When Working Abroad Becomes a “Dosa” (Sin)

As globalization has advanced, Indonesia has focused on following the lead of the Philippines as a sending country. In 2011, about 70% of Indonesian migrant workers, new hires, were women. Until then, “men were the breadwinners as the head of the household” (Indonesian Matrimonial Law, Article 1), but in these new circumstances in which women have taken the role of breadwinner, what is the impact of this change on the social and economic condition of the migrant household? Will women migrant workers negotiate to acquire a new status based upon their upwardly mobile economic status? Will male migrants’ families try to regain their forfeited status in some way? What role will the sending community play in reconfiguring gender relations in the sending household?
In the field of migration studies, an abundance of previous studies have examined the issue described above (George, 2011; Hochschild, 2000 ; Ito and Adachi, 2008). In particular, Ito and Adachi (2008) articulated the relationship between gender and migration in Japan under the impact of globalization in terms of the “international division of reproductive labor.” As well as George (2011) discussed, based on their detailed fieldwork, professional labor migration in which nurses immigrate before their families, thereby transforming gender relations and class dynamics, which in turn alters households and immigrant communities.
In other areas of research, which consider migration from the perspective of the sending country, Indonesian migrant workers have been investigated, such as the harsh conditions in which women migrant laborers work or how they work outside of labor regulations in destination countries. Also, previous studies have pointed out the delayed political response to migrant labor issues by the Indonesian government as compared with the governments of other sending countries, such as the Philippines (Hirano, 2009 ; 2013 ; Irianto, 2011 ; Ueno, 2011.)
In this context, this paper discusses the research questions stated above, that is, how the “feminization of migration” defines gender relations in the sending household and community in a case in Cianjur Province, West Java, Indonesia, and whether these relations are renegotiated in the household and the community. This research, which is based on semi-structured interviews and in-depth interviews with migrant women, male family members who are left behind by women migrants, and religious leaders, was conducted intermittently between 2008 and 2012. I cite several narratives but use pseudonyms when referring to the subjects of this paper.
For this analysis, I use Connell’s framework, that is, gender regime. Connell ([2002]2008) presented the whole social patterns as gender order of society. In a society, we can find out a pattern in gender arrangements which is called gender regime of an institution, such as who was recruited to do what work. She proposes four dimensions as the basis for gender relations, which are power relations, production, emotional relations, and symbolism relations (culture, discourses). When an institutional pattern reflects a particular gender configuration, Connell named this pattern the “gender regime” (Connell, 2008: 97–117).
Understanding a gender regime as a theoretical framework can help us explain how women’s role can be explained in the spheres of production/reproduction, home, and community, as well as in state development policy.
The concept of gender regime provides a useful analytical perspective on how the pattern of the division of labor has been determined according to how women’s body is situated within each sphere listed above. As to the issue of female domestic workers crossing borders, I look at religious discourses and the response to them regarding the representation of women migrant workers’ body in discussing the sending community with Islamic values as an example of globalization.
In this paper, I analyze the two gendered structures of labor and power to see how they shape gender relations in the lives of women’s migrant workers in the sending community and how they prescribe religious discourses and the way in which it is practiced by women migrant workers and their male family members in their home and the sending community in line with religious discourse or not.
I examine the research questions stated above by studying the case of women migrant workers and their male family members in one of the largest communities that sends domestic workers to the Gulf countries, Cibinong City, Cianjur West Java, Indonesia.

About Keiko Hirano

Specially appointed associate Professor, Hokkaido University of Education, 1-2, Hachiman-cho Hakodate Hokkaido, 040-8567, Japan; hirano.keiko@h.hokkyodai.ac.jp

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