international legal definition of forced labor”. The workers’ rights are not applied in the same manner for migrant women and the native women. The former are faced with deprivation through low pay, poor working conditions as well as overworking.

The conditions of the labor market in the United Kingdom are unfavorable to migrant women. It is characterized by poor employment terms for migrants with minimal enforcement of labor rights as well as the use of labor acquired through agencies. Strategies have been set to ensure that migrants are compliant with the immigration laws that do not favor migrant workers. Issues have been arising due to vulnerability of the work that the migrant women are exposed to. Many have faced dire consequences due to the distance between their homes and the host country. The cost of transport is high and therefore when confronted with a situation of vulnerable work, it is often difficult to go back home. Women normally withstand the harsh conditions in vulnerable work until they secure enough money to take them back to their home country.

Vulnerable employment is insecure work which has a tendency to pose the risk of long-lasting poverty and prejudice that is a consequent of inequity of command in the relationship between the employers and the workers. Migrant workers are normally at a high risk of vulnerability at work. Vulnerable work is characterized by meager pay, unnecessary and unwarranted deductions from the salary as well as working in unsafe working conditions. Under such circumstances, the employees are not allowed to go on paid leave. Women migrants are faced with a problem of language barriers as well as occupational segregation at work. They may lack the capacity to put their rights as workers into effect because of the authority given to the manager over their migration status. (Bridget Anderson & Hiranthi Jayaweera 2008, p.14)

Vulnerable employment poses difficulties to the migrant women in the United Kingdom; most of them work for longer hours than the rest of the workers. This is usually stressful for the women because naturally, a woman is not strong enough to withstand so much stress caused by fatigue and exhaustion. The stress is usually amplified by the fact that the women have other roles to play back in their homes especially if they have got children to take care of. Working for more than 45 hours per week is quite stressful. Migrant workers normally do not sign contracts of employment in the United Kingdom. This nature of employment is highly insecure because there are no binding agreements between the workers and the employer. They can easily be fired or denied their rights which other workers enjoy. They end up earning little and loosing many allowances because the employer pays them at his will. Migrant women employees hardly get access to retirement benefits and insurance covers which are essential for the welfare of all employees.

With the little that they save in from their salaries, the women are most likely headed to be dependent on others after leaving employment. Occupational segregation is evident in the United Kingdom, whereby male migrants are offered better salaries compared to migrant women. It is therefore apparent that in the United Kingdom they are underpaid, and their chances of satisfying their needs are minimal. Payment in form of cash is a major problem that they face as well as restrictions of registration with Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) that is meant to benefit A8 nationals working in the United Kingdom through housing and council tax benefits for the low income earners (Jenny Edwards 2006, p.18).

Authorities in the United Kingdom have been cited as refusing to take any action despite reports of workers being overworked and getting paid wages far below the minimum as well as poor working environments. Migrant women are threatened by their employers with the use of immigration authorities. Discrimination is rampant amongst the migrant workers, especially the pregnant women. According to Alan Feldman (2008, p.26), “Pregnant migrant women face discrimination to an extent of getting fired from employment, and are not allowed paid maternity leave.” Without sufficient maternity leave, a woman can only be left with the choice of leaving employment in order to give birth. It is a great risk if a mother with a new born child can not afford the basic commodities needed to care for her child due to lack of employment. This usually affects the single women as well as those who live far from their spouses. Before they get to give birth, the women tend to voluntarily work for long hours in order to maximize their income, in order to save enough money to support them when they are fired or once they go for unpaid leave. This affects the health of their children. Others take part time jobs as an extra source of income, which is an indication of under-employment.

With respect to accommodation, the women are faced with the problem of unreasonable deductions from their pay. They are not offered good quality accommodation which should correspond to their deductions. Being newcomers in the United Kingdom, they are faced with a big challenge of acquiring reasonable accommodation at affordable prices. Many have to depend on facilities offered by employers after salary deductions. In Australia, gender based occupational segregation is pronounced within all working classes. Most of the migrant women predominantly occupy the lowest employment grades regardless of their level of skills or education. It is usually difficult for them to progress in skills or chances of further training. They end up specializing in low grades of employment with minimal chances of earning a sustainable income.

