Gender and Migration Policies in Southeast and East Asia: Legal Protection and Sociocultural Empowerment of Unskilled Migrant Women

This paper is concerned with how existing migration policies affect individual migrant women’s choices, in particular, with the advancement, or consolidation, of a migrants’ rights perspective. The focus is thereby on those migrants classified as unskilled, who constitute the largest and most vulnerable category among migrants. The analysis of migration policies has conventionally been approached from a state/government-centred viewpoint that sees states as the key actors. This paper, however, emphasises a larger number of actors – governmental and non-governmental – as well as the power relations among them to argue that protection through “legal regulation” in the absence of actual implementation is an incomplete solution to alleviate unfair labour conditions that migrants in general, and migrant women specifically, experience. Measures designed to “protect” migrants must be accompanied by measures that empower them, a role that has largely been taken on by existing migrant worker non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Focussing on intra-Asian migration flows in which Southeast Asia is the main labour sender and East Asia the receiver of Southeast Asian migrants, the paper explores the nexus between law and civic activism in the specific subject area of international labour migration and its gender implications.

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