The feminization of migration is a dynamic phenomenon that started early in time. Before reaching the time where females were considered migrants many factors contributed to this process, changes in social structures and financial needs are the main reasons, but not the only ones that lead to mobility. First, what is the Feminization of Migration? Feminization of migration is a concept that describes the increased feminine participation in international migrant’s context (Marinucci, 2007). According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, female migrants now are perceived as main and historical actors in social change.

To date, however, there has been limited research done on the effects of female migrants on their home communities and societies. Therefore, the paper seeks to ask: how gender perspective is integrated into policies and laws?  The paper will examine the relationship between gender perspective and the law and will argue that the increase in the number of female migrants has pushed for the integration of a gender aspect into the law. 

Through systematic research, women’s impact will be more recognized and appreciated and will empower specifically female migrants. 

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/ THT

Gender Perspective and the Law:

Generation after generation women started to show their counter partner their potential and capability in sharing with them the outside world and its challenges. In order to explain how the feminization of migration occurred, this article based its explanation on a case study that used Lebanon as an example. In Lebanon, citizens started to migrate in the early 1870s to the US and many reasons were behind their mobility. Some historians attribute this to the mobility due to the Ottoman Empire that used to persecute citizens, mainly Christians. However, many historians refused this argument.

According to Akram Khater in Inventing Home (2001), Christians were the main group of people who started emigrating to the US. According to Khater, he explained how Lebanese migrant men after traveling to the US were exposed to a different culture that enlarges their possibilities in life. This affected mainly their choices in choosing their partners. This exposure opened their eyes to more intellectual and educated women. The experience of migrant men changed their attitude towards females in their origin country and raised the exogamous phenomenon in the 1880s which started to be a trend in the 1910s. He gave an example about the percentages of exogamous marriages in a Mount Lebanon village called Bsus. It increased from 1893-1902 to 34%. All those changes left a large number of single women or left behind wives in the mountain. 

This was a turning point in women’s history in Mount Lebanon. According to Akram Khater, the patriarchal contract was being broken. The functionalist theory of social change argues that society is a system of institutions that each serves a function to maintain society. In case of any disruptive event in this system, social institutions adjust to restore stability. This is how women in the era of migrating men and left females entered the territory of men by being the ones responsible for taking decisions on external and internal matters. At this stage, women started to be the head of the family compensating for the absence of men and playing their role. Women started to deal with issues that are considered “male” dominated. They emerged in buying their crops, in conflicting over their land borders, in accepting or refusing a marriage proposal of a daughter, and many more.

In fact, it challenges the public-private dichotomy, sphere of production, the sphere of reproduction, and domestic labor (Boyle & Halfacree, 1999). The effect of feminization of migration and the increased role of females role in the migration sphere will impose coercion and pressure on various issues that include citizenship, social exclusion/inclusion, and political and daily social migrants strategies. 

Those two factors, the lack of males for marriage and women entering the public sphere, pushed Lebanese women from the mountain to immigrate to America as males were doing. As Khater mentions in his book females were migrating in the hope to secure a financial resource, escaping the village, and the rigid social pressure, but one of the main reasons is to find a marriage partner among the group of males in Mahjar. 

To show the desperate state Lebanese females were facing, Khater gave an example of an advertisement that appeared in 1895 in the Lubnan newspaper, published in Beirut. The advertisement expressed the strategy adopted to find partners in a “non-traditional way” as Khater explains it. 

Regardless of the large concerns about the example and the mentality it shows beneath it. Yet this happened in the 1890s and shows the intense factors that pushed women to go and find a partner between immigrant men overseas. 

Emigration and changes in the attitudes of immigrants adding to it the new different situation migrants face in the US pushed female migrants (even wives of migrants) to work from their homes, by producing a certain product which is sold later by men, or outside their house. 

Photo: UN Women, Asia and the Pacific

Moreover, Khater gave brilliant examples of how women were very courageous and resistant in facing their struggles. For instance, Mary Matty was one of many who struggled with language and communication. However, she created a sing-song rhythm from both languages that can appeal to the customers in order to sell her products. Another example is when immigrants both men and women, suffered from finding an affordable place to rent or even sometimes a place to spend the cold snowy nights. 

