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Examining the feminisation of migration concept

for adult education

Sondra Cuban

To cite this article: Sondra Cuban (2010) Examining the feminisation of migration concept for
adult education, Gender and Education, 22:2, 177-191, DOI: 10.1080/09540250903560455

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Gender and Education
Vol. 22, No. 2, March 2010, 177191

Examining the feminisation of migration concept for

adult education
Sondra Cuban*

Educational Research, Lancaster University, County South, Bailrigg LA1 4YD, UK

Education (online)

The feminisation of migration is absent in policy and programmatic discourses on

adult education in the USA and England. This paper uses an intersectional
framework and feminist transnational methodology to probe this concept and its
implications for women migrants and their education and advancement.
Keywords: feminisation of migration; economic migrants; gender; adult education

Introduction to the problem

Five years ago, at Beijing, the International Organization for Migration made a four-
point appeal to the international community: first, to recognise the trend toward the femi-
nisation of migration; second, to improve awareness and understanding of the conditions
and needs specific to migrant women; third, to promote equal access to projects and
services so that migrant women might fully participate in and benefit from them; and
fourth, to design and implement, where appropriate, programmes designed specifically
for migrant women (International Organization for Migration 2000).

While union activists, economists, sociologists and anthropologists acknowledge

the worldwide increase in female migration (World Bank 2006), little mention of this
phenomenon is made in adult education policy circles.1 Although proponents support
women migrants human rights and their building of alliances,2 as this passage
suggests, they say very little about gender-sensitive education, which is critical for
their progress, aside from the design and implementation of programmes (as stated
above). While gender-specific programmes are mentioned in reports, migrant
womens needs are often overlooked; little is said, for example, in UNESCOs Educa-
tion For All initiatives, especially the 2003/4 gender series, on the specific situations
of women migrants and their requirements as they transverse different education
systems, qualification mandates and language regimes that impose barriers to improv-
ing their capabilities in new countries.
Popular distinctions between women who are forced (refugees, asylum seekers,
trafficked) and those who are voluntary (economic migrants, travelling grandparents,
gap-year students, entrepreneurs) only reify them into exclusive groups in policies
whereas in practice they compose different membership within these categories.
Conceiving migration as a continuum rather than as dichotomous, with, for example,
some economic migrants having more in common with refugees, may yield more


ISSN 0954-0253 print/ISSN 1360-0516 online

2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09540250903560455
178 S. Cuban

robust explanations for reasons and experiences of migration; push factors, particu-
larly, conflict issues in sending countries are salient factors for both economic and
forced migrants (Castles and Lounghna 2002) as well as social and economic discrim-
ination, which stimulate both trafficking and low-paid industries to flourish in desti-
nation countries. A closer look at women economic migrants reveals that they are
often treated differently, based on their nationalities, rather than the categories above.
EU migrants, for example, are treated in a different way in the public sphere than those
who come from outside the EU. One study by Rand Europe (Rubin et al. 2008), for
example, shows that third country women economic migrants (in Europe) are at a
considerable disadvantage than EU members who move to a new country, with regard
to access to public services, including education.
The actual differences between these groups are blurrier, to the point where it is
called, mixed migration (Rutter 2006). In practice forced and voluntary groups are
often mixed together, with the Home Office processing applications in the same places,
and in neighbourhoods, workplaces, and communities, and in English for Speakers of
Other Languages (ESOL) classes where both groups live, learn, and work. Castles
(2003, 17) conceptualised the notion of the asylummigration nexus: because, many
migrants and asylum seekers have multiple reasons for mobility and it is impossible
to completely separate economic and human rights motivations which is a challenge
to the neat categories that bureaucracies seek to impose. These labels are often polit-
ically motivated, with, for example, some people coming to the UK as economic
migrants under work permits, rather than as asylum seekers, because they are needed
as such, or other routes may be used, such as overseas studentships, although policies
and agencies may distinguish between them (Rutter 2006). Kingma (2006) has docu-
mented cases of nurses, for example, being trafficked (as undocumented) in to the USA
and exploited; this is another example of the ambiguity of the categories. Finally, while
forced migration debates ascribe little agency to their subjects, economic migrants may
be given too much (Turton 2003).
Furthermore, the pursuit of gender equality on a global basis gets overlooked in
policy discussions that focus little attention on the needs of women (Unterhalter
2007). This leads to the central questions of this article: Do policies draw on the femi-
nisation of migration trend to positively impact women migrants development
(progress), through education, or do policymakers make use of it solely for the
development goals of nation-states? These issues will be addressed in this article.

