Religious Women in the Transnational Era

By Gowoon Jung

How do individuals adapt to a changing multicultural society and negotiate the tensions and contradictions of macro-social transition? I pose this question within the context of South Korea (hereafter Korea) and focus attention on emerging, transnationally mobile and religiously conservative young women. The two religious organizations that have allowed me to have an insight into the way women adapt are the World Vision Church (an evangelical Protestant Church) and the Unification Church. Being in the field and talking to people in these churches for seven months meant I could experience how Asian societies are becoming ethnically and culturally more plural.GNS_GowoonJung

After an official preaching at 12:30 pm at World Vision Church in Seoul, ten new visitors gathered to introduce themselves in a large hall. One Korean woman, Sunhee Yang, had lived in New Jersey for five years and came to the church upon her arrival in Seoul. She had heard about the Vision vice-pastor Kim’s leadership from her church friends in New Jersey. Another woman, Nari, who had worked on Wall Street for more than six years, also visited the church. The stories of Sunhee and Nari exemplify those of many Korean Evangelical Protestant women who have travelled overseas for advanced education or careers. Continue reading “Religious Women in the Transnational Era”

Moral Dilemmas of Transnational Migration: Vietnamese Women in Taiwan

By Lan Anh Hoang

The unprecedented rise in female migration in the past decades has engendered profound social change within both host and origin societies across the world. At present, women account for 48% of the world’s migrant population and the majority of them are found in the South – North migration pathway (IOM 2013: 65). In Asia, where 75% of international migrants are from the same region, contract labour migration has made it easier than ever for women to migrate transnationally for work. Female migration, especially when it involves mothers leaving their children behind, tends to be fraught with disruptions and dilemmas. Migration and physical separation from one’s family challenge the universal ideology of womanhood and femininity with caregiving and nurturing duties at its core.

Drawing on an ethnographic study of Vietnamese migrant mothers in Taiwan, this article provides important insights into the women’s renegotiations of notions of motherhood and femininity in the context of transnational labour migration. Because care has been essentialized as a feminine vocation that makes a woman womanly, the migrant’s inability to perform care duties in the conventional manner inevitably subjects her to the social stigma of  “bad motherhood” and  “failed femininity.” West and Zimmerman have pointed out that gender is not ascribed but achieved through  “social doings” which involve not only perceptual but also  “interactional and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine “natures”. Migrant mothers defy the prevailing notion of an ideal woman not only by engaging in masculine pursuits of mobility and breadwinning but also by vacating what is considered central to the woman’s nature – caregiving. She is thus called to account for failing to do gender appropriately.

The study engages with and advances West and Zimmerman’s idea of accountability in gender doings. In particular, it underscores their view that social doings of gender are often designed in such a way that they would be characterized as in accord with culturally approved standards. Yet, it highlights at the same time the reflexivity and instrumentalism in such actions. In other words, seemingly compliant behaviors are not necessarily a passive enactment of social norms but may be a strategic means to other ends. What is often taken for granted as an oppressive gender regime could be exploited by those perceived as its perennial victims to further their interests. Continue reading “Moral Dilemmas of Transnational Migration: Vietnamese Women in Taiwan”

“Go Back to Your Country!”: Migrant Women Challenging Migrant Containment in South Korea

By Hae Yeon Choo 

She seemed to come out of nowhere, and walked fast towards us. It was two weeks ago, and we—three Asian and Asian-Canadian women faculty members—had just come out of a meeting. As we were continuing our discussion on the sidewalk on campus, the stranger, a middle-aged white woman, shouted at us: “Do you not speak English?!” She then walked away, mumbling something about “thieves” and “stealing.” An encounter like this happens regularly enough that I have come to expect it. As a sociologist, it is not surprising. However multicultural my city may be—and I do claim Toronto as my city—I live in a place with a long history of treating Asian immigrants as “forever foreigners.” And certainly this is not just a story of the past. Consider the surge of recent impassioned responses from the Asian American community with the hashtag #thisis2016, after the publication of an open letter by Michael Luo (a New York Times editor) to a woman who yelled “Go back to China” to his family.

That night, I was thinking of Joohyun, a Vietnamese migrant woman who immigrated to South Korea with a spousal visa and changed her name to a Korean-sounding one. One evening, Joohyun recalled, when she was buying vegetables at the open market, a man wearing a beige jacket suddenly grabbed her arms from behind. Startled, she thought she was being robbed or, worse, kidnapped. She cried out for help, but the people in the market just walked by. It turned out that he was an undercover immigration officer, and her “foreign” look made her a target. Although she was freed after the document check, that day left a scar of fear in her. Since then, whenever she could, Joohyun avoided public places unless she was with her husband.

