December 19, 2020
The fact of migration, which has existed for centuries, affects the economic, political and social dynamics of countries, and the selfness, identities, perceptions and the attitudes of individuals. When the migration literature is examined, it is seen that the fact of migration is mostly read through economic, social-political and historical contexts and not analyzed in detail over individual and social norms. Factors affecting individuals’ decision-making to migrate, social norms and migrant relations have begun to be included in migration researches after the 1970s, albeit in a limited way. However, it is seen that these studies are conducted with a gender blind perspective and the specific experiences of immigrant women are ignored in the studies. Since the 1980s, thanks to feminist researchers, the number of migration studies that include a gender perspective has started to increase. Among these studies, Mirjana Morokvasic’s article “Birds of Passage are Also Women” published in 1984 has been accepted as a pioneering study in migration and gender literature. Migration studies conducted with a gender perspective have shown that women prefer migration not only for economic reasons, but also to escape the pressure of social norms and to establish a life in line with their own dispositions. With the feminization of migration, the facts that women take an active role in the migration process and that they are one of the main actors of migration have been reflected in migration studies.
In this study, the self and gender perceptions of 21 immigrant women who migrated to Turkey from various countries and worked in XX sectors were examined. Participants were selected using the snowball method. Except for Participant-19 who migrated from Greece to Turkey, Participant-7 who migrated from Afghanistan, the 14 of the participants are from the former Soviet Union and 5 from the Middle East countries. Since “being an immigrant woman” is prioritized in the study, not the socio-demographic characteristics of the participants, but the nature of the migration period and working conditions are taken into account. Therefore, living and working in Turkey for at least one year was sought as a prerequisite in the selection of participants. The data obtained from the field study were analyzed with feminist method and interpretive phenomenological approach based on migration and selfness literature. The study aims to investigate whether the self and gender perceptions of immigrant women are affected after they migrated to Turkey, and if so, how they have been affected. In order to reach the answers to the six basic questions of the study, in-depth interviews were conducted with immigrant women and the transmissions of migrant women were analyzed within the framework of migration theories, gender perspective and self-literature.
Interviews had begun by asking migrant women questions about why they migrated, what difficulties they faced while migrating, and how they coped with these difficulties. All the participants stated that they had felt the uneasiness of living as a foreign woman in a new country before taking the decision to migrate. However, in addition to this uneasiness and fear, the hope of a new life opportunity, an increase in the level of economic and social welfare has urged them to make the decision to migrate. Participants stated that primarily economic factors and secondly, the uneasy and insecure environment in their country has played an important role in making the decision to migrate. It has been observed that all participants from the former Soviet Union, Middle East countries, Greece and Afghanistan used their social capitals in Turkey before and after the migration decision. At the same time, participants from the Middle East, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan stated that they felt drawn to Turkish culture. When these two situations are read in the framework of the network of relations and migration systems theory, it shows us again how important the individual and social factors that cause the acceleration and feminization of migration are for immigrant women. The fact that immigrant women both establish new social networks and use their old social networks is based on their desire to create a safer migration process for them.
According to the findings obtained from the other questions, what has been difficult most for the immigrant women is to learn the Turkish language when they first came to Turkey. However, it was observed that they had more difficulties in establishing a reliable and continuous work life and a social environment. Migrant women have benefited from TV shows and social networks in the language learning process. Finding a reliable job and environment took more time than learning a language. Immigrant women who are perceived as low-cost, unreliable and flexible labor force in Turkey, face the risk of being dismissed at any time and not being remunerated. It has been observed that participants from the former Soviet Union work in retail and home care services through their own networks, while participants from Middle Eastern countries work in relatively more qualified jobs. The reason for this is that all participants from Middle Eastern countries are university graduates, that they know a second foreign language, and are relatively young and qualified individuals. Even though the participants work in different fields, they are affected by gender inequality. The common inequalities they face are being paid less than immigrant men in their workplace, being perceived as unreliable and not being promoted. Even though they struggle with these inequalities through the networks they have established, this struggle is not able to transform into a collective action and remains at an individual level. Despite everything, the fact that immigrant women create new alternatives for themselves and support each other has revealed that they show an individual resistance to the systemic inequality they experience.
The fact that migration is a process that has individual and psychological reflections as well as social ones, has been repeated and underlined frequently throughout the thesis. Regardless of whether the migration is voluntary, compulsory, temporary or permanent, every immigrant has moved away from the society and culture in which they are used to, and felt psychologically alone, alienated and rootless for a long time in the country they migrated to. Some social networks established before migration by the participants in the study did not provide psychological comfort when they first came to Turkey. Participants stated that being separated from their country and their families caused them to feel loneliness and inexhaustible longing. However, the participants stated that they got used to Turkey over time and felt less lonely, less alienated, less longing and rootless as they made friends, but they stated that these feelings will never run out. It was observed that the participants felt relatively safer between the time they first came to Turkey and now, as they achieved their goals of finding a job, earning money, and sending money to their families, and none of the participants thought of returning to their home country in the short run. This situation has caused them to feel psychologically better and to increase the opportunity to invest more in themselves.