The role of education for women migrants

The priority for gender-based budgeting for development programmes is on access to
basic education over quality and post-literacy for females (Ballara 1996). Also the
focus is more on girls primary education, rather than on their secondary and post-
secondary education (Rahman 2004). An Engendered Quality Framework stemming
from the Gender and Education Development (GAD) movement may be an equitable
approach because it focuses on categories of oppression and moves beyond instrumen-
tal factors for gender-sensitive education in developing and advanced economy
countries (Fallon 2008).
But this framework does not concentrate on women migrants, forced or voluntary,
who already have a basic education and want further and higher education or language
education in a new country. Kanaiaupuni (Engle 2004, 30) found that that the more
education Mexican women received, the greater the probability that they will
Gender and Education 179

migrate a trend known as, gender selectivity. Yet anything beyond a basic level of
education does not guarantee that a woman will progress economically after she
migrates, as Rao found in her study (2007, 1): while basic education does contribute
to a higher level of awareness and in turn an ability to protect oneself from a degree
of exploitation, and a level of social prestige, it doesnt necessarily lead to economic
or occupational mobility. Little mention is made of skilled migrant womens trajec-
tories (those with tertiary education) like the large majority of health care profession-
als, who are persuaded to migrate to provide social care in advanced economies
(Kofman and Raghuram 2006). Although they have a university/professional educa-
tion in their countries of origin, they are expected to adapt their qualifications, access
further and higher education, and attend English-language classes to advance their
careers in a new country with many paper walls (Brinkmann 2006). These obstacles
may prove to be too difficult to overcome; they can stay stuck in jobs significantly
below their qualifications, such as being carers or cleaners (Cuban 2008). Without
opportunities to advance, they can become deskilled. Pratt, in a study of Filipina
nurses in Canada, explains: deskilling happens through immigration, followed by
ghettoisation within marginal occupations and low monetary returns on educational
investments. It is a story that has been remarkably resistant to change, particularly for
women (2004, 3). Is it possible for adult education to intervene on these patterns of
gender and immigrant segregation on a global level?
In this article, I discuss the concept of the feminisation of migration, and its treat-
ment in the field of adult education (in programme and policy regimes), focusing on
the USA and England, and with an emphasis on ESOL. I use data that I have collected
on these policies, as well as qualitative data on programmes from both countries
(between 2000 and 2009)3 to discuss its implications for migrant womens advance-
ment. I end by addressing programme and policy strategies for improving women
immigrants capabilities to achieve individual and collective aims.

An intersectional framework to analyse the problem

Examining the problem of the feminisation of migration and its relation to adult
education through an intersectional lens allows for an analysis of the many factors
that migrant women experience as they attempt to improve their lives in a new coun-
try as, othered learners. It is important to focus on the ways both forced and
economic women migrants face similar problems through an approach that acknowl-
edges them as marginalised subjects, and the ways their inequalities are configured
(Davis 2009). Intersectional theory developed as a way to get beyond the single axis
framework (i.e. solely gender) of explanations for inequities (in Nash 2008, 2;
Crenshaw 2009; Hill-Collins 2000). Feminist migration researchers (Kofman and
Raghuram 2006; Mahler and Pessar 2006), for example, point out that gender is
neglected in migration studies, and they factor it in as well as nationality, ethnicity,
race, age, class, caste, religion, and skills. They research the ways women are posi-
tioned, given the current political and social contexts. I focus on women immigrants
in adult education as a political group (where they are not seen as such) because they
have clearly identified problems in society that impact their educational trajectories.
My aim is to show that while the adult education system could challenge the
downward pressures (Walters 2000) on women migrants, instead, it creates greater
stratifications through an assimilationist and generic approach that is void of gender
and transnational issues and reinforces exclusivity. My intersectional framework
180 S. Cuban

highlights how government policies support the feminisation of migration, insofar as

women migrants benefit the economy and society through their work and tax contri-
butions, but the stricter controls on their access to public services, including educa-
tional courses, which could serve their interests, often disables them from
progressing. I also highlight how women migrants, through their determination and
struggles, can aspire to improve their capabilities through policies and programmes
that are gender-sensitive.

