Evolution of gender and migration scholarship and its challenge

by Ayano Tsukada

Gender, the socially constructed role of and relationship between women and men, is deeply related to our lives. Our thoughts and our behavior are very affected by gender. Migration is not an exception here. In the article published in 2000, the sociologist Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo argues: “We now have a clear understanding that migration is gendered and that gender relations change with migration processes” (116). Women and men take different jobs in destination countries, use their money differently, and so on. Migration is also gendered and gendering. It is very important for researchers to know how and to what extent the lives of migrants are affected by gender. Without taking gender into account, we can easily misdescribe the whole picture of migration.

Sociological scholarship on gender and migration has a relatively short history.

In the late 1970s, women were depicted in the migration process and became a subject of many studies, however, scholars at the time only focused on women and men or only on the experience of women. They presented women migrants as a special case.

By the late 1980s, the evidence had grown large enough to require redrawing the map of gender and migration scholarship and then, theoretical formulation emerged. Scholars started to look at household economy as a critical site for revealing the relationship between migration and women, but still they were considering men as household heads and by doing so, they limited the data on women. At this point, the scholars studied men and women separately.

By the mid-1990s, the effective use of qualitative methods to understand the dynamics of gender and migration emerged and the new scholarship showed how migration processes are related to the social construction of gender.

From above, we can see the shift of sociological scholarship on gender and migration from the emphasis on documenting and explaining the gendered character of migration towards exploring its gendering effects.

In spite of this progress, many studies often degrade gender analyses to the level of the family or household and let scholars to ignore gender in other domains of the migration process.

There are still some parts that are missing in gender and migration studies. For instance, there are very few data on the consequences of women’s migration while there are many studies on the effect of men’s migration on their families, their communities, and on how gender is exercised in their home countries. What happens to the men and children who left behind when their wives or mothers migrate? Does women’s migration change the gender relationship of their countries? If so, how? Is it positive or negative?

Right now, the sociological scholarship on migration is more like gender-segregated rather than gender-integrated. It is necessary to look at gender as a central element to explore unexplained phases of migration. I hope that migration Studies in the 21st century will integrate gender more than it has done in the past 30 years.


Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. (2001). Doméstica: Immigrant workers cleaning and caring in the shadows of affluence. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.

Afsar, Risa. (2011). Contextualizing Gender and Migration in South Asia: Critical Insights. Retrieved from http://gtd.sagepub.com/content/15/3/389 on 25th May, 2013

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