Which women have contributed the most to humanity?

Immigration, Displacement and Asylum: Current Issues

Vera Hanewinkel

Vera Hanewinkel is a research assistant at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) at the University of Osnabrück.
Email: [email protected]

For a long time, migration was seen as a male phenomenon. In most regions of the world, women now have the largest share in migration.

People on the so-called compass rose, mosaic in the entrance area of ​​the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) in the Belém district in Lisbon. (& copy picture-alliance, press-picture-poss)

Refugee and migrant women often remain invisible in scientific and public perception. In the history of migration, they were simply forgotten for a long time because studies mainly focused on male actors in migration. [1] For example, educational and gainful migration were long considered an exclusively male issue, although women were also involved in these migrations at all times. This is also due to the fact that women in Western societies were hardly perceived as actors in the labor market for centuries. Household services often performed by migrant women were and are often not considered to be regular employment. In addition, in most cases they take place in a precarious, informal employment relationship. This is another reason why migrant women often remain invisible - they do not appear in many statistics.

The theories common in migration research in the 1960s and 1970s viewed migration as a male phenomenon. Important impulses for a rethink in migration research have come from women and gender studies since the late 1970s. Although since the 1980s (at the latest since 1993) [2] the experience of migrant women has increasingly been the focus of attention, most studies in migration research continue to focus on male migrants or do not assess gender. Not least, this results in a lack of gender-specific statistics. The prototype of the migrant thus still seems to be the man, even if today almost half of international migrants are women and there are now more female than male migrants in many regions of the world.

Figures: Women's migration globally and in Germany

An estimated 258 million people worldwide do not live in the country in which they were born or of which they are citizens. [3] Around half (48.4 percent) of these international migrants are women. In the Global North in particular, which according to the United Nations statistics includes the industrialized nations of North America and Europe as well as Australia, New Zealand and Japan, women have a high share of migration events: In this region of the world, 51.8 percent of all migrants were women in 2017. In the Global South, i.e. the poorer (developing and emerging) countries, this only applied to 43.9 percent of all migrants. In 1990 the proportion of female migrants in the Global South was significantly higher at 47 percent. The decline is mainly due to the growing demand for migrant workers in the oil-producing countries of Western Asia (Gulf States). Traditionally, it is mainly men who work in this industry. With the exception of Asia, the proportion of women among international migrants in all other regions of the world has increased (slightly) since 2000.

In addition to Asia, male migrants are currently only in the majority in Africa. In Europe, North America, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean, women make up the majority of the migrant population. This is primarily due to aging processes in the immigrant population who have been living in these countries for decades. Due to the higher life expectancy of women, the proportion of migrant women in older age groups is increasing. The highest proportion of women among international migrants (over 60 percent in each case) in 2017 was registered by Nepal (69.4 percent), followed by the Republic of Moldova (64.6 percent), Montenegro (60.8 percent) and Latvia (60.7 percent) Percent) and the Chinese Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (60.5 percent).

Around 10.7 million foreign nationals live in Germany, 46.1 percent of whom are women. However, not all foreign residents of Germany are migrants: every eighth person with foreign citizenship (12.6 percent; approx. 1.4 million) was born in Germany. [4] In addition, there are people who have immigrated to Germany from abroad and who have been naturalized after a long stay here or who have received German citizenship as (late) emigrants immediately after arriving in the Federal Republic of Germany. So it cannot be seen from her passport that she is a migrant. In 2017, around 5.24 million Germans had their own migration experience, 2.76 million of them were women (53 percent). [5] These figures do not include the fact that there are Germans who live abroad for a while and then return to Germany. Of course, they too have migration experience, but not in the statistical sense.

The range of reasons women migrate is wide; their motives for migration are usually no different from those of men: some go to another country in search of work or better career opportunities; others pull after their (spouses) partners or other family members who have already migrated. Some study abroad, do an internship there or do a voluntary service. A short stay abroad can result in a permanent relocation of the center of life to another country. You may stay abroad for personal reasons (e.g. starting a family) or because the opportunities to participate in key areas of society such as the labor market have proven to be more favorable. Migration is therefore always an open-ended process that is influenced by many different factors.

The relocation of the center of life to another country is not always voluntary. International migrants also include people who fled war and persecution from their countries of origin.

Figures on refugee women

Rohingya refugees walk on a path in Teknaf after crossing the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. (& copy picture alliance / Pacific Press Agency)

At the end of 2017, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there were 19.9 million recognized refugees worldwide who were under the mandate of the UNHCR. Half of them were female. However, the proportion of women in the refugee population fluctuates depending on the region of the world. In Africa, 51 percent of all refugees were women. In Europe, however, this only applied to 39 percent of the refugees living there.

At the end of June 2018, there were 673,409 people with the right to asylum or refugee protection in Germany, including 235,785 women (35.1 percent). [6] These figures reflect the high, male-dominated refugee immigration of recent years. In 2015, 441,899 people applied for asylum in Germany for the first time; 69.2 percent of them were male, 30.8 percent female. The main country of origin of asylum seekers was Syria; 73.8 percent of the first-time asylum applicants from there were male. Since then, the proportion of women among those seeking asylum in Germany has increased. In 2016 it was 34.3 percent, in 2017 it was 39.5 percent. The gender ratio among Syrian first-time asylum applicants, who continue to form the largest group of asylum seekers, is now almost balanced: in 2017, 49 percent of Syrian asylum seekers were female. [7]

As in Germany, a (slight) increase in the proportion of women among asylum seekers can also be observed in the EU-28. While women made up 27.4 percent of all persons who applied for asylum for the first time in the EU-28 in 2015, it was 32.3 percent in 2016 and 33.2 percent in 2017. [8]

One reason for the growing proportion of women in asylum migration to the EU (and thus also to Germany) can be seen in the fact that important asylum countries such as Sweden and Germany have restricted family reunification to refugees already living there since 2015. [9] This has meant that since then more women (and children too) have made the dangerous escape to Europe themselves. Studies in Greece, the country of first arrival, confirm this assessment. Refugee women interviewed there often stated that they were on their way to other European countries where family members had already found refuge. [10] While 27 percent of the refugees arriving in Greece were women and children in June 2015 [11], their share rose to 55 percent by December 2016. [12] Women flee more often than men accompanied by children, for whom they are then responsible when they flee. [13] The closing of state borders along the "Balkan Route" coincided with the restrictions imposed by some European countries on family reunification. Women and children who had already made their way to Europe "stranded" in very precarious conditions in Greece.

In Germany, family reunification for persons entitled to subsidiary protection was completely suspended for two and a half years after Asylum Package II came into force on March 17, 2016. Since August 1, 2018, those with subsidiary protection have been able to bring family members back into the country. However, only a total of 1,000 visas are issued for this purpose each month. Syrian asylum seekers, who were increasingly only granted subsidiary protection status after 2015, are particularly affected by the restrictions. Rarely, you receive full refugee protection, which entitles members of the nuclear family (spouse and minor children) to catch up with them. Male refugees from Syria with subsidiary protection status who were already living in Germany were no longer able to bring their wives to Germany who were still living in their region of origin.