The authors wish to express their gratitude to the Institut des Amériques for providing a grant for the translation of four articles in this issue.
1Some ten years ago, it was still possible to believe that Latino-American women migrants did not feature heavily in migration studies, thus reflecting a general tendency in academic literature, over time, to the point of rendering invisible the presence and role of women in migration (Green 2002; Catarino and Morokvasic 2005). We are now seeing the emergence of a new field of research into feminine migration which has generated a growing number of social sciences studies. Nine years after ALHIM’s first thematic collection on “Latino-American Women and Migration” in 2007, this issue brings together new research on this subject. Inspired by the Institut des Amériques’ Conference on “Women in the Americas” (held at Aix-Marseille University in 2013), this group of nine articles examines the many ways that Latin American women participate in migration from a number of different disciplinary approaches (sociological, geographical, anthropological and linguistic), research perspectives (France, Spain and Latin and North America) and migration regions.
2How does this new research contribute to the debate? Latin America offers an excellent opportunity for observing the participation of women in migration, in the first instance, because of the diversity of migratory practices. Not only do Latino-American women participate in internal migration from rural areas to city and from smaller to larger towns, they are increasingly involved in international migration at the regional level and over longer distances. These different levels of participation are studied in this collection: traditional migration of young Peruvian Indians moving from the countryside to Lima (article by Carola Mick); the more recent phenomenon of Andean women, especially from Ecuador and Bolivia, migrating to Spain (articles by Sophie Blanchard, Robin Cavagnoud, Gioconda Herrera, Raquel Martinez Buján, Cristina Vega); and, classic inter-regional migration in North America (from Mexico to the United States and Canada – articles by Anna Perraudin, Patricia Arias and Marie France Labrecque) or in the Southern Cone (Bolivia to Argentina, article by Susana Sassone and Myriam Gonzalez).
3Nearly half of the contributions in this issue focus on migration from Andean countries to Spain, which increased substantially during the first decade of the 21st century and has had a major impact on the migrant situation in Spain (where a large proportion of Latin American migrants come from the Andean countries), but also where women have taken on a pioneering, dynamic and dominant role, in contrast to patterns in migration to North America. Attracted by strong demand in the domestic service and care sectors which have seen steady growth in Southern Europe and have apparently been less affected by the 2008 economic crisis than more masculine economic sectors (agriculture, construction, for example), women today represent nearly 60% of Latino-American migrants in Spain (Padrón, INE, 2015) and are thus, by far, the group with the largest number of women migrants. Over the last two decades, a large number of studies have focused on Andean migration to Europe, covering several parameters including temporality, factors and forms, and cyclical events (strong growth until 2008, followed by market decline due to the crisis in Spain). Over the last two decades, researchers have reoriented their approach by focusing less on regional migration from Latin America to North America and more on comparisons of other forms of migratory situations. Does the presence of women in migratory flows correspond to the same dynamics and stakes in one continent as in another? Gioconda Herrera, in her introductory article, offers an overview of the situation in Latin America and discusses two recent developments in migration research: the place of women in domestic work and the care sector, and their central role in the complex dynamics of transnational families.
4Over nearly three decades, social science research on migration has gradually discarded the binary and segmented vision that reduced migration to countries of origin and of destination and to a one-way or even irreversible movement. Researchers now take into account other aspects in human mobility, such as patterns of circulation and the way that areas of origin, transit and destination are interlinked whether for people, goods, ideas, money, or relationships. Concepts such as migratory field (Simon 2002), migratory circulation (Ma Mung et al. 1998; Cortes et Faret 2009), transnational (social) space, (Faist 2000; Glick Schiller, Basch, et Szanton Blanc 1992) and more recently multi-sited territories (Cortes and Pesche 2013; Baby-Collin 2014) reveal a series of semantic changes. This implies that migrants and their close relatives are increasingly aware of the importance of having a wide range of links and bases during their trajectories. These journeys are no longer unidirectional, being often reversible as part of a series of comings and goings with varying lengths of stay, intermediary breaks and new departures (which are not necessarily returns) in response to changes in personal life and structural economic crises. They are influenced by a combination of constraints and opportunities occurring not only in areas of origin but also in one or more areas of destination. Often acting as the link between generations within the family because of their simultaneous roles of mother, daughter and spouse, women have to assume responsibility, in migratory situations, for their household and extended family which are scattered in several locations in different countries and regions, demonstrating the growing complexity of transnational families (Razy and Baby-Collin 2011; Bryceson and Vuorela 2003).
5The articles in this issue shed light on various factors in the game of spatial positionality for migrant women and on the different ways of handling mobility and immobility. Whether they leave, stay or return, women are continually dealing with spatial relocation (for themselves, their partner, parents or children), issues relating to distance and absence, and choices and re-organisations in one place due to departures or returns to another, in the midst of constant demands to interact with family elsewhere. These endless positionalities and movements provide the three sub-themes for this issue: leaving, staying, and returning. In shifting the researcher’s focus between areas of destination and of departure or return, these articles show that mobility implies a series of multi-sited relationships.
6By making their own decisions to leave, women engaged in various professional activities (domestic service, agriculture, office work, entrepreneurship, etc.) also have an impact on society in their country of origin: after experiencing domestic service in Spain, do Bolivian middle-class and working-class women influence the status of similar work in Bolivia (article by Sophie Blanchard)? How is the migration of rural women from Yucatan migrating to specific destinations (regional capital, Mexico City, United States or Canada) perceived in their villages of origin, and to what extent do they reproduce gendered stereotypes (contribution by Marie-France Labrecque)? What is the impact of female migration on the children left behind, their trajectories, and on distant parental relationships? (article by Robin Cavagnoud)?
