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Intersectionality: a starting point for an inclusive and gender-sensitive migration policy

  • Book Review by Maria Lucia Hernandez

  • Reviewed Book: Anastasia Christou and Eleonore Kofman. Gender and Migration. London: Springer, 2022

 

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), a soft law legal instrument that aims to enhance cooperation on international migration (GCM, Res. 73/195, art. 6). However, COVID-19, together with its devastating economic consequences, scenarios of extreme violence in certain countries, as well as the restrictive migration policies of some European governments, make the fulfilment of these goals a real challenge.

In the book Gender and Migration: IMISCODE Short Reader, Anastasia Christou, professor of Sociology and Social Justice, and Eleonore Kofman, professor of Social Policy, both at Middlesex University in the UK, discuss the developments in the literature over the past 30 years about some of the challenges faced by European governments regarding migration, especially with reference to gender. More specifically, they discuss how states have not yet been able to guarantee "orderly, safe, regular, and responsible" migration capable of integrating diverse population groups based on categories such as gender, race, class and age.

Approaching both gender and migration at the same time is a broad and ambitious project. Following this approach, the book is divided into two main parts. The first part illustrates the academic discussions that have been raised under the umbrella of "Gendered Migrations." The incorporation of gender into migration studies opened the door towards a more generative and intersectional approach to the study of contemporary gendered mobilities. This contributed to addressing connections between social cleavages and identities, as well as understanding hierarchies/inequalities along relational, processual, and spatio-temporal manifestations of power.

Based on this conceptual framework, the second part of the book focuses on where European states have so far failed to fully integrate the categories of race, class and, in particular, gender, in three specific areas: the labour market, the development of transnational migrant families and asylum procedures.

 

With regard to labour, according to the authors, the inclusion of migrants in the labour market can drastically reduce their precarious conditions. However, this is not sufficient to address gender inequalities. In European countries, different types of employment tend to be related to gender roles, creating disadvantageous situations for women. Women are often associated with jobs in the service, education, and health sectors, as well as informal jobs such as those related to caring and even sex work. In contrast, men are usually assigned formal jobs in the financial sector and informal jobs related to construction.

 

The second element addressed focuses on speaking about transnational intimacy, family roles and sexual migrant identities. The authors acknowledge that for a long time, the approach both in the literature and among European governments had been almost exclusively confined to heteronormative parameters. Nevertheless, Christou and Kofman stress that this situation has been slowly changing. Now scholars and policymakers have a more critical view of migration processes and are for example no longer implicitly assuming that migrants necessarily wish to bring their family members with them.

Yet, progress has been much slower when it comes to non-heteronormative transnational intimacy mobilities (same-sex couples, queer mobilities). Christou and Kofman suggest that especially transnational sexualities and intimacy studies should be informed by broader questions highlighting issues of globalisation, colonialism, imperialism and racialisation, amongst others, as departure points to problematise discourses (69).

Finally, Christou and Kofman analyse the current state of asylum processes in Europe and the lack of appropriate inclusion of a gender approach at the regional level. They highlight that the protection of refugees is one of the most challenging issues to address for several reasons.

The first reason is the type of information obtained about refugees: information systems are insufficient to capture salient information since governments only capture disaggregated data, overlooking any possible connections between the previous experiences of refugees, their cultural and social context of origin, and the damage and types of violence to which they were subjected. According to the authors, being able to contextualise refugees’ life stories would help diminish harmful and stereotypical views.

The second reason has to do with the institutional deficiencies in coordinating and providing proper humanitarian assistance to the refugee population, particularly in the case of the European Union. The authors see an ongoing crisis in the humanitarian system, mainly ruled by neoliberal governance that is not only hostile towards migrants and refugees but also allows profit-making “sectors to manage securitization of borders, including the filtering into categories" (89).

Overall, Gender and Migration not only makes an extraordinary effort to map existing studies on gender and migration, as well as to highlight how inclusive and integrated the concept of gender should be into the migration policies of the European Union but also invites us to reflect on the importance of an intersectional approach comprehensive not only of gender, but also of the class and race dimensions. This approach reveals a number of inequalities, power dynamics and restrictive categorisations that make socioeconomic integration difficult not only for women but also for other population groups.

An example is the case of skilled economic migrants from China and India who move to Europe in search of good job opportunities, but, in reality, often face the visible and invisible walls of ‘white privilege’ in accessing professional employment and discrimination in the workplace in the country of destination. Relatedly, an important question arises from this work: What does it mean to integrate the migrant population into a society?

Christou and Kofman make it clear throughout their work that it is not just a matter of allowing access to rights and services, but also of how to do it. It is not only about ensuring women’s access to work per se, but also to do so without any kind of cultural, social or political barriers in between. In sum, Gender and Migration puts forward the notion of intersectionality as a starting point for the improvement of an inclusive migration policy.


Maria Lucia Hernandez Dueñas is a Colombian lawyer with a minor in History, and also holds an M.A. in International Public Affairs from LUISS Guido Carli University.



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