What factors influence migrant women’s feelings of isolation? Why might these feelings persist despite having a husband and children? How do experiences of discrimination impact migrant women’s emotional, mental, and physical health?
The specific factors contributing to isolation vary slightly depending on the woman’s gender identity, ethnicity, migration status, religion, education level, and host country’s policies, among other factors. However, studies across situations reveal a few common factors contributing to isolation.
Language barriers and economics isolate women and increase the risk of abuse from their partners or employers (Mirza, 2016). Even with the UK government’s “right-to-exit” rationale, the question persists whether migrant women can survive economically without their community and marital relationship.
Often, migrant women originate from countries where community and family serve as support structures. In a new, foreign country, this support system does not exist. The opportunity to find community is limited by language barriers and economic dependence on partners who keep them isolated as a form of control.
Pérez introduces discriminatory stereotypes as another factor when discussing the experience of Venezuelan survival migrants in Peru (2021). Socio-racial hierarchies in Peru determine integration and/or opportunities for socio-economic mobility, which has found Venezuelan women stuck in exploited gendered services.
Persisting isolation despite husband and children
Despite many women migrating with their family unit, feelings of isolation often persist.
One of the reasons involves cultural differences and the shift in gender roles. In many instances, cultural norms from countries of origin position the woman as the caregiver and homemaker while the man is the financial provider. When migrating, women are willing to settle for low-paying jobs (often below their skill/educational level) to provide for their families. At the same time, men are more likely to consider poorly-paid jobs as personal humiliation (Karimi et al., 2019).
The shift in gender roles and cultural clash with the host country’s norms introduces new stressors into the family and limits opportunities for migrant women to connect with the community for support.
Unfortunately, domestic violence also contributes to persisting isolation despite the family unit. Domestic violence in migrant communities goes largely unreported for various reasons, including lack of support, language barriers, misinformation, economic dependence, and visa restrictions.
Impact of discrimination on migrant women’s emotional, mental, and physical health
Research has revealed how discrimination impacts migrant women’s emotional, mental, and physical health. For example, Røysum elaborates on the discrimination in the workplace that harms resourceful migrant women’s self-efficacy and identity, as their competencies in their home country are not recognized in the host country (2020).
Mirza describes the discriminatory legal structure involved in migration that empowers perpetrators of abuse to brandish a woman’s access to a visa as a tool for misuse. Women remain trapped in abusive relationships to avoid economic distress or deportation (which includes the risk of rejection in their homeland for abandoning their husbands) (2016).
Gaps in migration data and discriminatory policy have left migrant women exposed to a vulnerability where they cannot connect with service providers. In other instances, their efforts are thwarted by the lack of cultural understanding and stereotypes (Karimi et al., 2019).
Some women have clung to remnants of home to alleviate the emotional and mental stress of discrimination, such as migrant women who choose to wear the hijab in Germany. Even then, the decision to liberate themselves in this way can lead to racism, violence, and exclusion (Kook & Paz, 2021).
- Karimi, A., Okeke-Ihejirika, Ph., & Salami B., & (2019) African immigrant women s transition and integration into Canadian society expectations stressors and tensions, Gender, Place & Culture, 26:4, 581-601.
- Mirza, N. (2016). The UK government’s conflicting agendas and ‘harmful’ immigration policies: Shaping South Asian women’s experiences of abuse and “exit,’ Critical Social Policy 36, 4, 592-609.
- Paz, A., & Kook, R. (2021). It reminds me that I still exist Critical thoughts on intersectionality refugee Muslim women in Berlin and the meanings of the hijab, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 47:13, 2979-2996.
- Perez, L. M., and Ugarte, D. (2021). Venezuelan women in Peru: At the borders of nationality, gender, and survival migration. Journal of International Migration and Integration 22, 1313–1327.
- Røysum, A. (2020) The job-seeking experiences of resourceful female immigrants and the impact on their self-efficacy beliefs. European Journal of Social Work, 23, 1, 173-184. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691457.2018.1476328