A case study about the global policing of Third World intermarried women: Filipino women and marriage migration

Gwenola Ricordeau About the author

Resumo

A migração matrimonial é um fenômeno fundamentado em relações e atributos de gênero, moldado por políticas de Estado que podem encorajá-lo, controla-lo ou proibi-lo. Mulheres que migram em virtude ou através do casamento (particularmente mulheres de países do Terceiro Mundo) encaram crescentes dificuldades nos processos de reunião com seus noivos/maridos, decorrentes das políticas migratórias restritivas implementadas tanto pelos países emissores quanto receptores de migrantes. Baseado no trabalho de campo com mulheres filipinas migrantes por casamento em um contexto do mercado matrimonial globalizado, este artigo descreve o policiamento global a que essas mulheres são submetidas, bem como as expectativas de que seus casamentos sejam românticos e de que mulheres migrantes por casamento performatizem amor.

Migração Matrimonial; Agência; Policiamento; Estado; Gênero

Abstract

Marriage migration is a gendered phenomenon shaped by States policies that may encourage, control, or prohibit it. Female marriage migrants (in particular from Third World countries) face growing difficulties to reunite with their fiancés/husbands, due to restrictive migration policies implemented in both sending and receiving countries. Based on a fieldwork on Filipino marriage migrants, the paper describes, in the context of a globalized marriage market, the global policing of female marriage migrants and how their marriages are expected to be romantic and female marriage migrants to perform love.

Marriage Migration; Agency; Policing; State; Gender

History offers many examples of marriage migrations at a large scale, from women sent in colonized countries to marry male pioneers to “war brides” migrating to the US with their military husband in the twentieth century. This gendered phenomenon is shaped by States policies that may encourage, control, or prohibit it. In the time of globalized marriage market, men and women living in two different countries may have a hard time to get married, even if the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the “right to marry and to found a family” (article 16). Third Word female marriage migrants in particular face growing difficulties to relocate in First World countries to reunite with their fiancés/husbands, because of increasing controls, restrictions and suspicion that result from anti-immigrants policies. Furthermore, the implementation of anti-human trafficking policies (that supposedly protect them) may become an obstacle since even sending countries can deter women from marrying foreigners. As an example, in March 2011, Cambodia has forbidden weddings between Cambodian women and foreign men older than 50 (if their income is lower than $2,500 monthly).

My article is based on a case study about Filipino marriage migrant women. The Philippines are a fascinating field case for several reasons. First, Filipino women have for long epitomized “mail-order brides” (see below) and they are still a major player of the international matchmaking industry. Meanwhile, a law has been passed in 1990 that bans the activities of the international introduction agencies (see below) and marriage migrants undergo a strict process before departing the country. Besides, the Philippines have implemented an aggressive export policy of its labor force (see: Rodriguez, 2010), and women have been for a long part of labor migration. It has resulted in 10% of the Filipino population to live abroad, most of them as “Overseas Filipino Workers” (OFW).

Long after labor migration was recognized as a classic field of social sciences research, marriage migrations began being scrutinized in the 1980s and the early 1990s. First researches were devoted to the matchmaking industry and international introduction agencies (Wilson, 1988WILSON, Ara. American Catalogues of Asian Brides. In: Cole, Johnnetta (ed.) Anthropology for the Nineties. New York, The Free Press, 1988, pp. 114-125.; Villapando, 1989Villapando, Venny. The Business of Selling Mail-Order Brides. In: Asian Women United of California (ed.) Making Waves: An Anthology of Writings by and About Asian American Women. Boston, Beacon Press, 1989, pp. 318-327.; Tolentino, 1996Tolentino, Roland B. Bodies, Letters, Catalogs: Filipinas in Transnational Space. Social Text 14 (3), Durham, 1996, pp. 49-76.; Halualani, 1995Halualani, Rona T. The Intersecting Hegemonic Discourses of an Asian Mail-Order Bride Catalog: Pilipina “Oriental Butterfly” Dolls for Sale. Women’s Studies in Communication 18 (1), s.l, 1995, pp. 45-64.) and were connected with concern for women’s rights. Interestingly, debates raised then in several receiving countries, as Australia (Robinson, 1982Robinson, Kathryn. Filipino Brides: Slaves or Marriage Partners? A Comment. Australian Journal of Social Issues 17 (2), Sydney, 1982, pp. 166-170.; Watkins, 1982Watkins, David. Filipino Brides: Slaves or Marriage Partners? Australian Journal of Social Issues 17 (1), Sydney, 1982, pp. 73-83.; Wall, 1983Wall, Deborah R. Filipino Brides: Slaves or Marriage Partners? A Further Comment. Australian Journal of Social Issues 18 (1), Sydney, 1983, pp. 217-220.; Watkins, 1983Watkins, David. Filipino Brides Revisited. A Reply to Robinson and Wall. Australian Journal of Social Issues 18 (1), Sydney, 1983, pp. 221-222.), questioned the comparison of these marriages with “slavery” – a debate that is not still closed.