All those examples show how women integrated into the public sphere in the US for financial reasons. However, Akram Khater tackles an important consequence of female’s migration to the US: local middle-class women. While female immigrants proved themselves in the market and successfully integrated into “men’s sphere” gendered division, labor started to eliminate and the world witnessed new and similar enactment from US females. 

In fact, female migrants introduced the new image of women to the destination country. They introduced them to the work domain and pushed women in the US to imitate them and to gain a satisfactory role outside their houses. This integration between the public and private spaces for women was not only beneficial for their image and their self-confidence that helped them to meet their financial needs, but also it was a phase of a long evolutionary process that started there and is existing to this day. Those changes are not limited to the family of the migrant, however, the effect is also spread on the whole society in the origin society.  

At that time female migrants started what is called now “feminization of migration”, and as shown before they forced the impossibility of gender division of labor through entering and contributing to the economic cycle. Governments and states at that time lacked the insights and policies that integrated the gender perspective in their notions and agreements. They exclude half of the workforce of society and assume their fixed role and their capabilities.

Consequently, the United Nations has been doing so much effort through all its branches to access the gender debate and introduce it in governments agreement and laws for instance, “Gender Equality and Trade Policy” (2011), “Annexes to the UNDP  Gender Equality Strategy 2014-2017: The Future We Want: Rights and Empowerment”. 

However, a major point here is that the right of women to move, work and be independent was initially applied by women in which social changes occur in this society before changes in policies. Furthermore, this social change pushed for introducing gender perspective to agreements and law after being convinced by the impossibility of excluding female migrants from the social and economic dynamics.

This was the opposite of the case of black integration in public schools. Their integration was initially forced by law after several efforts. In 1954 Brown V. Board of Education declared that segregation between white and black children in public schools is unconstitutional. Their notion behind the court decision even though there was still a lot of discrimination against black people, is that the end of segregation will lead eventually to the integration of black students, and that segregation is enforcing discrimination among children.

Achieving change is not a simple process. It needs to be top-Down, bottom-Up, side-to-side, or inside-out. Social, political, cultural, and economic change resulting from feminization processes and transnationalism should be institutionalized to alleviate the conditions and patterns of migration for all individuals. Understanding migration and transnationalism politics from a gendered perspective are highly critical for policymakers to maintain balanced well-defined policies. In fact, a strategy should be adopted that constructs the needed changes using different means and pathways.

Returning back to female migrants, the mobility and powerful integration in force labor lead to gender sensitivity laws and agreements. This was the case of female migrants influencing local females, while on the contrary, local working Egyptian women influenced Syrian refugees to work and seek independence. According to Freedman, Kivilicim, and Baklacioglu (2017), patriarchal norms can be altered if women are given opportunities and resources. In an interview they conducted with Syrian refugee’s women they said:

  • We used to be afraid of the idea of working or even going out of the house but the attitude of Egyptian women encouraged us. I felt embarrassed that a lady who is 70 years old is supporting herself by selling in the street and I am staying home-work makes you value yourself, it is a nice feeling.
  • The engagement of Egyptian women in the workplace and in the social life of Cairo is so normal- it encouraged our husbands to accept it. 

In the local women and female Syrian refugee cases, both were influenced by other women. Their notions and attitudes towards their image and their roles are reconstructed even by female migrants or working women. 

This power to influence similar others and to support and raise them is called “social leverage”. Social leverage is when a certain group of people push and support another group in their evolution and progress. Lebanese female migrants pushed US female locals to seek their independence and their rights to enter the labor domain which is similar to what happened with female Syrian refugees where they were enlightened by Egyptian women on the ability to work.

Social change is unstoppable and contagious. Female migrants will have the same effect on their origin country and social leverage will show in their households as mentioned before, in society and the national level. The image of migrant women herself, to femininity and masculinity, will change and will be transmitted to their families which will lead to changing the gender norms imposed on them in their origin countries.


Movements of people are as old as humankind. Overviewing the migratory flows trends and stimulation factors that shape migration patterns and changes are critical. Globalization including social and economic factors have ushered in increasing feminine migration flows. Feminization of migration has been rendered a new age of migration with different features and consequences. Social Leverage has been, at the same time, achieved and a drive of feminine migration flows and politics. The upcoming age of research and scientific analysis should consider the gender aspect and perspective as an attempt to represent valid data, outcomes, and representative laws. 

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