South-South migration from a gender and intersectional perspective: an overview

Since the 1980s, gender and migration scholarship has documented the inherently gendered nature of migration flows and of their developmental and societal impacts at both origin and destination. However, as with scholarship on migration more generally, the majority of existing studies focus on North-North or South-North migration flows. The issue of gender and migration between countries in the Global South has only recently attracted greater attention among scholars and policy makers. What constitutes the ‘South’ is itself contested and approaches vary considerably across studies, an issue we explore in detail in Section 3. However, increasing evidence suggests that, whatever definition is adopted, South-South migration flows are not only significant in terms of their magnitude and diversity – at cross-border, intra- and inter-regional scales – but also because they may have some distinctive characteristics in comparison to other migration flows (De Lombaerde et al., 2014; de Haas, 2009; Ratha and Shaw, 2007). This includes the ways in which gender dynamics, policies and processes both shape and are shaped by the experiences of migrants, their families and their communities in the context of South-South migration.

This literature review has been conducted as part of a project focused on gendered inequalities and South-South migration. The complex relationship between different forms of inequality and migration requires an understanding of both the positive potential of migration as a force for progressive social change but also its capacity to reinforce existing inequalities and support the status quo. If this is to be achieved, we would argue that research needs to pay attention to inequalities between men and women who migrate, but also with those who stay and those who reside in countries of destination. Further, we suggest that in recognition of the diversity of migrants and their experiences of dis/advantage, research also requires a focus on how gender relations intersect with other social characteristics such as age, class, race, ethnicity, disability and sexuality to produce, reduce or reproduce inequalities. This review therefore draws on the available literature on South-South migration from a gender and intersectional perspective. Our aim is to take stock of existing research that addresses the gendered dimensions of South-South migration as well as to identify gaps within the literature and agendas for future research.

The migration corridors within the project – whose gendered migration dynamics will be the focus of a separate, forthcoming working paper – are dominated by migration for work and the focus in this review is therefore primarily, if not exclusively, on labour migration. However, we extend the discussion beyond domestic work to consider a wider range of formal and informal sectors in which female and male migrants seek employment. We seek to highlight the ways in which gender relations can be transformed, both positively and negatively, in and through spatial mobility, as well as how institutions in the Global South address the relationship between gender and migration (Kofman and Raghuram, 2010). To do so, we primarily focused on studies which explicitly adopted a gendered or intersectional approach. Where this was not possible, or where the literature is very limited, we have tried to highlight this and to identify areas that would benefit from gender-based and intersectional analyses in future research.

A detailed critical discussion of ‘South-South migration’ as a term – both conceptually and in its practical applications – follows below in Section 3. However, it is worth noting here that in defining the ‘South’, we chose to rely on the UNDP categorisation, which incorporates a larger group of countries than some other definitions by including some states characterised by high-income levels[1]. A search on SCOPUS and SciELO databases, and on Google Scholar, was conducted covering topics and geographical regions of interest. The search was conducted in four languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese and French). Thus, even though this review is not fully representative, it extends beyond the Anglophone literature and this has enabled us to identify a wider range of issues, themes and regional trends.

The review begins with a discussion of the main ‘phases’ that have shaped gender and migration research, namely the inclusion of women, the development of scholarship on gender and migration, and the use of intersectionality to grasp interdependent dimensions of inequality (Section 2). This is followed by a critical analysis of the concept of ‘South-South migration’ itself as background for a brief exploration of quantitative trends in South-South migration, including regional perspectives (Section 3). The following section critically analyses key empirical research on South-South migration and gender with a particular focus on the gendered nature of labour markets (Section 4). We then explore some gaps in the literature and identify areas for future research informed by an analysis of wider intersectional concerns (Section 5). The review finishes with some brief concluding remarks (Section 9).