In the early 2000s, a new wave of scholarship focused on the gendered aspects of globalization and it showed how globalization affects female labor (Parreñas 2001; Ehrenreich, Hochschild, 2002), may result in an increase of “transnational” or “cross-border marriages” and marriage migrations (Constable, 2003Constable, Nicole. Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and ‘Mail Order’ Marriages. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2003.; Constable, 2005Constable, Nicole (ed.) Cross-border marriages: gender and mobility in transnational Asia. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.), and how marriage and labor migration may intersect (Piper, Roces, 2003). Meanwhile, this field of research has been enriched with fieldwork studies on intermarried women from various countries (Vietnam1 1 Thai, 2008. , Russia2 2 Rossiter, 2005 ; Johnson, 2007. , etc.) and their life conditions in their receiving countries (for example Japan: Piper, 1997Piper, Nicola. International Marriage in Japan: “Race” and “Gender” Perspectives. Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 4 (3), Abingdon [United Kingdom], 1997, pp. 321-339.; Nakamatsu, 2003Nakamatsu, Tomoko. International Marriage through Introduction Agencies: Social and Legal Realities of “Asian” Wives of Japanese Men. In: Piper, Nicola, Roces, Mina (eds.) Wife or Worker? Asian Women and Migration. New York, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, pp. 181-201.). Research about host countries has underlined how female marriage migrants have been considered as a threat (Hsia, 2007Hsia, Hsiao-Chuan. Imaged and imagined threat to the nation: the media construction of the “foreign brides’ phenomenon” as social problems in Taiwan. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 8, 1, Abingdon [United Kingdom], 2007, pp. 61-79.), in a context of growing concern about “sham marriages” or “marriages of convenience” (Charsley, Benson, 2012). While domestic violence and social isolation (Choi, Cheung, Cheung, 2012) that may be experienced by female marriage migrants has been increasingly investigated, research about their rights and citizenship (Toyota, 2008Toyota, Mika. International marriage, rights and the state in East and Southeast Asia. Citizenship Studies, 12, 1, Philadelphia, 2008, pp. 1-7; Lee, Hye Kyung. International marriage and the state in South Korea: focusing on governmental policy. Citizenship studies, 12, 1, Philadelphia, 2008, 107-123.; Lee, 2008; Chee, 2011Chee, Heng Leng. International marriages in Malaysia: issues arising from state policies and processes. In: Jones, Gavin, Hull, Terence, Mohamad, Maznah. (eds.) Changing marriage patterns in Southeast Asia: economic and social-cultural dimensions. London, Routledge, 2011, pp. 185-201.) has also been conducted.

Since the late 1970s, Filipino migrations have been particularly scrutinized, in particular the feminization of labor migration in the 1980s. Early research has been conducted about Filipino intermarried migrants (Cahill, 1990Cahill, Desmond. Intermarriages in International Contexts: A Study of Filipino Women Married to Australian, Japanese and Swiss Men. Quezon City, Scalabrini Migration Center, 1990.) and their life conditions in several host countries (especially Australia3 3 Roces, 1998. and Canada4 4 Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia, 2000. ). The discriminations (Holt, 1996Holt, Elizabeth. Writing Filipina-Australian Bodies: The discourse on Filipina Brides. The Philippine Sociological Review 44(1), Manila, 1996, pp. 58-78.) and domestic violence (Woelz-Stirling, Kelaher, Manderson, 1998) they may be exposed to in receiving countries, for example Filipina brides in Australia, have also been documented.

Elaborating from this stimulating field of research, my paper discusses how marriage migrants’ journeys are shaped by their encounter with State policies and procedures, both in sending and receiving countries. It also questions feminist and women movements in either sending and receiving countries, that are for the most part respectively Third World and First World countries. Consequently, debates over marriage migration extend divides and controversies between Third Word and First World feminisms. Meanwhile, these debates echo ones over prostitution/sex work, since they both mobilize the highly controversial concepts of “choice” (Law, 1997Law, Lisa. A Matter of “Choice”: Discourse on Prostitution in the Philippines. In: Manderson, Leonore, Jolly, Margaret (eds.) Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 233-261.) and “human trafficking.”

