People have been moving from place to place in search of better things for as long as humanity has existed, but scientific and technological progress and the availability of means of transportation have accelerated this process by leaps and bounds. According to the UN, there are approximately 281 million international migrants in the world - 3.6 percent of the world's population. These are people who live and work outside the countries where they were born. They migrate in search of a better life for themselves and their children and make a huge contribution to the development of their host countries and countries of origin. International migration has grown steadily in recent years, with 128 million more migrants in 2020 than in 1990 and three times as many as in 1970.
In 2020, two-thirds of all international migrants resided in just 20 countries. The United States remains the top destination for international migrants, with 51 million in 2020, 18 percent of the world's total. Germany has the second largest number of international migrants in the world (about 16 million), followed by Saudi Arabia (13 million), the Russian Federation (12 million) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (9 million).
In terms of remittances from migrants to their home country, the United States ranks first ($68 million was sent home by migrants from the United States in 2020), with Russia in seventh place ($16.9 million).
Women make up 48% of the total number of migrants, about 38 million are children, 4.4 million are international students and 164 million are labor migrants. The growth of female migration is noted all over the world, but experts note that a woman's move to a new place is associated with greater risks than a man's move. Let us try to understand whether this is true.
Why they leave
Not so long ago, the Russian media, when reporting on labor migration, most often used the pronoun "he", referring to men moving to the Russian Federation in search of work. Now the situation is changing. Women are joining the ranks of labor migrants. Female migration is spreading very actively around the world. Women from less developed countries and regions are moving to more developed countries. They do it for many reasons: low wages, lack of housing, poverty, unemployment; the opportunity to give good education to their children; divorces.... In short, to have a better life.
Researchers of female migration unanimously come to the conclusion that the reason for moving, with few exceptions, is the desire to get a new, more decent quality of life. Dr. Olga Gulina, director and founder of RUSMPI UG of the Migration Policy Institute (Russia), is sure that the choice of one or another country is always associated with great doubts, difficulties and hardships of life, so the decision to move is always the decision of the migrant and his or her immediate environment. And the direction of this move is determined by the place where the migrant will find a different quality of life, or it seems to him/her that he/she will be able to find a better share there.
In 2018, the Center for Migration Research (Russia), led by Dmitry Poletaev, PhD in Economics, conducted a study "Female Labor Migration from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Russia" and found that 85% of women cite economic reasons as the main reasons for deciding to move to Russia, 30% also cite family reunification. The accompanying goals of foreign women were higher education (8%) and personal life (8%).
Yulia Florinskaya, a leading researcher at the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, agrees with her colleagues. According to the results of a study of female migration conducted in 2021, it is economic reasons that push women to radically change their place of residence. A curious fact is that the average age of foreign women is higher than that of foreign men. Thus, among women the group of 30-39 years old prevails, and among men, with a large preponderance, the group of 18-29 years old. Also, the study showed interesting data on the employment of migrant women in different regions of Russia. In the regions they are engaged in cleaning, caring for the sick and elderly, providing housekeeping services, and working in construction, while in Moscow and St. Petersburg they provide tutoring services, do cleaning and cooking, and repair apartments.
At the same time, it is consistently noted that female migrants are less protected and at higher risk of danger during the move than men. They can fall not only into sexual or labor slavery, but also become victims of human trafficking; experience all kinds of humiliation, harassment and discrimination; lose the opportunity to raise their children, losing the spiritual connection with them, working and living at a distance; lose their health.
Story one "Maryam"
Maryam has been living in Russia for more than three years, she herself is from Tajikistan. She is married, a mother of three children, whom she sees only on WhatsApp. Eight years ago, Maryam's husband was in a car accident: "Thank Allah he is alive, but his leg is very bad. He had several surgeries, he has titanium plates, he limps. Before the tragedy, he traveled to Russia to earn money, and from time to time he lived in Russia and Tajikistan. He sent money to his family every month. We lived on this money. After the accident it became more difficult to live, we were desperately short of money, most of which was spent on treatment and restoration of the leg that had been injured in the accident. Maryam's husband himself suggested that she go to Russia. He found her a job as a caregiver through his acquaintances.
"My duties included living in a two-room apartment with my grandmother, who was both sick and very old. Her grandchildren came once a month to see if everything was in order at home. They gave me 30 thousand rubles for my work, 16 for food and 5 for unexpected expenses. Maryam lived like this for a year and two months until her ward passed away. After the funeral, her grandchildren gave her money for a ticket, gave her one of her grandmother's tea sets and said goodbye.
