Gender, Migration, and Domestic Service

Gender, Migration, and Domestic Service

Gender, Migration, and Domestic Service

Gender, Migration, and Domestic Service

Synopsis

Featuring case studies from around the world, this book examines a wide range of migration patterns which have arisen, and exposes the tensions and difficulties which include legal and empowerment issues, and cultural and language barriers.

Excerpt

The idea for this book came from a realization that many of my graduate students were choosing to do research on domestic service, as were many of the best young social science academics. At a conference in South Africa in 1995, organized by the Commissions on Population and Gender of the International Geographical Union, on the subject of 'Gender and Migration', many papers focused on migrant domestic workers. Two years later, a conference sponsored by the International Geographical Union Gender Commission on 'Women in the Asia-Pacific Region: Persons, Powers and Politics', held in Singapore, also saw many papers on domestic service. Clearly, this was an important contemporary issue that needed to be considered in a global context.

I was also intrigued by the interest shown in the topic by young women who had never had experience of employing domestic help. Almost without exception, their research focused on the maid as victim. One of these individuals has recently admitted to me that as soon as her first child arrived, and she had to look for childcare herself, her ideas and attitudes changed. As mothers and employers we cope with feelings of guilt and ambivalence. For Asian and African researchers who have usually grown up with servants, studying these workers often creates feelings of guilt for not having realized earlier the difficulties faced by domestic servants. Remembering my own problems in searching for childcare almost thirty years ago, before transnational networks and agencies were as formalized as they are today, and my dependence on friends in the Caribbean and Europe to identify and interview candidates, I am amazed at how quickly the global system of such employment has grown.

Studies of domestic service are unusual, in that they demand such reflexivity on the part of the researcher. If the maid is perceived or defined as having some form of 'otherness', then we are so defining ourselves and have to struggle with feelings of sisterhood, guilt and dependence in relation to the worker. I am very grateful to all those whom I approached for their efforts in meeting my deadlines, and for responding so positively to my suggestions for changes to their first drafts. I am especially appreciative of the efforts of the five contributors who produced babies during the gestation of the book.

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