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You’re listening to an UNRISD podcast and I’m Rheem Al-Adhami. In this episode of Meet a Researcher, we talk to Dr Parvati Raghuram about global care chains. Dr Raghuram has coauthored an UNRISD paper on migration and care regimes in the South and is a reader in Human Geography at the Open University in the United Kingdom.
eBulletin: Could you give us an overview of what care chains look like?
Global care chains literature was, I think, first formulated by Arlie Hochschild. She used it to describe an empirical issue that had been picked up by [Rhacel] Parrenas’ work on migrant
Filipino women, and she was looking primarily on domestic workers. What she noted was the way in which there was a shortage of labour in some of the developed Northern countries around care, which was caused by a variety of things. One of them is the greater demand because of ageing populations, but [also] the fact that women who have primarily done much of the care were now going out to work so they were not at home to care for people who are older but also for young children. And so this meant that they were becoming increasingly dependant on migrant women who were coming in to replace their labour, especially within households, but also in other sectors. Because this kind of care work was itself not just staying in the household but more and more people were moving into care homes and so there were some other more formal arrangements being made. And migrant women were coming from other countries. In Parrenas’ work, she was noting how they were coming from the Philippines to do this work, leaving a care void in their own homes. So when women were leaving from the Philippines, they were leaving their own children behind and their own older people behind. And that meant that women from rural areas, or other members of the family, were coming in from their households into the households of these internationally migrant women. So basically rural-urban migration, or local migration, was used to fill the void that was left by internationally migrant households. In effect what was happening was that the value of labour was therefore being transmitted up across the chain.
eBulletin: In what ways are these global care chains gendered?
When you look at care chains, the things that people are highlighting are the extent to which it is the women moving out of households in the North which has led to this kind of care deficit within households in the North. It is the extent to which women from origin countries, from sending countries, who are coming in to fill this gap, not so much men. And when these women leave as international migrants, from countries like the Philippines, then it is yet again women who are picking up the pieces and not men.
eBulletin: So the image of care chains suggests that the linkages run in many different directions, rather than simply from the periphery to the core. What kind of movement is there from North to South?
There is also mobility, if not migration, from the North to the South. So, for instance, people going on electives from the North to the South, people going for charity work, and working as care workers. Development workers could be seen to have care work as part of their remit. So those are all things that could be included in a much wider definition of care, which I’ve consistently argued for.
eBulletin: Do domestic workers experience similar conditions across the world?
There are significant similarities because of the nature of the work, in that it is almost always unregulated—it occurs in private spaces, in individual households, where it is hard to get people together. It is [the] atomized, individualistic nature of the work. The worker and employer relationships are very tied up in paternalistic notions or notions of the family.
eBulletin: The International Labour Organization has recently begun pushing for an international convention on domestic workers as part of its Decent Work agenda. How important is this?
I think these conventions are absolutely critical in the context of a workforce which is now transnational. So, making regulations which are national is important but bilateral and multilateral forms of organization and regulation are increasingly critical. Because what happens to an Indian domestic worker in Saudi Arabia for instance? Now a lot of the Indian regulations are based on the fact that if they are registered as domestic workers—migrants—then they are covered by Indian law. But, of course, the worst off—the people who are struggling and who are most disadvantaged—are those who left under very straightened circumstances, under difficult circumstances: they didn’t even have the knowledge and ability to register themselves as migrants. Now if they go to Saudi Arabia and then get abused, neither Saudi Arabia nor the Indian government is responsible for them because they are not registered, so they are not part of a legal framework. And of course what we want to move towards is a human rights perspective where that recognition of them is based upon them as an individual. It is not status-based but it is rights-based, and it is based irrespective of location.
eBulletin: When I was in Jordan a few years ago I saw many Filipino domestic workers employed by wealthy Arab families. And the children seemed to be speaking more Filipino than Arabic. What do you see being the longer term impacts, culturally, socially, politically, economically on, social bonds, diaspora? Do you have any predictions?
I have a hopeful prediction, which is that I think socialization can be one of the ways in which communities can come to recognize similarities but also how to work with difference. And actually the fact that children are being brought up by people from very different cultures has opened up that opportunity for living with difference within the household. Unfortunately this is a hierarchical difference where one is not seen as valuable as the other. And it is only through making that difference work, as something which is positive, by actually recognizing that yes, this Filippino woman who was teaching the Jordanian, had something to offer. It is only through that that this sort of hopefulness will come to be justified. And I think this is something that all of us can work towards, in terms of recognizing the importance of not staying within our comfort zones—or what is familiar—but actually recognizing that familiarity has many aspects to it. So that culture is not a simple thing like where you come from, but it might be not just where you are from but where you are going. And I think we could all be going someplace better.
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For UNRISD, this is Rheem Al-Adhami in Geneva.