"Then there were fleeting part-time jobs, but not on such terms: you had to come in the morning and leave in the evening. We had to rent a one-room apartment for three people." When asked whether she is in Russia legally, Maryam answers in the negative: "You need money for that, and when we arrived we borrowed money from our relatives for a ticket. Now we can't leave for sure, if we leave, they will immediately close our entry to Russia.
Maryam complains that she has no education, that if she had been informed about all the rules of exit and entry, perhaps she would have a patent and work officially. "Do you think I really like to hide forever at the sight of the police?! One thing that saves me is that women are checked less often than men". But most of all, Maryam worries about living away from her children: "My son has become indifferent to me. He has distanced himself from me. He grew up early. He used to tell me everything about what was going on at school, what he was doing with his friends, how he spent his time. Today he just grudgingly says that everything is fine.
Viktor Sebelev, Director of the NGO "National Integration Center", comments on Maryam's story: «Judging by the story, Maryam, being a nurse, had a pretty good job in Moscow - her salary was almost twice the size of the pension of an average Moscow pensioner. In addition, she did not have to pay for food, rent, utilities and income tax, which are significant expenses in the capital. And this is actually being in an illegal position in a foreign country, when you had to hide from every policeman, because at any moment she could be detained and expelled from the country for a number of violations of the law». Sebelev claims that more than half of foreign migrants in Russia live this way. Some of them do it out of ignorance, some deliberately, and some were simply deceived by acquaintances, persuaded not to apply for a patent, and frightened by the «high cost».
Story two "Camilla"
Kamilla has long been a Muscovite with a good job and salary. But remembering her move from Uzbekistan and her first time in the capital, she involuntarily wrinkles her nose. It is hard to believe that an educated girl of model looks could get into such a situation: "I saw an advertisement for the position of 'assistant manager' with knowledge of English and decided to call back. The very next morning a man called me and set up an interview. Unsuspecting, Camilla went to the meeting. "I had just arrived, I didn't know Moscow at all, and I found myself in a very distant neighborhood," sighs Camilla.
Further on, the situation unfolded in a completely unpleasant way. Having barely found the office, which was on the outskirts of Moscow, in an old building, Camilla gingerly entered the office, which was located next door with many doors, the same offices. "He closed the door and told me in direct text that he wanted me." He threatened that he would call a police squad and I would be deported back to Uzbekistan. "I said, let him call it in. I have a patent and I have nothing to be afraid of," Camilla recalls. "You think the police will be on your side! I'll say, you offered yourself to get a job."
Camille says she was adamant, but was unable to confront the man. Neither could she file a rape report. "If they find out in my home country, who will marry me?! Yes, and relatives always told her parents, "Why should she study so much, it's important for a girl to get married.
Not all women are willing to share their experiences similar to this. Suppression of traumatic events can be another sign of serious psychological trauma. Being subjected to sexual humiliation has become a source of stress for women who experience anxiety and depression after such incidents happen to them. Camille says that every time she gets out of the shower, she still feels "kind of dirty."
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in a 2016 study indicated that threats from employers is one of the major phobias of concern for professionals, mentioned by 51% of women and 52% of men.
Gulshan Dolanbaeva, head of the NGO "Kyrgyzstan-Ural", comments on Kamilla's story: "On the one hand, it is impossible to say that the violation of rights and freedoms in migration concerns only women, on the other hand, women face violence more often than men. Thus, migrant women who work as nannies, governesses, i.e. at the employer's home, are more often subjected to violence. Women are more patient than men, they relive their psychological trauma internally and are afraid to talk about their experiences, so they rarely turn to law enforcement agencies for help".
Khadicha Abysheva, Director of International Justice Organization (USA) supports her colleague from Russia: "As you can see from the description of Kamilla's situation, she is in migration legally without violations, she has a patent, but still she is at risk, it does not protect her from humiliating treatment and the possibility of being raped. As a rule, in such a situation one would go to the police, but the mentality, what if compatriots or relatives find out? Shame!" Abysheva complained.
Identifying migrants' vulnerabilities and protecting them, especially women, requires concerted efforts at the national level, Abysheva said, but it does not preclude the development of positive regional cooperation. It is important to change negative beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviors, norms and practices at the community level regarding women affected by migration.
Story three, "The Cuckoo."