My paper first clarifies a bunch of expressions (“international matchmaking”, “marriage migration”, etc.) in the context a globalized marriage market and explains my methodology. I then analyze why marriage migration, when considering women’s agency, is not consistent with its framing as “human trafficking”. I later describe forms of control experienced by Filipino female marriage migrants. In the final section, I argue that global policing of Third World women is implemented through an untold alliance between States, NGOs and women movements that uses love marriage as a norm towards marital arrangements.

Globalized marriage market, marriage migration and international matchmaking

Clarification for expressions such as “mail-order marriages”, “international matchmaking” and “marriage migration” is needed. In the context of a globalized marriage market, these expressions refer to an intersecting phenomenon, but they point to various aspects of it.

“Mail-order marriage” is associated with the expression “mail-order brides” which is extremely derogatory for the women it designates – noteworthy, there is no such thing as “mail-order grooms”. “Mail-order marriage” refers to two persons who got acquainted through an intermediary or an introduction agency or website and marry without having previously met in person. Based on my fieldwork, I assert that this stereotypical “mail-order marriage” is hardly found nowadays in the Philippines. I met only a few women (all married to South Korean men), out of several dozen intermarried women, who had any personal contacts prior to their wedding.

Mail-order marriages and international introduction agencies and websites are connected – but most people who are introduced through international matchmaking agencies and website get acquainted before deciding to live as common law partners or to get married. International matchmaking is often considered an Internet-era phenomenon. But many cases can be found in history of large scale systems of introduction between women and men who were geographically distant. As an example, during the seventeenth century, United Kingdom and France sent women (often criminalized ones) to North America, Australia and New Zealand to wed pioneers5 5 See, for example, Jane Campion film, The Piano (1993): Ada is a mail-order bride from Scotland that marries a frontiersman. See: Enss, 2005. . The twentieth century displays many examples of ethnic minorities that have resorted to international matchmaking through catalogs and letters (Japanese “picture brides”) first and VHS later. Online international matchmaking can be viewed as an updated form of this long tradition. But whereas previous systems encouraged homogamy (men and women belonged to the same ethnic and social group), online international matchmaking promotes exogamy. It is also noteworthy that international matchmaking is essentially a heterosexual institution, since same-sex marriage is still marginal at a global level. International matchmaking is diverse: it may be very similar to dating websites or much elaborate, with “romance tours” (paid by foreign men to meet and date local women).

“Marriage migration” designates a path of migration (as work, study, family reunification, etc.), as migrants will be granted a fiancé or spouse visa. It implies an international marriage (that can be also coined as “cross-border” or “transnational” marriage). Spouses may have met through international matchmaking websites, acquaintances, personal/business travel, etc. Despite its most widespread form involves men and women from the same era (especially Asia), female marriage migration (to First World countries) has captivated the attention of the academics, the policy makers and women movements6 6 Some countries (as Senegal or the Dominican Republic for example) are famous for Western female tourists going there in search of intimate relations with male nationals, but it is noteworthy they seldom seek marriage. .

Methodology

This article elaborates on several researches I have conducted on international matchmaking (Ricordeau, 2011Ricordeau, Gwenola. À la recherche de la femme idéale… Les stéréotypes sexués et ethniques dans le commerce de “promises par correspondance”. Genre, sexualité et société 5, Paris [France], 2011 [https://gss.revues.org/1969 ]
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) and Filipino marriage migrants. Besides an analysis of the Philippine policy and public debates on marriage migration since 1990 (Ricordeau, 2010Ricordeau, Gwenola, Traîtresses ou victimes. Nationalisme et mariages mixtes aux Philippines. Diasporas. Histoire et sociétés, 15, Toulouse, 2010, pp. 125-139.), I have conducted a field study7 7 Sheilfa Alojamiento (researcher, Ateneo de Davao City University, Philippines) contributed to the field work. in 2008-2009, mainly in Manila and Davao City8 8 The main city of Mindanao island (the archipelago’s second largest island where the Filipino Muslim minority is concentrated). . I have retraced the migration process of women who got engaged or married to foreign men. My investigation was facilitated by the Filipino migration legal procedure: every migrant – whatever the reasons for his/her departure – must undergo training given by an authorized NGO. Only two NGOs are authorized to deliver a “Pre-Departure Seminar Orientation” (PDOS) for the migrants departing with a fiancée or marriage visa: St Mary Euphrasia Foundation - Center for Overseas Workers (SMEF-COW) and People's Reform Initiative for Social Mobilization (PRISM). The latter authorized me to carry out in situ observations. I observed the collective and individual meetings which Filipino women have to attend to obtain the “Guidance and counseling certificate of attendance” that authorizes their departure9 9 The few men that undergo the PDOS process in those NGOs are nearly all fiancé or married to Filipina OFWs and the process is systematically alleviated. . I conducted dozens of interviews with women engaged/married to foreign men. I mainly met them at PRISM, but also at the Bureau of immigration in Manila where many couples and families process paperwork. I also mobilized my own acquaintance network, but was actually more often solicited by it, since many of my informants wished to introduce me to Filipino women married to foreigners that did not match the stereotypes I, as a Westerner and a feminist, was assumed to have.

