Symposia 5 – Defending Women, Defending Borders?: Gender and the Migrant Worker Experience

Event Details

Location: Gerakbudaya, 2 Jalan Bukit 11/2, PJ
Time: 2:30pm
Date: March 5, 2016

Dr Gerhard Hoffstaedter, University of Queensland
Liva Sreedharan, Program Officer at Tenaganita
Asha Dhillon, Head of the Outreach Protection and Intervention Unit of UNHCR


For the next Symposia event we are looking to investigate the intersection between experiences of migration and experiences of gender in contemporary Malaysia.

If the experience of migration is hugely differential between categories such as expats, refugees, foreign workers and undocumented migrants, these categories are also intersected by gendered differences which ensure vastly different experiences of migration and whilst the experiences of many male migrants are often better understood, the problems faced by women, trans and other gender identities are less understood and identified.

The labour of female migrant workers is often in the form of domestic labour or emotional labour, and thus often outside of the formal sphere of work. This opens women up to different forms of abuse and exploitation, such as sexual abuse, physical and emotional violence, confinement and the withholding of wages. This is especially heightened by the isolation implied by domestic work and the fact that domestic work isn’t sufficiently covered by labour law.

Migrant women and trans women are also exposed to forms of sexual exploitation and discrimination, both by the agents who traffic them into Malaysia and the and by the immigration officials who target them for deportation or sexual favours.
Whilst the needs of women for specialized healthcare can often be denied or act as a source of discrimination. As evidenced by the treatment of Nirmala Thapa, the Nepalese migrant who became the first woman in Malaysia to be charged with procuring an illegal abortion.

Equally migration often intersects with particularly gendered narratives of nationhood and nationality. With the recent announcement of a deal to allow a further 1.5m Bangladeshi workers to work in Malaysia, a whole series of articles have emerged linking the arrival of Bangladeshi migrants to threats of rape against the female Malaysian body. Whilst men such as Papagomo have recently justified the beating of a migrant worker by stating it to be in defence of women in his family. Similarly in Europe a recent article in a Polish news magazine depicts the rape of Europe (a white woman draped in the European flag) by dark-skinned migrants.

During this Symposia event we’ll therefore be interested to investigate the gendered dimensions of migration, and particularly the ways in which female, male and trans migrants are imagined in different ways and exploited and discriminated against in different ways. We hope then to discuss the ways in which we could approach migration which will challenge such gendered differences.

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