02 July 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Feminization of Migrant Labor – Situating Migrant Women in a more Global Context

There is no doubt that women bear the brunt of the toughest and lowest-paying jobs (not to mention UNPAID housework). From sewing garments in sweltering factories to changing dirty diapers to wiping counters to doing the dishes to serving as “sex slaves” — the overwhelming majority of workers in these occupations are women.

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Take a look at the recent ICE raid at the Houston Action Rags USA plant–in effect a sweatshop rag factory where migrant workers–mostly women–would sort through used clothes that would later by exported to “Third World” countries. ICE officials said of the 166 workers they detained, 130 were females, including 10 who were pregnant.

The Houston Chronicle picked up on the gender disparity here:

Juana Maria Olvera, 35, was one of those detained at Action Rags USA and released because she is expecting a child.

”There are a lot of undocumented women working here, and a lot are single women who are working to support their families,” said Olvera. ”What is happening is a lot of the men come here and don’t go back to Mexico. They either bring their women, or find someone here.”

When ICE cracks down on migrant women workers, they devastate the mainstay of the family unit. But we need to situate the random detention of migrant women workers by the ICE in a more global context, as a global oppression of women. It is ironic that these migrant women were working in a “First World” rag-factory to produce clothes for “Third World” countries–countries that they have fled due to “First World” (neo-liberal) policies. For the most part, they would probably do the same jobs at home if the multi-national corporations came to them. Capital will go where it can seek the most profits–and what is more profitable than earning millions on the backs of women who have very little institutional support? Multi-national corporations like DKNY, Levi Strauss, Jessica McClintock to name just a few, have a mutable gendered labor workforce.

In coming to the United States, there is no hunt for the ‘American dream’ but sheer desperation for dollars. As Cynthia Enloe eloquently states in her seminal work Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, women who travel are not creatures of comfort or privileged. These migrant female underclass of workers do not get institutional support, work in increasingly deplorable conditions and are more susceptible to sexual harassment and abuse. Just take a look at this story about an Ecuadorean family suing a bakery over working conditions–

Antonio DiBenedetto [the employer] groped the female immigrants and pushed one woman into an office where he tried to take off her clothes and sexually assault her, but the woman escaped by calling for the help of a co-worker, the lawsuit alleges.

DiBenedetto also forced female employees to watch him undress and walked around naked in front of them, the lawsuit alleges. He was also accused of telling the female employees that he would loan them money or not charge them rent if they engaged in sex.

This is a rare example of an undocumented immigrant family coming out of the shadows to jot down abuses in the workplace. For the most part, women who are sexually abused, harassed or treated inhumanely, simply stay quiet and stay in the shadows. Sometimes they are compelled to do so in order to protect their families and keep nurturing their young, no matter what the costs. And with the ICE, IMF, World Bank, workforce and exportation laws, it is harder for female workers to unite and unionize.

What is the main point of this blog post? Any movement for the advancement of women’s rights or gender equality, MUST address the needs of women who are victims of neo-liberal globalization.

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