My research has been shaped by my own traits as a Western woman. It implies a disadvantage, due to an inherent social distance. Moreover, my limited fluency in the Filipino language allowed me to have personal interactions with interviewees, but not with the subtlety of a native speaker. But the advantage of me being a Western woman was not insignificant, since most women interviewed were reluctant to speak with fellow citizens about their marriages to a foreigner – these being due to forms of stigmatization they suffer. Although “mail-order marriages” are prohibited and the risk of prosecution is minimal, interviewees are still wary to discuss their marriages, even with NGO members (like PRISM) which are supposed to help them. I was thus a resource person for the women of the study who often asked for my personal opinion about their marriages plans, and even about the grooms-to-be (who were sometimes present, but because of their lack of fluency in Filipino prevented them from understanding us). I was also questioned about how risky it is to go to a Western country. I formed emotional bonds with these women during the fieldwork and even became a sort of accomplice to these women in their search for Western men (for example, while cruising in malls).

Marriage migration and women’s agency

The findings of my fieldwork are inconsistent with the framing of marriage migration as human trafficking that are abundant in media and public debates and policymaking. First the characteristics of the marriage migrants seldom fit with their portrayal as young and poor victims. Some of the women I interviewed were young (18-20 years), but most of them were older than 25 and professionals with higher education. Furthermore, poorest women, who live in rural zones and in shantytowns, are seldom able to meet, let alone date, foreign men. That been said, when interviewees’ agency is investigated, marriage migrants’ willingness to marry (in particular to a foreign man) and to migrate and their consent to risk clearly appear. Besides, international matchmaking (for those concerned) is not foreign to romance.

To say that female marriage migrants “have been married to” a foreign man is improper. In fact, they wanted “to marry” a foreigner and their current fiancé or husband is not always the first foreign man with whom they have had intimacy or romance. Women interviewed justify their marital choice by their criticism of the local marriage market. Filipino men are rejected because of their “laziness” and their “lack of future” and for being “womanizers” and “macho” (among other things). Besides, many interviewees cannot mate Filipino men because they are “too old”10 10 The norm that expect women to be married before they are 25 years old is very strong and women who do not conform to it have great difficulties to find a partner. , of their marital status11 11 For example, being estranged from a previous partners. Actually, very few are divorced, since there is no divorce law in the Philippines and the annulment procedure is very costly. or of having child(ren) – whether born in or out of wedlock. Their refusal to position themselves on the local marriage market can be interpreted as a refusal of the gendered rules of the marriage market – and at a broader extent of their matrimonial fate as women. So international marriages enable some women to escape the stigmatized status of “solteras” (single) and to conform to gender roles (as wives and mothers) that are expected of them.

By positioning themselves in a globalized marriage market, interviewed women are liberated from their inferior status and lack of opportunities on the local marriage market, and simultaneously reach a supply that meets their standards. They are aware, although not fully, of the gender and race stereotypes associated with Filipino women (like softness, kindness, etc.) that make them desirable to Western men. They know these stereotypes can be mobilized in their strategies to meet and date them. Interviewed women also cite physical and intellectual attributes12 12 In short, their whiteness (that implies the – desired – potentiality to have fair skin children), their virility (because they are broadly seen as having a Hollywood-actor look) and their supposedly modern ideas about women. of Western men that make them desirable, in spite of negative prejudices associated with “sugar daddies” and the forms of stigmatization which exist towards international marriages and marriage migrations. Marriage with a foreign man is also associated with achieving the status of women in Western countries and with experiencing forms of intimate relations (in and out of marriage) that are rather uncommon in the archipelago.

