Approximately half of international migrants across the globe are women. In Barcelona, the city of our focus, just under half the immigrant population is female. Women migrate for numerous reasons: to find work, to join their partners who have emigrated, to send money home for those in their financial care, to gain empowerment and access to freedoms.
By focusing on a range of immigrant women of diverse ethnicities, ages, social classes, educational levels, occupation and professional backgrounds, Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona explores the overlaps and contrasts between home, work and the city for first generation female immigrants. Our aim is to consider migration in the light of gender, as well as to see how gender and cultural identity might change through the experiences of migration and relocation. We seek to highlight the many social, cultural, economic and political contributions that immigrant women make to urban contexts, as well as the way in which gender and migration contribute to the urban social fabric. Our goal is to work towards more nuanced understandings of female migration, with specific attention to the needs and potential of immigrant women, in local, national, regional and global forums that determine policies relating to migration.
By taking the tropes of home, work and the city as central to the lives of these immigrant women, our project explores gendered experiences within a number of arenas. Key thematic areas that arise are those of:
Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona combines oral history with documentary photography to create a set of audiovisual representations for each subject. We use the more visceral pathways of the voice of the subject and her face in order to broaden understandings of the ‘feminization of migration’ in terms that exceed a focus on women as income generators. This methodology allows us to open spaces for representation, where our subjects, who are all voluntary collaborators in the project, can articulate and reflect on the myriad details of migration, relocation, remaking home, finding work and living in the city. Through in-depth interviews, they share their stories, memories, hopes and goals. Our use of documentary photography is to construct portraits of the subjects in their chosen contexts of domestic and/or work interiors and urban exteriors. We use visual documentary as a means to exploring questions of relocation, emplacement and urban belonging. In this way, the project also frames the ways in which female immigrants remake city spaces that are both private and public.
In an effort to mainstream gender in discourses on migration, there is an increasing focus on the ‘feminization of migration.’ This, however, is not new. Women have always migrated alongside men. The term refers primarily to the increased presence of women in the labour force and to rises in remittances sent to countries of origin. Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona goes beyond questions of economic empowerment to explore the ways in which women experience migration and relocation in urban contexts. Many women who have migrated find that their own gender perspectives alter through the migratory process. Many face gender-specific challenges that force them to adapt in unexpected ways to new contexts and boundaries. Many seek release from patriarchy through migration and many are able to make significant cultural contributions to the places they relocate to. Female immigrants often play a crucial role in the construction of diasporic communities, in establishing neighbourhood networks and in building cultural bridges between their places of origin and relocation.
The question of home is complicated by migration. Migrants ‘leave’ home, ‘remake’ home and often dream of ‘going back home.’ In line with the domesticity assigned to women through patriarchal norms, female immigrants often play a crucial role in ‘remaking home’ in new contexts. They also engage in turning home into transnational and transcultural spaces, where identities are both preserved, challenged and remade. Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona explores the complexities of home for urban immigrants. What factors make an immigrant feel ‘at home’? To what extent is ‘home’ a space where cultural memories are replayed and maintained? To what extent is it a space of contact with the host culture and society?
Women increasingly migrate for reasons of work. As income earners, they also engage in the transcontinental and transnational enterprise of sending remittances, thereby contributing to their home economies as much as to their host ones. Many immigrant women, however, face the challenges of low-paid, low-skilled work with little recognition. Many are exposed to exploitation of various kinds. Many grapple with the fact that their educational qualifications are not recognized in host countries or with barriers of language and other skills. Nevertheless, work plays a crucial role in the integration of these immigrants, in making them feel ‘at home’ in the place of relocation. Work offers them pathways to public participation, to networking and to building a sense of citizenship in the host country. Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona explores the work-related contributions made by immigrant women to the city. It also considers work as a shifting paradigm where cultural differences are negotiated and where participation leads to a sense of belonging.
Alongside migration, urbanization is a major phenomenon of the twenty-first century. Barcelona is home to over 265,000 non-Spaniards, of whom just under half are women. Immigrant women play important roles in the caregiving and service sectors, often through informal labour. In addition, they are significant entrepreneurs and cultural mediators. Immigrant women contribute to the evolution of Barcelona as a city of global reference in myriad ways, from leaving new imprints on city spaces through acts of home and work, to starting social and other enterprises, to shaping new gendered and cultural perspectives both for themselves and for others. Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona maps the city through the perspectives of immigrant women, tracing the changing contours of this city as they remake home and engage in work here.