Joohyun was one of many migrants I met during my field research for my book, Decentering Citizenship: Gender, Labor, and Migrant Rights in South Koreachoo_book-coverIt’s an ethnography of three groups of migrant women in South Korea and their struggles for rights and citizenship: marriage migrants, factory workers, and hostesses in American camptown clubs. Being reminded of denied belonging was a routine challenge in their lives. From a South Korean husband shouting “Go back to your country!” during a heated argument, to a stranger on the bus calling the immigration office to report the sighting of an “illegal,” the list goes on and on. Continue reading ““Go Back to Your Country!”: Migrant Women Challenging Migrant Containment in South Korea”

Factory Girls After the Factory: Female Return Migrations in Rural China

By Julia Chuang

Journalists frequently argue that the rise of global outsourcing has generated countless jobs for women in manufacturing, particularly in coastal China’s famed Special Economic Zones. For example, in a 2000 New York Times op-ed, journalist Nicholas Kristof described a trip he took to a factory in the boomtown of Dongguan. There, he wrote, factory girls “seemed to regard it as a plus that the factory allowed them to work long hours. Indeed, some had sought out this factory precisely because it offered them the chance to earn more.”

There are a lot of assumptions packed in this statement. It is true that wages we consider abominably low in the U.S. go a long way for young women in China. But this is a dangerous line of logic. Today, factory managers – and global investors, for that matter – regularly make the assumption that young women are not only wiling to work for less, they should work for less. They reason that these women are often single, not supporting children. If they do have children, managers assume, then they also have a husband who is the primary breadwinner. Continue reading “Factory Girls After the Factory: Female Return Migrations in Rural China”

When Home is the Mouth of a Shark* : Gendered Consequences for Syrian Women Refugees

By Stephanie J. Nawyn

The war in Syria has produced the largest refugee migration since World War II. According to estimates from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, more than 4.8 million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries (with most experts agreeing that this is a conservative estimate), and are mostly entering Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. In the last year many more Syrians have attempted to seek asylum in Europe. The conditions under which these refugees struggle to survive are not entirely unpredictable, as many refugees throughout recent history share sadly similar experiences. But the scale of the crisis and the socio-political climates in the countries providing (and not providing) safe harbor have created conditions for Syrians that are somewhat unique to their situation, with some having gendered consequences.

Crossing conflict zones to reach safe countries is always dangerous, but because of the size of this migration many surrounding countries are restricting access to their borders. This has increased the use of smugglers, particularly for Syrians attempting to enter Europe. The expense of using smugglers affects all Syrians, but for women the increased costs and dangers of crossing national borders are compounded by an increased vulnerability to sexual violence. Further, as the difficulty of travel increases, women with small children or without a male family member to provide protection are less likely to attempt the journey.

While not all women are more socially isolated than men, women who before the war had less education, were not participating in the labor market, or were caring for small children tend to be more socially isolated than men, and this social isolation affects their access to information. Information is a key commodity for refugees; social media is aflame with discussions among Syrians of how to find a smuggler, the increased restrictions on certain routes, and emerging routes available for travel. Women without good information are more dependent upon others to seek safe passage out of Syria. Good information is sometimes necessary to survival, as smuggling exploitation of Syrians is rampant; some of the bodies of drowned Syrians have been found wearing fake life preservers stuffed with newspaper.

Currently most Syrians have sought refuge in countries that provide them with limited opportunities to permanently settle, notably restriction of the right to work in the formal labor market. Given that material assistance to refugees is limited, labor exploitation of Syrian refugees is widespread. In Turkey, for example, there is a large informal labor market (with estimates ranging from 30 to nearly 50 percent of all workers employed in the informal sector) that provides almost no worker protections, and wage theft of Syrians is common. Legislation passed in 2013 intended to provide Syrians with work permits has not yet produced a mechanism for Syrians to work legally. Continue reading “When Home is the Mouth of a Shark* : Gendered Consequences for Syrian Women Refugees”

From Pink and Blue to Brown: Gendering the Garden

This piece was cross-posted with permission from Girl W/ Pen. To view the original piece, click here.
by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo

Hondagneu-Sotelo_image1Are flowers feminine and lawn masculine? Or are gardens, with their domestic allure and food provisioning, feminine altogether? Thinking about gender as a duality of flowery femininity and masculine mowing doesn’t get us very far. It’s like trying to squish bio-diversity into a binary code. We know gender is shaped by intersections of race, class and nation, by myriad subcultural groups and by everyday acts of gender bending and deliberate non-compliance. So what do we see when we look at the residential garden as a project of gender? Continue reading “From Pink and Blue to Brown: Gendering the Garden”

When Migration Is Crisis, “It Is The Women Who Run Things”

by Abigail Andrews

In the Mexican village of San Miguel, Mexico, women’s effort to protect an alternative to living in the United States brought them to the center of local politics.

Until 1995, women in the Mixtec village of San Miguel, in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, were not permitted to engage in politics. On the contrary, despite San Miguel’s tradition of participatory self-governance, it was known for excluding women. While their husbands and fathers conducted civic affairs, women were expected to stay in the home. Yet, today, as one resident put it, “It is the women who run things.” In less than a decade, women, who previously could not even approach the town hall, came to be in charge of school committees, health committees, and government social programs – voting and voicing their opinions publicly for the first time. They did so in the context of mass migration to the United States. To understand the connection, I spent a year living in both San Miguel and among its migrants in the United States, and I conducted in depth interviews with more than 50 men and women, both in the home village and in the United States. I found that migration played a central role in driving women to take on these new roles. It did so not by inspiring them to echo US gender practices, but instead because they saw migration as a “crisis,” threatening their valued ways of life. Changing gender roles offered one way to respond. Continue reading “When Migration Is Crisis, “It Is The Women Who Run Things””