«Babies are not only left in maternity hospitals, but also thrown in the trash», Dilnoza shocks with her story. She has lived in Moscow for sixteen years, comes from Uzbekistan, speaks Russian with almost no accent and follows the capital's fashion: short skirt, botox in cheekbones and lips. She sincerely considers herself a Muscovite. «Oh, they found something to be surprised about! Girls, who did not work out, are raped by their own countrymen, and then they also disgrace their homeland by having records of intimate videos».
When asked how her fate in Russia turned out, Dilnoza replies: «There have been different things, but now everything is fine. But my friend left her child in the maternity hospital, so five years later she suddenly decided to take him back, and she was told that her boy was adopted almost immediately after the refusal». And why did she suddenly have such a desire? Conscience tormented? «She is living well! Her beau is a wealthy man, she has been under his patronage for two years. What do you think, she's not a human being not to worry about her son? That was her situation then. You wouldn't understand!»
Abandonment of newborns, illegal abortions, child murders and suicides - Russian public organizations have repeatedly spoken about these problems, but every year they only get worse. Many women give up a child, assuming that it will then be adopted, and it will not be hungry and poor, it will be safe. They give up in order to provide what they think is a better life for the child.
Story four "Anzurat"
Anzurat is 39 years old, she moved to Russia with her family in 2017 from Buston (northern Tajikistan). In her home country, she lived with her husband and two children with her mother-in-law in a large house where three other brothers with their families lived. Relations between the daughters-in-law did not go well from the very beginning of their cohabitation.
«My husband was silent in the beginning, or rather neutral, but when the older brother's wife attacked me with fists, he stood up for me». Only from that moment life became unbearable not only for Anzurat, but also for her husband and children. They began to eat separately, the mother and her son talked displeased, reproaching that he went against his brothers, and the children more often began to sit in the room behind the TV and practically stopped communicating with their cousins in the common yard.
After another scandal, the husband said it was possible to try to go to Russia. «He was called by a classmate with whom they had been very friendly since childhood. He immediately said that we could stay with him for the first month, and then we would rent accommodation ourselves».
Thus began their life in Russia, where they planned to earn money for an apartment in their homeland. Husband Anzurat almost immediately started working as a loader in a warehouse, the salary was not big, but the money was paid immediately after the shift - 1500 rubles. This money was enough for food, but not for a rented apartment, and certainly nothing could be saved from such a salary. «At first I baked tortillas in the oven, but when the electricity bill came, I had to give up this business».
Back home, Anzurat got married almost immediately after university, but she was able to work in her specialty - elementary school teacher - for only a few months. Then she took maternity leave, her children were one year olds, and after that her mother-in-law forbade her to work, saying that she had enough work at home. The yard is big: two houses, one has 4 rooms, the other has 6. In total there were 12 people. We had not only to do everything around the house, but also to whitewash and paint. It was this skill that would come in handy for the heroine to get a job.
«If I had ever been told that I would work on a construction site, I would never have believed it!», says Anzurat, and immediately adds: «In Podolsk we rented a two-room apartment for 25 tons of rubles + utilities about 6000. Who would hire me without citizenship to work in my specialty?! Yes, and to be honest, children in Russia are spoiled, the mentality is different». Anzurat was tutoring the children of her compatriots, but it was not enough to support her family.
That's when I wanted to call the phone number in the ad, which said that the construction site was recruiting women and men for interior finishing work with a salary of 65,000 rubles. I was taken almost immediately, stipulating that the salary is in an envelope. In the brigade of 12 people, 3 were women, two of whom came from Ukraine. After the installation of communications, the brigade where Anzurat worked was engaged in leveling the surface of walls and floors.
«Taisia and Lidia, who worked with me, had never done this either, in their home country one worked as an administrator in a student hostel, the other in a cooking shop. The master showed us how to do it, but he didn't control whether we were doing it right». The foreman gave one day for one apartment of 90-130 square meters, constantly reminding us that if we didn't manage to finish it by the end of the working day, we would work after-hours without pay. «We were divided into 2-4 people and each one did his own section. We were given doshirak and a tea bag every day. At the beginning I was happy with everything». But after 3 weeks of such work, her legs began to hurt a lot, as she had to squat, because the floor and the lower part of the walls were part of the heroine's work.
After receiving the first paycheck, one of the workers told the foreman that if everyone had the same salary, then everyone should work the same way. «So I began to level the ceilings as well, among other things. For me it turned out to be very difficult. First, I am afraid of heights, even if it is three meters. Secondly, I have low blood pressure and my neck was constantly whining, but there was nowhere to go. Besides, sometimes I had to carry the mortar myself if someone was not at work».