How the gender-perceptions and self-perceptions of the participants were affected during the migration process was also analyzed in the study. Participants are under the influence of a social and individual mobility and their perceptions on gender and self are consciously or unconsciously shaped by their subjective experiences, because participants are not independent of the society and culture in which they were born, raised and currently live in. When the participants were asked about who they were and how they defined themselves, it was seen that nine of the participants answered these questions based on their identities and professions, and twelve answered these questions based on personal characteristics such as diligence, determination and cheerfulness. Participants stated that they are more determined and hard-working than in the past in order to adapt to Turkey and that they had learned the language, found a job and met new people. They explained the reason for this change by emphasizing that existing in the migrated country required acquiring new skills. Participants’ creating a new life in Turkey stands out as an important step in their individualization. The fact that the participants do not want to go back to their countries despite the economic and social difficulties in Turkey and tried to cope with the difficulties they had faced shows that they had the opportunity to shape their own lives. Participants’ ability to understand themselves and their needs, and taking the path of identifying their own realities are seen as the most important steps in self-realization. Participants who came to Turkey by taking many risks such as sexual harassment, assault or fraud, stated that they believed that they could overcome many difficulties with the skills they gained during the migration process. Thus, the participants started to realize their potential. Especially going out in the public sphere, earning money and showing personal development have been observed to play an important role in the developments of the self-perceptions of the participants.
In order to understand how the gender perceptions of the participants were affected during the migration process, questions were asked about the gender norms in their own societies and the effect of this situation on the migration decision and working conditions. Participants felt anxious about being a foreign woman in a foreign country during the decision-making process. They explained the reason for this anxiety as sexual harassment or fear of being sexually assaulted. Participants stated that they use their own social capital and employment agencies to reduce this fear and anxiety and to work in a relatively safe work environment. Participants from the former Soviet Union stated that gender norms in their own countries had been more flexible than Turkey, while participants from Middle Eastern countries and Afghanistan stated that gender norms in their own countries had been stricter. However, it was observed that all participants were affected by the patriarchal order.
According to the statements of the participants, it is seen that the concepts of maleness and patriarchy have similar meanings in a Socialist or Islamist community. Participants play the role of “citizen” in the public sphere and “mother, wife” roles in the private sphere. The words of Participant-1: “If you do not work in the Soviets, you are a parasite.” and the words of Participant-7: “One has to get married, and should have kids, because she is a woman.” summarizes the whole situation. Each of the participants who went through the migration process stated that their gender perception had become more egalitarian and that they felt stronger as a female immigrant.
It was observed in the study that gender norms are at the forefront in determining the working conditions of immigrant women in Turkey. Most participants’ jobs in areas such as retail and domestic care are examples of gendered division of labor. Participants stated that thanks to the gendered division of labor, they get jobs easier than male immigrants, and that women are more preferred than men in sales and domestic and elderly care. However, gendered division of labor causes the participants to be confined to a certain work area and being exposed to precarious, flexible and low-cost jobs. It has been revealed that the participants who are confined to a certain work area due to gendered division of labor are not able to show their skills and education. In addition, it was observed that the participants were more affected by risk factors such as dismissal, getting less salary, not being promoted and being subjected to discrimination, when compared to male immigrants.
The family hierarchies of the participants vary. While the family hierarchy of some participants involves mothers, fathers and children, it is observed that other participants’ family hierarchies consist of grandparents, mothers, children and siblings. For the participants from the former Soviet Union countries, working in Turkey did not directly affect the family hierarchy, but the increase in their incomes had affected the family order. It was revealed that the participants who had increased their income got a say in the family and they were included in the decision-making mechanism. Providing financial aid to their families, helping their siblings migrate, having their children go to school, and increasing their own earnings accelerated the process of getting independent and self-liberation.
As a conclusion, migration is an important factor in changing both individual and social dynamics. The fact that movement of migration enables countries to produce policies, develop their economies and production and the globalization, acceleration and feminization of the migration movement for individuals are indicators that migration is a dynamic phenomenon. Within the framework of the findings obtained in the study, it was concluded that women are active individuals in the migration process, and they have become decision makers in their own lives, with migration being a strengthening factor. Living and working in a new country, adapting to a different culture and environment has increased participants’ self-confidence and self-belief. The question of immigrant woman: “Can I?” has turned into the opinion: “I can now.”
The first draft of this article, with the title “Being an Immigrant Woman Within the Local Movement”, was presented on December 19, 2020, at the “Being an Immigrant Woman Within the Local Movement” conference organized by Havle Women’s Association. You can click here to access other texts of our Feminism Localization conference.