The feminisation of migration concept

The global pattern of women migrating from capital-poor (emerging) countries to
capital-rich ones, over the last 20 years, is relatively new, and was previously associ-
ated with male migration (following spouses). Known as the feminization of migra-
tion (Castles and Miller 1998; Engle 2004; Lipszyc 2004, 6), it includes women
migrants of diverse races/ethnicities, and nationalities, documented and undocu-
mented. Castles and Miller (1998) who coined this century the Age of Migration
describes it as encompassing five elements that distinguish it from previous periods:
globalisation (many countries are simultaneously affected by migration); acceleration
(increased worldwide numbers of people moving); diversity (people of different
classes and ethnic groups are migrating), politicisation (national and international
immigration laws, bilateral trade agreements, and regional relations impact movement
as well as civil society), and lastly, the feminisation (the mass movement of female
migrants) (Lipszyc 2004).
The feminisation of migration phenomenon refutes the binary notion that women
move either permanently to countries in order to settle or they come temporarily.
Women migrants may enter into a circular migration cycle (moving but retaining
strong ties to a sending country) or in the case of onward migration they may go else-
where. Yet this transitional state often leaves these women in states of permanent
dislocation (Parrenas 2001) never nowhere but always somewhere simultaneously
here and there (Kong 1999, in Boyle 2002, 534), raising questions about who ulti-
mately benefits from their movement.
The feminisation of migration is often seen as a development strategy for nation-
states (Phillips 2009); women migrate to work and remit to compensate for structural
adjustment policies in developing countries and, in this way, are able to mitigate the
crisis (Chammartin 2000; Lipszyc 2004, 6). Yet these womens opportunities are
often thwarted because even as they rescue flailing welfare systems in the first world,
the remittance of their low wages leaves them little resources for their own progress.
Recent 2008 UK immigration policies, for example, have instituted a points-based
system, aimed at recruiting skilled migrants to work in low-paying jobs (like care
work) but with little support for them to maintain a high quality of life. The system
creates selective conditions and language stratifications, with the expectation that new
entrepreneurial and desperate entrees will self-fund public services, such as ESOL
classes. Not surprisingly, the Learning & Skills Council presents these migrants as

These migrants take on low-skilled or unskilled roles while they improve their English
or gain a relevant qualification to allow them to practise their profession. An aspiring
migrant could be a medical doctor working as a labourer at a building site, or a graduate
at the beginning of their work career. Aspiring migrants are happy to make easy money
Gender and Education 181

doing unskilled work and view it in the context of being an opening to greater opportu-
nities. (2006, 245)