Interviewed women do not merely distinguish between “to marry to migrate” and “to migrate to marry.” The matrimonial option is sometimes considered as a way to become an OFW (Oversea Filipino Workers). Similarities which exist between work and marriage, particularly between domestic worker and wife status (Piper, Roces, 2003), are due to the lack of options available for the majority of OFWs. They are massively employed in the sectors of care (as nurses, nannies, etc.), entertainment and sex work, which are also conducive to personal interactions with Western men. Thus, in PRISM, where PDOS are also held for women departing for being domestic workers abroad, informal conversations with them show that the status of engaged/married women appears enviable to them. To make short how women see differences between marrying a foreigner and working abroad, a routine joke is very meaningful: “I would continue to wash the toilets, but they would be mine.”

Filipino women who marry with foreign men implicitly consent to risk. They are aware of stories about international marriages that turned into human trafficking and sex slavery and they often express their anxiety to have contracted a marriage with men who may be reputed (especially in the case of South-Koreans) violent, racist and alcoholic. If the PDOS provide attendees with security rules and advice, they also nurture informal solidarity networks among participants through exchanges of information and building up links through online social networks (like Facebook). Marriage, although recognized as a risky option, appears to be the only opportunity to escape a marital and economic “fate” in their own country. Marriage, certainly the riskiest choice, is also, in case of success, the most profitable one.

The assumption that marriage migration is foreign to romance is frequent, especially if partners have met through international matchmaking websites/agencies. But interviewees often stress that meeting someone in “real life” and through international introduction websites/agencies are similar. Formal introduction (through Internet website or an agency) is simply considered offering more opportunities of matching than “real life.” Besides, love is less regarded as “chemistry” and more like a skill that has to be learned in the course of time and that will grow with time (especially the birth of children, etc). The prejudice against international matchmaking websites or agencies is actually due to its performance of a rational choice over emotion (and love should have nothing to do with rationality). But it is often overlooked that most partners romanticize how they met – even when they resorted to international introduction websites/agencies. As an example, many intermarried women recall that there was “love at first sight” during a group introduction to a foreign man (during his “romance tour”) or when they were “cruising” through places attended by many foreign men (in particular beaches and shopping centers).

As a whole, my findings strongly contrast with the perception (at least in the Philippines) that marriage migration is equivalent to human trafficking. On the opposite, they underline female marriage migrants’ agency. Actually, I observed, along with other researchers, that these women have frequently mobilized several modes of dating (including international matchmaking websites/agencies and relatives based overseas). Like other female migrants, marriage migrants and the so-called “mail-order brides” are rarely the most devoid of economic and cultural capitals. In fact, interviews show women’s strategies to mobilize and nurture their cultural capital: for example, computer or language skills have to be demonstrated or learned, as an appropriate form of self-presentation in order to be noticed and selected in the globalized marriage market. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that using a international introduction websites/agencies allows women more freedom than when they resort to a matchmaker, especially if he or she is a relative (Constable, 2006Constable, Nicole. Brides, Maids, and Prostitutes: Reflections on the Study of “Trafficked” Women. Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies 3 (2), Sydney, 2006, pp. 1-25.).

Restrictions and controls

Besides facing the “mail-order bride” stigma in both sending and receiving countries (See: Ricordeau, 2017), female marriage migrants undergo restrictive and suspicious immigration procedures that may began, as in the case of Filipino women, when they are still in their home country.

In the Philippines, a 1990 law13 13 Republic Act 6955, or Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law. See URL: http://www.lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra1990/ra_6955_1990.html prohibits and heavily sanctions (up to 8 years of imprisonment) “mail-order marriages.” Actually, it only prohibits the introduction of Filipino women (and not of Filipino men) to foreigner for financial compensation by an agency or an intermediary. Although agencies and individuals acting informally throughout the Philippines territory are rarely prosecuted, it nevertheless forces women to fabricate a credible cover story about how they met their partner. This cover story is seldom very elaborate (they typically pretend they met in a mall in Manila) and has often to be repeated frequently, in particular to the PDOS and immigration agents, but also to their close relatives and acquaintances.

