Movement. Human history has been defined by people’s movement, the world map and our borders have been shaped by people’s movements, and the twenty-first century is not any different in this regard: globalisation, migration, movement be it forced, or voluntary has moulded our world into what it is now and what it is continuously evolving into. Despite the importance of migration and other forms of movement, the literature on the subject has often neglected the position, role, and experiences of a part of the population: women.
Migration, Trafficking and Gender Construction: Women in Transition edited by Dr Roli Mishra, and jointly published by SAGE Publications and Stree Samya Books, is a collection of academic essays that attempts to bridge the gap of literature on women in migration and assess the various intricacies and nature of migration through a feminist perspective focusing on case studies situated in South Asia and Europe.
Women in Transition achieves a critical task in presenting diversity in human movement by assessing the various forms of human movement from labour migration to trafficking to asylum and encompassing an intersectional lens elucidated with case studies spanning from breaking the myth of Bengali homogeneity by documenting women from the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh to female descendants of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia in Slovenia requestioning their identity. The diversity of experiences, nature and conditions of human movement along with the stories of the interlocutors in Women in Transition enriches and brings required representation to the table.
Another feature of the collective work of essays in Women in Transition is its key claim in recognising the gendered biases present in migration studies. The introduction of Women in Transition reads about how women are often seen and positioned as “passive actors in the migration process”, and the narrative of women playing secondary roles to their male counterparts continues to exist in a large portion of migration literature.
Throughout the entirety of Women in Transition, the role of women in migration is examined, questioned, and presented to demonstrate the intricacies and nuances that have been neglected and marginalised. The book attempts to bring depth to the understanding of the role that gender construction plays for women in transition. Moreover, the essays combine interdisciplinary tools with an emphasis on ethnography to present their findings; the articles are not mere works of endless citations and footnotes but humanise the very stories and phenomenon they study; women and their stories are central to every chapter in Women in Transition. This approach makes for the reading to be more than just reading about an issue or something happening in a part of the world; rather, it humanises experiences that we often forget to achieve and acknowledge.
Another significant contribution and strength of the ten essays in Women in Transition come from their assessment and value addition to the study of migration, an area of research that continues to be largely dominated by cis-male narratives and stereotypical evaluations of women’s needs and ambitions. Every one of the chapters of Women in Transition allows for conversation, dialogue, and a reassessment of what we have got wrong about women in migration.
Migration, Trafficking and Gender Construction: Women in Transition is a collective work that spans across experiences and the variety of movements it covers. Yet, specific ideas in the book run in continuity: a perfect example of this is power. Power relations remain central in understanding migration and gender throughout the book. The authors question and highlight the power relationships between the state and its citizen, relationship between documentation and legitimacy, relationship between genders, class, caste, religion, ethnicity, language, education level, and ‘the native’ and ‘the migrant’.
“To be without papers in a state-centric world is a form of civil death” (Benhabib, 2001) is a powerful statement from the Women in Transition that illustrates the linkage and entrenchment of institutionalisation, bureaucracy, the state, and patriarchy.
These power relations are presented and brought up by interlocutors who talk about the causes and nature of movement to the degree of codependence on the state, the legal complexities and bureaucratic red tape, trafficking, their vulnerabilities, and questioning as to whether migration is always empowering.
The intersectional experiences that women in transition face are profoundly illustrated throughout the ten case studies from the effects of globalisation and government negligence on tribal communities in Jharkhand to Rohingya refugee women in Bangladesh to asylum seekers in Finland. The collected work of Women in Transition demonstrates that no lived experience is similar and how our relationship with the state, along with our identities, affects our interactions and lived experiences.
Nazimuddin Siddiqui in Women in Transition states that “imagining a world without boundaries is impossible, especially when marking and securitising boundaries constitute the heart of international relations and politics”. Siddiqui’s statement encapsulates the sentiments of Women in Transition on how the embedded importance of borders shapes and defines how we perceive people, societies, experiences, and more importantly, ourselves. Human movement is not a new phenomenon and has existed since the start of human history. The lack of literature and information of women, their intersectional identities, and human movement speaks to a larger existing problem in not only the academic world but elsewhere about the marginalisation and underrepresentation of women’s voices and stories. Migration, Trafficking and Gender Construction: Women in Transition breaks the oppressive tradition and helps make the difference and make room for pivotal voices.
If you are interested about migration studies, intersectionality, human trafficking and are looking for a fresh perspective or merely want to expand your knowledge and learn more about the topic: Migration, Trafficking and Gender Construction: Women in Transition is a must.
Mishra, R. (Ed.). (2020). Migration, Trafficking and Gender Construction: Women in Transition. SAGE.
Alaya Purewal is a third-year undergraduate student at Sciences Po Paris where she majors in political science and international relations with a regional focus in Europe and Asia. Her interests include reading nihilist poetry, an alarming obsession with true crime, collecting old books, identity politics, dismantling oppressive systems, and trying to understand the world. She also produces a docu-series, s(H)e, that looks at social issues through an intersectional feminist perspective. You can find her on Instagram.