Mothers Who Move

By Victoria Palazzo

Migration, Racism and Gender

Migration has become a central point of discussion in British politics and the recent election results suggest that the debate will continue for a long time yet.

The question is- why is migration a gender issue and why should it be included in a blog such as Gender And The City? There are many answers to this question however the issue I shall address here is reproduction.

Reproducing migrants

There has been much scaremongering from the right of British politics over the issue of immigration. It has been alleged that expectant mothers cross the planet in order to use NHS facilities and in order to gain British citizenship for their children. This environment of distrust has lead to the detention of pregnant women and children in asylum facilities whilst services are also being refused to pregnant women without proper documentation.

‘Migrant’ motherhood is a gender-issue and one that exposes racism at the heart of the British establishment. Non-UK women are punished for their sexuality and resultant pregnancy. Politicians seek to ‘protect’ the Nation from the ‘threat’ of increasing non-ethnically-British children. Media sources capitalise on this fear in order to push the agendas of their advertisers and political affiliations leading in turn to an increase in racism.

This image of ‘overly-fertile’ foreign women has a history. During colonial periods (usually non-white) foreign women were portrayed as hypersexual. This can be seen throughout the artwork and literature of the period: think “exotic” and ask yourself what comes to mind. This ‘exotic’ and ‘rampant’ sexuality was seen as something to be controlled and thus one justification for colonialism was born. As the effects of colonialism were felt and inequalities grew this hyper-sexuality was used to ‘explain’ the suffering of the colonised. These women were too fertile, they were having too many children- unlike proper protestant, white, English Ladies. Thus international inequality was blamed on the foreign poor.

Fast-forward to today and we can still hear echoes of this fear of foreign sexuality in our press, from our politicians and amongst ourselves. Politicians promise to protect us from these hypersexual women: Government minister Lord Bates recently stated that migration to Britain must be controlled for precisely this reason. Journalists argue: Britain is full! We only want useful migrants! The terms of utility seem to be defined by education, employment history and physical abilities: three criteria that pregnant women are less likely to fulfil.

Post 2015 Election

The incumbent Conservative government, fresh off their 2015 victory have pledged to reduce immigration to the UK through a series of measures, including though restricting child benefit and social housing to EU Migrants (non-EU nationals already do not have access to these services). Women, due to various barriers to entry, tend to rely more heavily on these welfare provisions than men. These restrictions therefore are an example of how gender and racial bias converge in the current British political climate.

As global inequality grows, climate change intensifies and wars continue to rage people will continue to leave their homes in search of a better life. The issue of migration will not go away. The British public therefore has two options: Do we build a wall against migrants, isolating ourselves from the poor non-British other? Or do we seek to improve the global conditions that lead to increased migration in the first place?

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