GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Women and Community: Dilemmas of Expatriate women in Qatar
Paper Proposal Text :

The male-female ratio is skewed in most of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries; in Qatar, for example, in October 2011, according to the Qatar Statistics Authority, there were 1,276,976 men as compared to 445,540 women. This kind of imbalance is due to the large number of expatriate men who come to the GCC countries for employment. After being an area of out-migration for a thousand years, the Arabian Gulf states now provide, as Prince Turki-al-Faisal pointed out at the last Gulf Research Centre meetings in July 2011, livelihood to a very big number of expatriates who come from all over the world.
Looking at Qatar’s population figures more closely, we find that whereas the number of men in October 2011 is actually slightly less as compared to the figure of 1,278,308 for October 2009, the number of women has gone up from 388,545 in October 2009 by almost 15% to 445,540 in October 2011. The migration of women into Qatar has increased at a higher rate than that of men in recent years.
The forces of globalization, towards the last decades of the 20th century have compelled/enabled women to leave their families and political communities to work in other countries. International migration in the late twentieth century is marked by large numbers of women migrating: between 1965 and 1990, for example, the number of female migrants in the world grew faster than the number of male migrants. For some countries, like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, women have comprised 60 to 80 percent of migrants legally deployed every year in the last thirty years. Many of these women come to work in the GCC countries. It has been reported recently that Qatar has reached an agreement with Nepal to allow 1,50,000 Nepalese women to come and work in Qatar in a year. Now the trend seems to be of some countries actively encouraging their female citizens to find work abroad and to contribute to their countries by sending their remittances home. Perhaps women are helped in their attempt to find jobs abroad because women are more likely to send remittances back home to their families.
Why are more women migrating to the GCC countries now? This is not so much a case of family reunification – women and children travelling to join their husbands – but of women going out for work. Women working in the Gulf have to leave their families behind, since it is only very recently that in some countries, like Qatar, women workers on contract have been allowed to sponsor their families. What effect does leaving their families and their countries, and becoming wage earners in another country, have on these women?
According to feminist theory, the integration of women in the communities of which they are part – the family, nation, state – is conflictual because of the subordinate position of women in these communities. Women had to struggle for long to get the vote, to be recognized as property owners, and are still struggling to get governments to legalize equal pay for equal work with respect to gender. When expatriate women find employment in the GCC countries, how do they experience the removal of the communities of which they are a part. They remain connected to these communities as evidenced by the regular sending of remittances, as noted above. In spite of this, they are often stigmatized as having abandoned their families for the sake of a better life for themselves. Being alone, do these women instead feel a sense of themselves being abandoned? To deal with their isolation, what kind of social networks do they become part of in their countries of employment? What kind of community do they try to recreate for support in the Gulf countries? In their attempt to create support networks, are national and cultural boundaries overcome or do they create support networks by trying to get other family members from back home also find jobs in the country in which they are working? This paper will address these questions by comparing the responses of women from South and South East Asia working in Qatar. The project is to study Indian, Nepali or Sri Lankan women, as well as women from Indonesia and the Philippines who are office workers, beauty salon workers and retail workers in Qatar. The paper can also try to see how the religious affiliation of these women impacts their experience of belonging to a social network.