7When women stay in their home country, how do they handle these parental responsibilities in the absence of fathers? Anna Perraudin’s and Patricia Arias’ articles describe two quite different Mexican contexts and demonstrate how absence leads to changes in family structures and thus reveal the importance of migration for the future possibilities of those who remain behind.
8Finally, why and how to return? This has received considerable attention in research into migratory flows following the Spanish crisis in 2008, even if the term is currently being challenged, since this process can often be seen as merely one phase in a series of journeys. Raquel Martinez Buján and Cristina Vega examine the reasons and modalities of returns from Spain to Bolivia and Ecuador from a gendered perspective.
9Migration transforms male/female relationships in countries of origin and of destination, even when women are not the protagonists. The analyses presented in this issue go beyond a review of migrant women and their experiences, but by focusing also on relationships between men and women migrants or other transformations generated by migration for those who remain, they take a gendered approach, gender defined here as “a system of hierarchical categorisation between the sexes (men/women) and between the associated values and representations (masculine/feminine)” (Bereni et al. 2012: 10). It does not designate any specific population (women), but rather “a central organising principle in migration flows and in the organisation of migrants’ lives” (Lutz 2010: 651). Furthermore, it should not be seen as an isolated analytical variable, but rather as an interaction with other power relationships relating notably to social class, ethnic origins and age.
10This highlights a second reason for observing migration in Latin America from the gender perspective: the importance of social, ethno-racial and gendered structures of domination. From this viewpoint, Latino-American migration allows us to test the recent contribution of feminist research which postulates that gender acts simultaneously with other social relationships to produce and consolidate inequalities, according to the perspective of intersectionality (Bilge et Denis 2010). In the 2000s, Latin America also became a breeding ground of strong challenges to these forms of domination, whether through social and political movements encouraged by the arrival of new governments claiming to be progressive (by introducing new policies in favour of women and indigenous populations, as in Bolivia and Ecuador) or through less palpable transformations (such as the erosion of the traditional family structure in Mexico). How has migration contributed to these transformations? How do migrant women renegotiate their role in these changing social relations? Without taking up the theoretical agenda of empowerment or emancipation, regularly used in research on Gender and Migration in the 2000s (Krummel 2012), most of these articles examine the ability of women to transform restrictive power relationships from several different angles.
11These articles re-examine, first, the importance of entering the labour market. For the majority of women migrants, the jobs available to them are indicative of a segmented market offering precarious and under-paid contracts, if indeed they can find such work. Marie-France Labrecque has observed that only a small number of women have been hired under Mexico’s and Canada’s bilateral programme for seasonal farm workers, a result that she attributes to mechanisms of gendered recruitment in both countries. Perhaps, the perception of emancipation through work could in fact be seen, not so much as access to a certain type of employment, but as a stepping-stone towards the development of a professional career, or from employment to self-employment (article by Susana Sassone and Myriam Gonzalez), or more unexpectedly in the domestic service sector, as discussed by Sophie Blanchard in her analysis of recent restructurings and growing stratification in Bolivia. However, if we wish to understand the reorganisation of social relations that women face because of their decision to migrate, the job market may not suffice for providing satisfactory answers.
12The articles by Patricia Arias and Anna Perraudin demonstrate the pertinence of including the place of residence of women in this analysis. Carried out in Mexico City, these two case studies show that, although existing research has clearly highlighted the control over the lives of migrants’ spouses by in-laws, such control is now being attenuated because of changes in residential patterns. In Mexican cities, the wives of migrants have their own household, while women separated from their migrant spouse return to live with their parents. As a result, domestic conflicts no longer take place in the conjugal home or the husband’s family home but in the residence of the wife’s parents. Even when, as in Patricia Arias’ study, women have no difficulty obtaining a job, they find themselves subjected to new forms of domination by their parents or brothers.
13At a more personal and subjective level, does not emancipation begin with being able to denounce unequal relationships? Thanks to linguistic analytical tools, Carola Mick allows us with finesse to hear Peruvian maids describe, in their own words, the forms of domination based on class, racial and territorial origin that they face in their work and daily life in the city. In analysing the way they construct themselves through the act of ‘saying’, she shows that narration does not yet necessarily lead to a collective action that might lead to a reversal of power relationships.
14Emancipation is also made possible by the ability to take decisions. Raquel Martinez Buján and Cristina Vega question the gendered construction of the decision by migrants to return to their country of origin following the Spanish economic downturn: while women mention their family obligations, men will refer to their role as breadwinner, giving as their reason for returning the loss of their job or the desire to set themselves up in business in the country of origin. Finally, through a combination of gendered and generational analyses, Robin Cavagnoud reviews how the constraints that migrant women face and the choices they have to make (grants of residence permits and possibilities of return visits, new marriage) have an impact on the children left behind. By showing that children whose mothers have formed a new relationship in Spain often perform less well in school and tend to distance themselves from their mother during adolescence, he notes that, paradoxically, stabilisation of the family situation of women migrants can have long-lasting implications for their children in the country of origin.
15Drawing on a wide range of case studies, these articles describe a process of subjective emancipation which nevertheless remains partial and fragile, fragmented and temporary. Unequal situations have been restructured, they are displaced from one social environment to another, and from one territory to another. They share a common perspective in that, through the study of migrants’ experiences, they offer an opportunity for understanding the depth and complexity of these worlds in re-composition by learning more about the aspirations of migrants and of their close relations. At the same time, these articles draw our attention to other actors who transform social relationships or, more simply, provide spaces in which migrants and their close relatives can talk, meet and develop as subjects: States, trade unions, associations, and recruitment agencies. Thus, as Gioconda Herrera suggests in her introductory article, we should begin to understand the geographical and social spaces in which migrants develop their plans, taking an overall perspective, but we should also study the interaction between the different social actors who contribute to shaping these systems.