Migrant women are often viewed as aspirational and are, therefore, top exports for
developing countries, with the Gabriela Network highlighting that, live human
bodies, outstrip electronics, garments, agricultural products and other trade exports
(Unpac 2005). The reasons for their migration, not to mention the statistics (of how
many women migrants there are, including those who are unregulated), are much
more ambiguous than the economic supply and demand theories that have framed
male migration (Ackers 1998; Morokvasic 1983).
Many factors play roles in womens decisions to migrate, including the psycho-
logical and social, thereby calling into question labels such as economic migrant
(Mahler and Pessar 2006). Seventy per cent of Filipino migrants, for example, are
women who may consider their move abroad as part of a Filipino divorce, in a
Catholic country. A woman may leave her children, for long or short periods of time,
with her mother and/or a helper while she cares for a divorcees children or older
parents in the USA or England (Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2002). Issues of geogra-
phy and historical ties also play important roles in womens migration as well as
language and culture (Cox 2006; Sassen 2006). The factors for their migration are
complex and are part of the global political economy of social reproductive work
(Yeates 2009).
Two stories illustrate the complexity of the feminisation of migration, and call
into question categories of forced versus voluntary. Mia fled from Mexico and
lives undocumented in a Northwest US city with her children, having escaped an
abusive husband who she was forced to marry at age 16. Mia cleans houses as she
did in Mexico and has many clients who she networks with to build her business.
While she is pleased to have a burgeoning business in the USA, she is frustrated by
her efforts to become a community worker, her real dream. Likewise, Mary, a
Filipina, paid thousands of dollars to a recruitment agency to move to England to be
a carer to the elderly, leaving behind a daughter with her parents. As a former over-
worked nurse in an understaffed hospital, she feels the care work is easy, and she is
respected as a divorcee. Yet she disparages her low wages, which cause her to
work many hours, and together with the increasingly high cost of living in the
Philippines, she feels forced to remit most of her monthly paychecks, which causes
tension. Furthermore, she feels some superiors are disrespectful and she feels
trapped working for a company in which her contractual obligations are unclear.
While these womens stories of living in different countries vary, their invisible but
important reproductive work, as carers and cleaners, providing labour intimacy,
contributes to the modernisation of nations but at a great personal sacrifice (Boyle
2002, 537). They also want the same things: education for themselves and their
children, and a better quality of life their dreams are to advance in their destination
countries. They are aspiring women but not in the ways that policymakers, like the
quote above, recognise.

The feminisation of migration in US and England ESOL policies and

How do women like Mia and Marys migration connect to adult education
issues? Women migrants often come to the USA and England to improve their
182 S. Cuban

educational capital (obtaining vocational and language credentials and higher and
further education to advance their careers) (Cox 2006). Yet being in a margina-
lised field such as adult education (commonly known as a Cinderella or step-
child of the education system) can reinforce their devaluation, even while they
yield more income and status for it through attending courses. Women migrants,
like Mia and Mary, who are highly motivated and experienced, have both dipped
in and out of education in their communities, but have failed to achieve their
desired goals. Little notice was taken of them and their aspirations in their educa-
tional courses.
Both the US and Englands adult education systems have developed in a
historically similar way to this day. Currently both systems priorities are on:
accountability, risk-management, vocationalism, and productivity (Cooke and
Simpson 2009; St. Clair and Belzer 2007), especially in the field of ESOL. Five
main forces have emerged to frame ESOL policies in adult education in the USA
and England. The first force is a vocationalist emphasis curriculum and pedagogy:
ESOL students are viewed first and foremost as workers, and therefore have little
opportunity to take anything other than jobs training (Mojab and Gorman 2003). A
second force is that of accountability under centralised and standardised systems.
The effect is to limit who can enter programmes; in the USA, creaming higher-
achieving ESOL students is the norm, as is grabbing low-hanging fruit in
England, to ensure higher scores and greater pass rates which award programmes
future funding. Related to this force is the move towards privatisation, with sanc-
tions for dropouts and weak test gains, and subsequent reductions in funds (or
closedowns) if programmes cannot demonstrate progress. This has created another
force: few support services, for example, childcare. Students are expected to
provide this service themselves. Finally, the last force is the lack of bridges from
one education agency to another, creating difficulties when students want addi-
tional learning support or they move to a new place, or to higher or further educa-
tion. These policies can disadvantage all women migrants opportunities. While the
system intends to move (as one US report states), from the margins to the main-
stream (National Institute for Literacy 2000) by becoming more visible to policy-
makers, women ESOL students are left behind.

Englands ESOL policies

In England, adult education policies, including ESOL, have most recently been
framed by the 2006 Leitch policy4 which has intensified a neo-liberal approach,
one where individual learners are selected out for the low-paid workforce. Public-
funded ESOL courses have been reduced, and subject to costs, with few dedi-
cated routes for migrants advancement (Cooke and Simpson 2009; Roberts et al.
2007). Not until recently was ESOL considered to be a skill for life until after
the Skills for Life policy framework had developed (Hamilton and Hillier 2009).
A NIACE (2006) commissioned study showed that most programmes failed to
accommodate ESOL students needs, and serve those hardest-to-reach, such as
pre-entry students who get blocked at the door. While no gender analysis has
been conducted on the effects of these policies, specifically on women migrants
in ESOL, ethnographic research shows that when they have to make decisions
about educating themselves or their children, they often choose the latter option
(Cuban 2008).
Gender and Education 183

