Migration Is a Two-Woman Story, Full of Hope and Danger

We celebrate and explore the struggles of migrant women, especially in domestic labor, as detailed by psychologist Simona Taliani. Also, we advocate increased support and awareness of their challenges. And we'd love to hear your stories!

April 24, 2024 04:32 EDT

Dear FO° Reader,

An Italian 20-year-old woman left her family in a village in Emilia-Romagna in the early 1960s to become a schoolteacher in a much smaller village with only farmers, in the Alps, in Switzerland. While challenging, her experience was still exceptionally privileged compared to many. The woman’s brother, an engineer at an international building company, drove her there and bought her clothes suitable for the mountain climate.

She secured a respectable job teaching multiple classes in a one-room schoolhouse. Although she would have earned more than her prospective husband, when she married, the local authorities gave her job to a man. They held the traditional view: the man should be the breadwinner. But that’s history.

She was my mother. 

Women feel compelled to give their children a better life than they had. Sometimes, this means leaving their country or even their continent behind.

Most women migrating from the Global South, be it from Africa, Asia or South America, face problems integrating in their new homes. To gain a deeper understanding of this, I consulted Italian psychologist, lecturer and researcher Simona Taliani. She runs the Naples branch of the Associazione Frantz Fanon, which offers psychiatric help to immigrants. Simona shared the insights she gained over years of this work with me.

Despite their diverse cultural backgrounds, migrant women share a common thread of challenges when they move to affluent countries. They experience the precariousness of domestic labor, the heartache of familial separation and the cultural barriers of raising children abroad.

Simona reminded me that a woman’s migration is always a two-woman story. Another woman, be she a grandmother, sibling or even another child, always takes care of the family that gets left behind.

According to the International Labour Organization, millions of women migrate each year. Many of whom find employment in the domestic or caregiving sectors. Wikipedia reports that millions of migrants work in the domestic sector across the world, not just in Western Europe and North America but Latin America, Africa and Asia as well. Women make up the vast majority of these workers.

These jobs can leave them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. For instance, even in “safe” Switzerland, there have been serious issues, such as Pakistani diplomats’ families allegedly employing Filipino women without pay and under the threat of not renewing their visas. The private nature of domestic work increases the risk of isolation and makes it difficult for grievances to be aired and addressed.

Migrant domestic workers’ earnings, often meager, then get stretched to sustaining themselves abroad and supporting families in their home countries. This financial duality places a significant strain on their resources and well-being. That goes double if the women must support children in their destination countries as well.

The expense is not the only difficulty of motherhood abroad. Migrant women raising children in a new cultural context frequently face criticism for employing their native parenting styles. This criticism are not only hurtful but can also create a sense of alienation and self-doubt among migrant mothers who are endeavoring to provide the best upbringing for their children in unfamiliar environments.

Simona explained, “First of all, this means living an experience where one lacks models to gain inspiration and help from. One is enclosed in a pseudoscientific model of natural and innate motherhood, that one can be a mother anywhere in the world. One forgets that, in most traditional cultures, care for children and infants is a responsibility shared between various figures in the community, not restricted to a mother and a father. A migrant mother risks being isolated; being a mother doesn’t guarantee knowing how to manage, alone, one’s emotions and even the children’s emotions and experiences.”

Addressing these issues requires a complex approach involving policy reform, better support systems and greater public awareness of and sensitivity towards the cultural and personal sacrifices migrant women make. By encouraging a more inclusive and supportive environment, societies can better assist these women in overcoming the hurdles they face, ultimately enriching the culture of the host countries themselves.

Are you a migrant woman? Do you know of migrant women in your proximity and community? Reach out and tell us your stories, we’d love to share them with our readers and discover new authors among these women! If you don’t feel comfortable writing, we can have a private call, and we’ll help you get your story on the page.

Cari saluti,

Roberta Campani
Communications & Outreach

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