The 1990 law reinforces the control structures of Filipino emigration that are rooted in the national labor export policy since the 1970s. All OFWs must attend a PDOS which is organized by an authorized NGO, like PRISM or SMEF-COW. But Filipinos leaving the country with a fiancée/marriage visa must attend a specific PDOS which includes a “Guidance and counseling session” that provides them with “adequate information about intermarriages and emigration, social and cultural realities abroad, as well as the networks of support available for [the] women in difficulty.”14 14 CFO website, see URL: http://www.cfo.gov.ph The length of these group sessions depends on the destination country: a half-day for many of them, but sessions for Japan or South Korea, countries considered as particularly “risky”, last one or two days. They are followed by an individual interview with a counselor who may – or may not – issue a “Guidance and counseling attendance certificate” which is necessary to leave the country.15 15 The document is required to get from the CFO the “Guidance and counseling certificate” (GCC) that is checked during pre-departure immigration controls at the Philippine border.

During this individual interview, the engaged/married woman is questioned about her past, her partner, and her relationship with him. Counselors must verify that the interviewee is of legal age and that her papers are in order. They must also inquire as to whether or not the interviewee is a “mail-order bride,” being forced to marry, being enlisted by a prostitution network and if her partner is on the black list of the Commission of Filipino Overseas (as a “serial sponsor” or convicted of domestic violence towards a previous Filipino partner). This examination is conducted through personal questions about the interviewee’s family history, her social and professional background, her past love life, etc. Counselors are asked to evaluate the “sincerity” of the interviewee through questioning the veracity of the relationship (for example, by asking which language is spoken by the couple) and by checking that the woman is not a victim of domestic violence. In brief, counselors have to make sure that the interviewee knows her partner “personally” and details regarding his past. Counselors systematically ask to see pictures, in particular those taken during the wedding. Counselors’ attention is generally focused on those wedding pictures since they must evaluate if the wedding was genuine or just for administrative purposes. Their evaluation is especially based on the number of people attending the celebration, how they are connected to the bride (parents, friends, or just officials), and the apparent cost of the ceremony (wedding dress, church ceremony, etc.).

In receiving countries, marriage migrants have to undergo strict immigration procedures that may limit the number of their entrance (for example, Taiwan has yearly quota for Chinese female marriage migrants). The procedure may also aim to check the authenticity of their marriage in order to detect marriages of convenience for purposes of immigration (that may be known by various expressions, like “green card marriage” in the United States, “white marriage” in France, etc.). Apart from the risk of being denied entrance in the country, such marriages are criminalized in numerous countries. Besides the entrance procedure, female marriage migrants do not have access immediately to citizenship – and have sometimes restricted access to labor market (for example in South Korea). The expression “marital citizenship” has been coined by Fresnoza-Flot and Ricordeau (2017)Fresnoza-Flot, Asuncion, Ricordeau, Gwenola. Introduction. In: Fresnoza-Flot, Asuncion, Ricordeau, Gwenola (eds.) Southeast Asian Women on the Move: International Marriages and Marital Citizenship. London, Routledge, 2017, 1-21. to refer to their specific path to citizenship.

Global policing of Third World women

In this final section, I argue that policies that are implemented to “protect” female marriage migrants, both in sending and receiving countries, are based on an untold alliance between States, NGOs and women movements that uses the Western norm of love marriage in marital arrangements against Third World women,

In the Philippines, politicians often call for a more effective protection of Filipino women who are going abroad (to marry or to work), but their situation in their own country and their exploitation by their countrymen are much less discussed. The masculine and national anxiety expressed over marriage migration of Filipino women is intertwined with men’ experience: because of women’ access to the globalized marriage market, Filipino men are put in competition with Western men and they suffer from devaluation. The reduction of male oppression on women to that the one practiced by Westerners is significant of an analysis of the world politico-economic order that confuses women’s honor with the Nation’. According to Jackson, Huang and Yeoh (1999), the popularization of this type of analysis is due to the elites, particularly the intellectuals, and their bitterness towards migrants, often better paid than themselves, and unavailable to serve them.

Stigmatization experienced by Filipino women fiancée/married to foreigners is related to the expectation imposed upon female migrants to conform to a certain ideal of Filipino femininity which distinguishes “the good migrant” – whose martyrdom is celebrated – from others (Ricordeau, 2011Ricordeau, Gwenola. À la recherche de la femme idéale… Les stéréotypes sexués et ethniques dans le commerce de “promises par correspondance”. Genre, sexualité et société 5, Paris [France], 2011 [https://gss.revues.org/1969 ]
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). Women who challenge the “black and white” stereotyping, either as workers or as victims, are frequently rejected for their supposed “loose morality” and thus seen as “traitors” to national honor since they scramble the traditional representations of gender relations. But the forms of stigmatization are also based on the representation of the “mail-order bride industry” as a “route into the sex industry” (Hughes, 2000Hughes, Donna M. The “Natasha” Trade: The Transnational Shadow Market of Trafficking in Women. Journal of International Affairs 53(3), New York, 2000, pp. 634-635.) and thus they undergo stigma generally applied to female prostitutes.16 16 About shared stereotyping of intermarriages and prostitution, see: Constable, 2006.