US ESOL policies
Similarly, a US-based study, Lost in Translation (Colton 2006) found that the adult
basic education system is nearly collapsing under the weight of demand for ESOL
classes, in New York State. Likewise in California, classes were made free of charge
but they are said to come with a catch, because of the waiting lists (Gonzalez 2007);
ESOL students are turned away at the door due to staffing shortages. Another case
study showed that while ESOL students are a formidable population in the system,
they are largely overlooked and understudied (Mathews-Aydinli 2008, 201). This
study shows that programmes views of progress do not match the learners percep-
tions indicating imbalances in the curriculum and programme structure (Mathews-
Aydinli 2008). While few of these studies focus on migrant women, the gender-related
barriers that are shown to impede womens access to adult education programmes, like
childcare and transportation, are compounded (Merriam, Caferrella, and Baumgartner
These policy issues affect migrant womens learning trajectories. Lily, another
undocumented domestic worker from Seattle, USA, was a nurse in Mexico, but could
not get into a C.N.A. (nursing) programme because of the cost and demand for pre-
entry credentials, which she had little time to invest in, as a cleaner working many
shifts. Likewise, a nurse-educator who taught courses in English in India, Reba, was
currently a carer for the elderly in England. She could not adapt her nursing qualifica-
tions in the UK because she could not pass her International English Language Testing
Exam (IELTS). With the score recently raised by the Nurse Midwifery Council, she
felt stuck in an educational quagmire of obstacles, unable to progress. Like Ehrenreich
and Hochschild state: Many women have been trapped in this kind of work, whether
by racism, imperfect English skills, migrant status, or lack of education. Few happily
choose it (2002, 92).

Data and methods

The stories of Mia, Mary, Lily, and Reba were developed through two programme
studies. Conducted between 2000 and 2005, the first one focused on domestic workers
and care workers in the USA (in California, New York, and Washington) and drew on
data from a larger study based at Harvard University and MDRC (Cuban 2007; Porter,
Cuban, and Comings 2005). The second study was conducted in England (20072009)
on women migrant care workers, and is part of an ongoing Economic Social Research
Council (ESRC) study that ends in 2010.
The author also conducted a policy analysis on selected US and England govern-
ment-based documents on adult basic skills education policies. The US analysis was
undertaken by two researchers (Cuban and Stromquist 2006, 2009), while the analysis
of Englands policies was carried out for the ESRC study. While the two programme
studies represent women migrants participation experiences in these countries adult
education systems, the two policy studies reveal how they clash with their needs and
interests for further and continuing education.

Transnational feminist methodologies

Transnational feminist methodologies (Naples 2003; Pratt 2004) allowed me to exam-
ine the mismatches (in policies and programmes) in order to make visible the work
184 S. Cuban

women do (Naples 2003, 154), including their attendance in ESOL courses, for their
advancement in the knowledge-based economy (Stromquist and Monkman 2000).
Naples (2003) discusses the importance of understanding marginalised womens
standpoints within a globalised labour market, as well as their strategies for navigating
policy limitations such as access to education. She uses an everyday world approach.
This orientation focuses on the tensions and contradictions that women migrants expe-
rience as they strategise. So does Pratt (2004) who works at the borders of liberalism
by focusing on the policy discourses which neglect women migrants, including their
self-organising tactics. Both theorists call attention to the ways marginalised women
are othered in policies and rendered invisible in programmes.
A critical feminist analysis (Marshall 1999) assesses the gaps in policies and
complements an ethnographic approach which tracks women migrants participation
in formal and non-formal programmes. My analysis attempts to re-centre women,
gender, and power relations in educational institutions, which operate as gender-
neutral and subsequently, work against women (Pateman, in Marshall 1999, 62);
examples of which are the discourses and data systems that do not capture the
complex categories and reinforce women as other (Marshall 1999).
A capabilities approach gives the methodology a dynamic quality that aims at
mobilising for gender equality of all women migrants within the global polity and the
distribution of their rights, services, opportunities and protections (Feree 2009;
Unterhalter 2007). As Davis (2009) asserts, migrant women labourers are concrete
people not just objects of class analysis and so it is important to bring in an intersec-
tional perspective for emphasising all dimensions of their human capabilities.
Furthermore, Sens analysis (Sen 1993; see also, Okkolin 2009) sees human life eval-
uated in terms of four concepts that apply well to the population of women migrants
and their educational potential and progress: well-being achievement (being able to
fully participate in learning activities and educational programmes), agency achieve-
ment (being able to choose a programme, that matches a goal), well-being freedom
(making choices about educational activities) and agency freedom (having the
support to follow through with educational activities). Understanding migrant
womens decisions and choices means exploring how they experience them apart
from policymakers. Although all of these elements are important for migrant women,
perhaps the first and last ones are the most critical because they highlight the process
and outcomes of their participation (well-being achievement) and the support that is
needed to stay engaged in learning activities through policies and programmmatic
structures (agency freedom).