South Africa is also a country whereby migrant women are faced with many problems ranging from being underpaid to lack of proper housing. Many of the migrant women originated from countries in Africa including Nigeria on the distant North. Being amongst the most prosperous economy in Africa, the country provides opportunities for many women especially in the hospitality industry. Occupational segregation is rampant in the country with women migrants earning less than their male counterparts. The culture of women being viewed as subordinate impedes the possibility of women ascending up the ladder in terms of employment grades.

Migrant women have attracted special attention to industrial relations institutions that strive to ensure that their rights are not violated. The 2005 report from the industrial relations of the European Commission highlighted the plight of women in the labor market, with recommendations to ensure that the rights of migrant women are not violated. The United Nations conference held in Geneva in May 2001 emphasized on the need for states to develop policies to integrate migrant women in the available sectors, as well as ending the possibilities of exploitation in work places (United Nations 2001, p.34).


Integration policies in the contemporary global economy are mainly focusing on the welfare of men regardless of the important role played by women in the economy. Men have a wider participation in economic matters and this may be the reason why women are rarely considered when policies concerning economic development are formulated. It is highly commendable for governments to develop an approach that takes the rights of women in to consideration so that they can compete fairly in the global labor market. Migrant women need to be protected against violation of their rights. Migrant women are normally the hard working among many women who languish in poverty in less developed countries. Their initiative of moving out of poverty in order to earn a living and assist their families back home should be received with much gratitude, rather than oppression. This is because they choose not to remain as beggars while they can utilize their skills for economic development. Poverty can be minimized if women are allowed access to capital through credit as well as discouraging their discrimination in work places. With a reduction in poverty amongst women, their dependence towards the government and their spouses will decrease

Migrant women promote poverty reduction endeavors in their home country through sending back some of their income to their families. This money is important to the economy in the sense that it is not given out as credit. If these funds are used for income generating activities, they can raise the Gross Domestic Product in their home country. Women migrants should be allowed to access important services such as banking in order to accumulate savings as well as become eligible for bank loans to develop in entrepreneurship rather than depend solely on employment which turns out to be oppressive. Movement of women from less developed countries to developed nations reduces the potential of a country to develop due to the skills that are withdrawn by the migrants. Many of those who migrate to seek employment in foreign countries are usually the highly educated and therefore the loss is enormous. They should be retained in order to assist in economic growth within their country. However, those who return to their country after working in a foreign labor market bring in new skills that can be advantageous for the less developed country.


  1. Anderson B. & Hiranthi J. 2008, Migrant Workers and Vulnerable Employment: A Review of Existing Data, London: TUC, viewed on 14 Dec. 2008



  1. Charlie C. 2007 the Role of Women in Society: an Overview of Development, 2nd edition, London: Century Business.
  2. Edwards J. 2006, “Women in the Labor Market” Journal of Migratory Behavior & Research.11 No. 1, July.
  3. Feldman A. 2008, International Integration: Impact of Migration in Less Developed Economies, California University Press.
  4. Geoffrey A. 2004, “Modern Economies: Difficulties Encountered,” International Migration Journal, 3, no. 2, August.
  5. Howard P. 1999 “Empowerment of Women: Effective Community Development” Journal on Financial matters. 5, no. 3, September.
  6. International Labor Organization 2007, Girls in Mining: Research Findings from Ghana, Niger, Peru and United Republic of Tanzania, International Publications, Cornell University ILR School, viewed 13 Dec. 2008


  1. John B. 2001, Problems, Solutions and Prosperity: a Post-Modernism Approach, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, England, UK
  2. Stewart A. 2007, Globalizing Gender Justice, University of Warwick, viewed 14 Dec. 2008


  1. United Nations 2001, World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, International Publications, Preparatory Committee, Geneva.
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