All over the world, feminist and women' organizations positions on female marriage migration are much contrasted and to some extent similar to those about prostitution/sex work. In First World countries, because feminist movements has for long denigrated the domestic sphere and marriage and has thought that non-domestic labor is emancipatory for women, female migrants’ marriages are hardly considered a form of emancipation. Besides, many currents of feminism acknowledge the dichotomy marriage/prostitution and thus pose love marriage as a preferred option among marital arrangements. An alternative perspective would admit that love marriage is quite a recent and has long been a Western phenomenon. Moreover, along the “continuum of the economic-sexual exchanges” (Tabet, 2004Tabet, Paola. La grande arnaque. Sexualité des femmes et échange économico-sexuel. Paris, L’harmattan, 2004.), it may be difficult to evaluate what may be called “authentic” love.

The norm of love marriage comes with other standards like the similarity of economic situation between the spouses. Women’s love is always questioned when they upper-marry, while men’s down-marrying is never debated. The case of female marriage migrants has been coined as “global hypergamy” (Constable, 2005Constable, Nicole (ed.) Cross-border marriages: gender and mobility in transnational Asia. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.). But it should be stressed that the intermarried women’s social mobility is often limited since they mostly come from educated backgrounds and the middle class. For example, at the end of the 1980s, 29% of Australian women born in the Philippines had university diplomas, whereas only 3% of those born in Australia had one (Jackson, Flores, 1989, 44). Married to men who are employed as professionals, they sometimes even experience a form of downgrading compared to the position which they occupied in the Philippines17 17 A similar observation is made about Vietnamese women married to US men in: Thai, 2002. , even if symbolically they reach the Western and/or “First World” status.

Despite a growing field of research about marriage migrations that show the complexity of the phenomenon that can hardly be reduced to human trafficking, it still raises political positions that lack nuance. As sex work (for example: Kempadoo, Sanghera, Pattanaik, 2005), marriage migration is used for the anti-human trafficking agenda all over the world, including in Brazil (see: Piscitelli, 2012Piscitelli, Adriana. Revisiting notions of sex trafficking and victims. Vibrant – Virtual Brazilian Anthropology 9 (1), January - June 2012 [http://www.vibrant.org.br/issues/v9n1/adriana-piscitelli-revisiting-notions-of-sex-trafficking-and-victims/].
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; Blanchette, Da Silva, 2012). In sending countries, it may be observed that some feminist and women movements – that irrigate the NGOs sector – may align with the anti human-trafficking perspective that is far from empowering Third World women. Other researchers, especially in Brazil (for example: Piscitelli, 1996Piscitelli, Adriana. Third World Practices, First World Funding and The Women Between: A Case Study In Brazil. Atlantis, 21(1), 1996, pp. 30-39.), have demonstrated how First World funding may conflicted with Third World women activism and/or (re)shape it. Among other things, the NGOization of the women movements often results in their support for the implementation of policies that are far from empowering women, but serve clearly nationalist interests (Ignacio, 2000Ignacio, Emily Noelle. Ain’t a Filipino (Woman)? An Analysis of Authorship/Authority through the Construction of “Filipina” on the Net. The sociological Quarterly 41(4), Berkeley, 2000, pp. 551-572.). Their untold alliance contributes to the global policing of women and use love marriage as a norm and expect women to perform their love.

Conclusion

Marriage migration is not an easy journey: it combines risks inherent to migration and to marriage. Some female marriage migrants may end up in prostitution or in brothels, as told by the anti-human trafficking propaganda. But nearly all men who marry female marriage migrants sincerely desire to (re)start a family and are not masterminded criminals. It is uncertain if female marriage migrants face higher risks of domestic violence, but it is certain that their immigrant status – that is highly dependent on their husband – contributes to their vulnerability.