Data collection and analysis

Both programme studies drew on in-depth interviews that allowed for womens stories
of their experiences to emerge (Witherell and Noddings 1990). Narrative analysis was
used to understand the womens perspectives and positions in the global economy in
relation to their educational trajectories. Observations of the women at work, home,
or in their programmes were also conducted, so as to understand their actions (in
comparison, or in contrast to, what they said). In order to grasp patterns amongst the
womens stories, Grounded Theory (Strauss and Corbin 1997) was used to ground
the womens experiences, as a group (migrant women learners), and to understand
their common problems and issues. Themes were developed to unearth the relation-
ships between their education and experiences, at the intersections of larger systems
Gender and Education 185

of global inequalities. These themes, across the studies, were developed into findings
that incorporated the policies.
The policy study in the USA entailed an analysis of six major adult basic education
(including ESOL) US Department of Education documents (from 2000 to 2006), and
its incorporation of the feminisation of migration concept. This was done in conjunc-
tion with an analysis of research on women ESOL students and the barriers they expe-
rienced in attending programmes (Cuban and Stromquist 2006, 2009). The British
policy study encompassed a meta-analysis of ESOL policies and research from 2003
to 2008, of government-based documents and critiques5 as well as a search of any
existing research on impacts of women migrants in ESOL programmes.

Programme study in the USA

Ten migrant women domestics and care workers who were newer migrants to their
communities, and were mainly Afro-Caribbean and Latinas, moved to the most afflu-
ent countries nearby (Ehrenreich and Hochschild 2002). The California programme,
for example, served a large population of undocumented Mexicans living in an
unincorporated community who cleaned houses and landscaped lawns in a nearby
wealthy neighbourhood. Similarly, in New York City, Afro-Caribbean domestics
travelled from Manhattan where they cleaned houses and cared for the sick and
elderly all day to a community-based programme located in the Queens borough
where they lived. The women attended these programmes because they were rejected
from colleges and the hours fit their work lives. The programmes had flexible entry/
exit routes and a curriculum that was adaptable to their lives. In contrast, the college
programmes they previously attended did not allow them to pick up where they last
began, because it ran on rigid schedules, and they could only attend on certain days
and times. One woman, whose big, big, big dream it was to become a nurse like she
was in Mexico, felt her programme tutor was understanding when she could not
study. She recalled how his response differed from her previous college experience:
Because some days I dont feel good, and I dont went to the school. The day
doesnt return. The lesson doesnt repeat. This was very difficult for me. Through
listening to their stories, it was possible to discern that the students strategies for
obtaining an education was to attend community-based programmes. The women
appreciated these programmes because they were personalised and they compensated
for their isolating work that treated them as pairs of arms (Hondagneu-Sotelo
2003). Yet while the women had a voice in these programmes, gender-sensitive
programming was absent and the issues they faced as women-outsiders were not
directly confronted.

