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  • The Domestic Workers Convention Is Not EnoughA Postcolonial Feminist View of Ethiopian and Filipino Domestic Workers in Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Katherine Carter (bio) and Judy Aulette (bio)


More than 232 million international migrants exist in the world and nearly half of them (48 percent) are women.1 Women have always migrated across the globe. The large numbers of women who migrate today and the long distances they travel, however, are something new. Many of these women earn money as care workers providing for the physical, psychological, emotional, and developmental needs of their employers.2 The typical pattern is for women to leave their own families and migrate from poor countries in the global South in order to work in wealthy countries in the global North, what Hochschild terms “global chains of care.”3 Women migrating across the world to work as nannies and housekeepers are part of the “hidden side” of the global economy, where their work is characterized by the ironic coupling of unprecedented intimacy with exploitation and abuse.4 While we usually think about this international migration as people moving from the global South to the North, South-South migration is roughly as high as South-North migration.5

What makes South-South migration attractive to prospective emigrants? First, the cost of migration decreases when moving to a nearby country.6 Second, seasoned migrants in destination countries may help to secure employment for migrating family members. Third, economic differences exist within the South, and middle-income countries draw migrants from neighboring low-income countries. Fourth, countries in the South have served as important transit points for migrants who eventually plan to make their way to countries of the North. Finally, genocide, war, and violence have forced thousands to seek refuge quickly in nearby countries.7 While these advantages to migrating to another southern country are important, the literature shows that South-South migrants face all the difficulties of South-North migrants plus they earn less money, have shorter contracts, and have a greater chance of exploitation [End Page 175] and deportation than South-North migrants. Even in a war-torn area like Iraqi Kurdistan, the site of our research, an opportunity of finding work and an increase in wages, however small, is still a major incentive to migrate.8

Our objective is to understand the dynamics of South-South care work by exploring the personal experiences of women originating from two countries in the global South, Ethiopia and the Philippines, who have migrated to another country in the global South, Iraq. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world with 44 percent of the population living below the national poverty index. A large proportion (27 percent) of Filipinos also live below the poverty line.9 These are also both significant emigrant nations. One of the major international migration flows consists of Ethiopian women migrating to the Middle East, while the Philippines has the highest number of women emigrants in the world.10 More than 8.7 million Filipinos work overseas, making the country the largest exporter of laborers world-wide and 72 percent of migrant Filipinos are women mostly employed as care workers in private homes.11 Filipino women working as nurses, nannies, and housekeepers have been called the “servants of globalization.”12

We use a postcolonial feminist lens to focus in particular on the multiple levels of power differences between the women and their employers and the possibilities of redistributing power in a way that supports the women.13 The task of postcolonial feminists is to make visible the multiple social relations that create hierarchical difference. Furthermore, Cheryl McEwan writes, “Postcolonial feminisms can contribute to new ways of thinking about women in similar contexts across the world, in different geographical spaces, rather than as all women across the world. Postcolonial feminisms, therefore, have the potential to contribute to the critical exploration of relationships between cultural power and global economic power. Moreover, they point towards a radical reclaiming of the political that is occurring in the field of development and in the broader arena of societal transformation.”14 Postcolonial feminism straddles the viewpoints of feminists and postcolonial theorists, bringing to the table the voices and...


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