Marriage migration may empower women who want to fulfill a family ideal, especially for those who cannot find a partner on the local marriage market for whatever the reasons. First World migration policies allow them little agency. Since international marriage is often stigmatized as a kind of prostitution, intermarried Filipino women must frequently hide their past in order to conform to what is expected from a “good migrant” and “honorable woman.” In countries where there is a broad Filipino community due to work migration (like the United States, Australia and Canada), Filipino women who migrate through marriage are much more isolated from the rest of the community than in countries where the Filipino community is smaller, as in France, Germany or Switzerland (See: Ordonez, 1997Ordonez, Raquel Z. Mail-Order Brides: An Emerging Community. In: ROOT, Mari P. (ed.) Filipino Americans, Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks [Canada], Sage Publications, 1997, pp. 121-142.). In the latter situation, we can observe strong relationships between intermarried couples. Men would sometimes introduce their longtime friends to their wives’ friends or advised them to resort to introduction agencies and get married to a countrywoman of their friend’s wife.

Interestingly, it may be observed that receiving countries are increasingly concerned with “scam marriage” (called “grey marriage” in France) – an expression that refers to (male) citizen duped by a (female) foreigner who marry to be able to migrate and/or get residency status. For long, states have pretended to protect women and that resulted in disempowering them. They are now willing to protect male citizens from deception that may be caused by female foreigners. It sounds like a call for questioning how citizenship is gendered.

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  • 1
    Thai, 2008Thai, Hung Cam. For better or for worse: Vietnamese international marriages in the new global economy. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 2008..
  • 2
    Rossiter, 2005Rossiter, Marian J. Slavic Brides in Rural Alberta. Journal of International Migration and Integration 6(3-4), 2005, New Jersey, pp. 493-512. ; Johnson, 2007Johnson, Ericka. Dreaming of a Mail-Order Husband: Russian-American Internet Romance. Durham, Duke University Press, 2007..
  • 3
    Roces, 1998Roces, Mina. “Kapit sa patalim” (Hold on to the Blade): Victim and Agency in the Oral Narratives of Filipino Women Married to Australian Men in Central Queensland. Lila: Asia-Pacific Women’s Studies Journal 7, 1998, pp. 1-19..
  • 4
    Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia, 2000Philippine Women Centre of British Columbia. The New Frontier for Filipino Mail-order Brides. Canada: Philippine Women Center of B.C., 2000..
  • 5
    See, for example, Jane Campion film, The Piano (1993): Ada is a mail-order bride from Scotland that marries a frontiersman. See: Enss, 2005Enss, C. Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier. Guilford [United States], TwoDot, 2005..
  • 6
    Some countries (as Senegal or the Dominican Republic for example) are famous for Western female tourists going there in search of intimate relations with male nationals, but it is noteworthy they seldom seek marriage.
  • 7
    Sheilfa Alojamiento (researcher, Ateneo de Davao City University, Philippines) contributed to the field work.
  • 8
    The main city of Mindanao island (the archipelago’s second largest island where the Filipino Muslim minority is concentrated).
  • 9
    The few men that undergo the PDOS process in those NGOs are nearly all fiancé or married to Filipina OFWs and the process is systematically alleviated.
  • 10
    The norm that expect women to be married before they are 25 years old is very strong and women who do not conform to it have great difficulties to find a partner.
  • 11
    For example, being estranged from a previous partners. Actually, very few are divorced, since there is no divorce law in the Philippines and the annulment procedure is very costly.
  • 12
    In short, their whiteness (that implies the – desired – potentiality to have fair skin children), their virility (because they are broadly seen as having a Hollywood-actor look) and their supposedly modern ideas about women.
  • 13
    Republic Act 6955, or Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law. See URL: http://www.lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra1990/ra_6955_1990.html
  • 14
    CFO website, see URL: http://www.cfo.gov.ph
  • 15
    The document is required to get from the CFO the “Guidance and counseling certificate” (GCC) that is checked during pre-departure immigration controls at the Philippine border.
  • 16
    About shared stereotyping of intermarriages and prostitution, see: Constable, 2006Constable, Nicole. Brides, Maids, and Prostitutes: Reflections on the Study of “Trafficked” Women. Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies 3 (2), Sydney, 2006, pp. 1-25..
  • 17
    A similar observation is made about Vietnamese women married to US men in: Thai, 2002Thai, Hung C. Clashing Dreams: Highly Educated Overseas Brides and their Low-Wage U.S. Husbands. In: Ehrenreich, Barbara, Hochschild, Arlie (eds.) Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York, Metropolitan Books, 2002, pp. 230-253..

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    2017

History

  • Received
    21 Apr 2017
  • Accepted
    10 Oct 2017
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