Anzurat has been working at the construction site for 14 months. During this time she has worked in different teams: she did wall and ceiling screeding, learned to work with tiles, was a laborer, and as the heroine herself says with a laugh: «I am a first-class worker! Allah willing, when I have my own apartment I will make repairs in it myself», and then adds: «Health is a pity: the veins in my legs hurt, paint and solvents, as well as noise and vibration often gives me a headache, my teeth are lost».
But there is no other way, the goal is to live separately from her parents in her own housing. According to the heroine, the family lives modestly, spending only on food and necessities. The husband and wife save half of their earnings in a bank account. Anzurat sadly answers the question: How much more do you need before your dream comes true? «A lot. A lot».
Medical experts state that systematic overwork and chronic fatigue can lead to serious health consequences. Overwork also affects the results of activity: fatigue reduces interest in work, it is increasingly difficult to solve production problems, dissatisfaction with the conditions of service increases, there is a fixation on deficiencies and shortcomings. Negative emotions begin to prevail: from increased irritability to indifference, apathy.
The manifestations of fatigue can be different: sleep disorders, headaches, muscle aches, heart palpitations, weakness, depression, poor resistance to infections. Fatigue first affects the nervous system, and then other organs and body systems begin to suffer.
The concept of "unfeminine" profession is understood differently in different countries. In Russia, for example, women are forbidden to work at night or in certain jobs in many areas, including manufacturing, construction, energy, agriculture, water supply and transportation, while in the United States there is no such notion at the legal level, women can work in any sphere, but the main condition is to have qualifications.
Across the ocean
When this publication was being prepared, as if to support us in the idea of the commonality of women's issues and the international character of migration processes, Stefanos Chen, a real estate reporter from New York, and Ana Ley, a reporter for Metro, published a piece in «The New York Times», «Migrant Women in New York See a Future in Unexpected Careers», which went to press in June 2023. The authors talk about women who came to New York in search of asylum and work in the construction industry.
The material contains many interviews where the women share that in addition to the harsh working conditions (often on construction sites, women not only clean up debris, but also carry heavy materials and deal with exposure to industrial chemicals), they have to endure exploitation and sexism.
The authors share, to get a work permit, an applicant must show a certificate, complete 40 hours of safety training and pass a test. According to the Department of Buildings, of the 300,000 people in New York City with active site safety training cards - 94% are men, the rest women. But the number of women entering the construction industry is steadily increasing.
The publication includes comments not only from women in the construction industry, but also from experts:
Mario Russell, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York: "Construction is one of the few industries where there is hiring, this may explain why more and more women are attracted to the field."
"It's job security," said Yadira Sanchez, co-founder of the Worker's Justice Project, who noted that roles typically offered to migrant women, such as house cleaning, involve more time and often pay less.
Ligia Gualpa, Executive Director of Worker's Justice Project notes with dismay: "Many newcomers don't realize how dangerous these jobs are. In an industrial safety report, 11 construction workers died on the job in New York City last year, the highest number since 2019."
The attractiveness of this area of employment, despite all the disadvantages, is primarily economic, it is explained by the workers themselves: contractors last year paid from 200 to 250 dollars for a 10-hour shift, now they can offer 80 dollars for the same work, while the minimum wage in the city is 15 dollars per hour.
Instead of an afterword
Unfortunately, responsibility for the problems associated with the life and work of migrant women, whether in Russia, the United States, or any other country, lies not only on the shoulders of various kinds of fraudsters, corrupt officials, and unscrupulous employers, but also on the women themselves. Legal nihilism, when moving to a new place, foreigners do not seek to legalize their status in the territory of stay and do not make efforts to conclude an employment contract with an employer, is fraught with the fact that it deprives them of chances to protect their rights and freedoms.
It is necessary to study and discuss women's migration in society: to raise this topic in the media, at conferences and cultural events, to publicize the problem of social inequality, paying closer attention to the gender aspect of the migration process. The solution to the problems associated with female migration does not lie on the surface. But recognizing the existence of gender differences in the context of migration processes and differentiating data by gender in migration statistics would be a big step.
The publication uses statistical data:
"Female Labor Migration from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Russia", D. Poletav, 2018;
Women's Migration Studies, Y. Florinskaya, 2021;
UNFPA Research 2016;
Stephanos Chen, Ana Lowe "Migrant Women in New York see a future in unexpected careers" June 27, 2023 (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/27/nyregion/migrant-women-construction-jobs.html)