Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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KIYA Gezahegne, Addis Ababa University, Social Anthropology Department, Ethiopia

With the recent feminization of migration in the 21st century, and thus the increase in women’s mobility, female migrants' agency, as opposed to male migrants, has been left open for different juxtaposition. With the gendered experience of migration, in terms of job markets, expectations, and economic gain, gendered stereotypes play their part in understanding the complexity of the process of transnational movement. Many have reported women to be among the vulnerable and the weak in this cross-border human mobility while the increasing number of male migrants are stocked with anti-immigrant sentiments and mobilization to reinforce a strict border control, framing them as a threat. This has, for a long time, dominated the discourse in the media and among government bodies. Nonetheless, in the attempt to escape difficult conditions or personal circumstances, the “sliding definitional scale” in explaining the transnational experience of migrant women is missing. With the network established and the path taken, the women consider their flight across the border to be comparatively safe, and ‘legal’. Thus, moving away from the vulnerability discourse, though the reason for the flight might be many, for Ethiopian female migrants crossing the border is an act of gaining their voice and agency and a flight from stereotypical oppression back home. The flux of female migrants to the Middle East and the Sudan, following the rise of the service sector, mainly as domestic workers (child care and elderly care givers), have changed the gendered job market in Ethiopia. In such a journey, the mobile women then became the breadwinner in their household, economically empowered. In the meantime, upon their return, the social category aligned to such migrants diminishes to where they no longer have the same agency in their household and the community at large, going back to a vulnerable position once again. Hence, in this case, social categories become part of the sliding definitional scale for these female migrants from Ethiopia, shifting their position from empowered to vulnerable.