Programme study in England

Sixteen women migrant care workers were interviewed and observed to assess the
meaning and roles of education and learning in their work and community lives. The
women were from countries as diverse as India, Poland, China, Zambia, Romania and
the Philippines. Many were professionals in their countries of origin but were working
as carers, and would be considered (even by the women themselves) as deskilled.
The study focused on their education prior to migrating, their transfer of their educa-
tional capital, and the training and education that was available to them, as well as its
effects on their advancement in England. A workplace programme was focused on, to
186 S. Cuban

see whether or not it helped the women to advance. Nine out of the 16 women were
in this course. Findings showed that although they bonded together and formed a
community, the course, which focused on complying with workplace protocols, did
not help them to advance professionally (Cuban 2009). The study found that the
women faced many obstacles to advancing that were invisible to the care sector
employers and adult education policymakers. While the women tried to access profes-
sional jobs, further education, and professional networks and associations to support
their progress, including the workplace programme some of them attended, they had
barriers to passing valuable tests, getting access to advanced-level English classes,
adaptation programmes, and had many workplace barriers to studying (like working
overtime and at unsocial hours).

Findings and implications for the feminisation of migration in adult education

The policy and programme studies revealed that the feminisation of migration concept
within England and the US adult education systems is: (1) not taken into account,
making women migrant learners and potential participants invisible on top and bottom
levels of the system. The feminisation of migration is not something strictly attached
to any one social structure or institution, or individual nation-states, and it is pervasive
and hard to pinpoint (as a type of energy that fosters greater mobility and displace-
ment), and therefore, rigid systems cannot capture or accommodate women migrants
as they move in and out of programmes. Also, (2) policies rarely if ever mention
gender apart from sex as a variable in participation figures and women migrants tend
to be classified and treated solely as either women or migrants, or ESOL
students. One study for example, in San Francisco, found that women were the largest
participants in ESOL courses, but gender-related issues were not mentioned (Spurling,
Seymour, and Chisman 2008). While, adult literacy programmes and policies depend
on women migrants enrolment figures (as ESOL head counts), they rarely acknowl-
edge their high dropout rates, which, the qualitative studies showed, are due to
gendered barriers and immigration status. (3) There is an assumption that the femini-
sation of migration means progress for women in developing countries, and that once
they reach an advanced economy, their educational needs will be taken care of, in a
land of opportunity. Yet as the studies of women migrants show, in both countries,
programmes rarely challenged the gender-polarised labour market and women
students were actively being deskilled under the gender contract (in low-paid repro-
ductive work), regardless of their education. Moreover, these jobs as well as the
programmes they attended created barriers because they did not incorporate specific
gender support features. As Walby (2005) shows, it is impossible to show womens
progress without disaggregated data, and, while data systems may highlight that
women are participating in employment, there is little analysis on their types of jobs
and progress.

Implications for a feminist envisioning of the feminisation of migration in

adult education6
Folding the feminisation of migration into adult education calls attention to condi-
tions of quality and access to further and higher education for women, as well as a
multidimensional, gendered notion of social equity. This section will discuss
Gender and Education 187

proposals that enhance womens positions in adult education. These two proposals
go beyond a nation-state centric worldview and a neo-liberal perspective on adult
education and emphasise Sens tenets above, especially well-being achievement and
agency freedom.
The first proposal focuses on the globalisation from below movement and is one
approach to understanding the feminisation of migration from a feminist perspective.
This (popular education) approach challenges unsafe working conditions and encour-
ages full participation of migrant women in policymaking. It is an alternative to the
current focus on adult education for workforce development, one that promises
employability for those who have made proper choices (Lakes 2008). It focuses on
education for women migrants labour rights and community leadership (Wallerstein
and Auerbach 2004). The focus sees connections between what occurs on the local
level, with that of the global economy. Womens Education in the Global Economy
(WEDGE; Louie and Burnham 2000) is a project that focuses on economic literacy
and building local communities through women migrants organising efforts. Activi-
ties include learning about the global economy, organising for better working condi-
tions, understanding structural adjustment programmes, focusing on welfare,
education and work issues holistically, counting unpaid labour and informal-sector
work as well as the economic abuse of migrant women.
A second proposal for incorporating the feminisation of migration into adult
education, using a feminist perspective, focuses on developing women migrants
comprehensive citizenship, including the household and the workplace (Stromquist
2006). Adult education can focus on women asserting their rights under national and
international laws, supporting communities to know them and organise to enforce
them. Adult education programmes can direct attention to the sexual division of
labour and make changes that assist women to move from the informal to formal
sector while improving their jobs, and partnering with other public services in
communities to build coalitions in an era of anti-immigrant legislation. Participatory
education is preferred because it assists women to learn and practise behaviours, and
attain leadership in a supportive environment that fosters citizenship. The Highlander
Center in the USA is an example of citizenship education models that advocate for
many different kinds of issues for migrant women.

Conclusion: educating the public to support women migrants education

Expecting women migrants, alone, to solve systemic inequalities is laughable, and so
a number of strategies need to be developed to educate those in low and high places
about the feminisation of migration, which is critical for adult and higher education
(Cuban and Stromquist 2006). It might include womens organisations collaborating
with migrant associations to campaign and sponsor events for the public to raise
awareness about women migrants, and their need for greater public services, including
education. Involving adult education organisations in this effort is important;
CONFINTEA VI might be an effective organisation to advocate for women migrants
learning rights. Together these organisations can sponsor dialogues about issues in
communities, thereby increasing the involvement of other organisations. Perhaps
programmes and workshops, focused, for example, on anti-racist/sexist training, can
flourish, bringing in many community members.
Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the community-based
programmes in the US programme study discussed previously, are often the ones that
188 S. Cuban

migrant women come to and feel most comfortable in because they are less institution-
alised, they partner with other agencies and are a last resort and safety net. Yet they
are almost always the most financially marginalised in the adult education system. A
redistribution of public resources is clearly needed to support these programmes to
develop gender-sensitivity and transnational programmes for migrant women.
Adult education, as a system, needs better funding in most industrialised nations
for empowering migrant women; it is not uncommon for classes to be held in poor
facilities, taught by part-time teachers, and at limited times and places. Focusing on
how the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) pose barriers to educa-
tion, in developing countries, is also important, especially for the lack of teachers, and
their low wages.
In terms of higher education, while third mission universities (Nedeva 2008)
(those who adopt for-profit sectors for the purpose of scientific and medical advance-
ment), recruit international students, the comprehensive needs of these students (while
they are participating and afterwards) are often neglected, with the expectation they
will return through a process of brain circulation from the global North to the South.
The assumption is that they already have professional diasporic networks (Rizvi
n.d.; Nedeva 2008) that they can simply tap in to for advancing. Moreover, transitions
between adult and higher education in advanced economy countries, for skilled
migrant women who are trying to escape deskilling in the destination country, are
often absent if their professions (such as social or health work) do not fit with third
mission university agendas.
Next, attention to reducing labour market segmentation for women in low-paying
industries, known as the five Cs: cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering, and caring, is
important for increasing womens abilities to actualise their social citizenship along
with other forms of citizenship (Bozniak 2009). All of this adds up to the public
becoming more knowledgeable about the connections between the global economy
and migration, the sexual division of labour, and gender relations, as it affects adult
education, and for the purpose of improving women migrants capabilities. With this
type of support, perhaps the Women 2000 initiative cannot only be realised, but be
expanded in the future.

1. As an example, a word search on the widely used national ABE policy listserv, AAACE-
NLA archives, from 2003 to 2008 revealed that the term feminisation of migration was not
mentioned ( The same search was
conducted on the ESOL-Research discussion board in the UK during this time period with
similar findings.
2. See the 2008 European Feminist Forum, which is focused on building a migrant feminist
agenda (
3. These dates are particularly important for showing the effects of both the feminisation of
migration trend, beginning in full force in the 1990s, and the vocationalist policy discourses
in adult education.
4. The 2006 Leitch review, a report on world class skills for Englands workforce and
education system, was a major shift in priorities and implementation of programmes. The
policy focuses on employer sponsorship of adult basic education. It has been highly influ-
ential in funding mandates (see
5. Englands policies, although similar to the USA, began integrating ESOL later. For
comprehensive histories of ESOL in the UK, see Ward (2007), Rosenberg (2006), and
Roberts et al. (2007).
Gender and Education 189

6. This section, as well as the conclusion draw, on an American Educational Research Asso-
ciation (AERA) paper (Cuban and Stromquist, 2006) and I acknowledge the work of Nelly
Stromquist in reframing the policy debate as a feminist issue and for her contribution to the
work on women and adult educational issues.

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