Women’s migratory trajectories and urban spatial practices in Amman and Paris

Daphné Caillol [1]

Sri Lankan women waiting for the bus driving them to their workplace – Daphné Caillol

Daphné Caillol’s research focuses on the women’s migratory trajectories and urban spatial practices in two areas, Amman and Paris. She focuses on the trajectories of female domestic workers in the city through their life experiences (residential mobility, work places, and leisurely pursuits). She analyzes the presence of racialized bodies in urban public spaces and their modalities, including the process of appropriation, negotiation, (in)visibility in urban public spaces. To do so, Caillol analyzes the transformation of material urban public spaces, but also perceptions, representations and emotions of female migrant workers in relation to their practices in urban spaces. It allows her to reconsider the links between spaces, emotions, social integrations, and the legitimacy of minority groups with a gender loop. By comparing Jordan and France, she aims to understand the differing processes of (in)visibility and appropriation of spaces within differing legal frameworks.

Context of the study

Gendered and racialized labor market

In Jordan, the domestic worker’s labor market is channeled and regulated through a specific system of agencies between the originating countries and Jordan. This system of employment agencies uses the criteria of gender, class and race to market women. According to the employer profile and needs, the agency will sell or market women using racialized criteria. Recruiting agencies play an important role in shaping employers’ perceptions of domestic workers. The agencies represent women and convey their marketability according to their nationality. This will impact not only their wages but also their experience in urban public spaces.

In terms of gender, women from Southeast Asia are over-represented in their migrant community in Jordan. According to the Jordanian Statistics Office, in 2009 among the 15,000 registered Filipino workers in Jordan, 90% were women. In contrast, within the Sri Lankan community the gender distribution is more equal: 40% of the migrant community are men and 60% women [2]. The gender division within the labor market creates an over-representation of Asian migrants in the figure of female, and this has an important impact on their experience.

In term of class, the agency in Jordan develops a clear racialized hierarchy of women domestic workers in asking a potential employer $4,000 (USD) for a Filipina worker compared with $1,800 (USD) for a Sri Lankan worker. The price hierarchy perpetuates the image of the Filipina as the “best nanny” for the upper class. This will impact where they work, but also their monthly salary. Agencies ask for two to three times more for a Filipina than a Sri Lankan or an Ethiopian. This wage discrepancy also indicates class disparities. If you have a live-in Filipina it is not the same significance as having a live-in Sri Lankan. In this way it displays the employer’s class. Filipina women are also employed by the upper class for their reputation of being smarter and more intelligent than others. This allows them to work in upper class families more readily than domestic workers of other nationalities.

This labor market is mostly generated by racial stereotypes perpetuated by the agencies. Agents often advise employers about the nationalities of domestic workers to better suit the families, based on stereotypes. They maintain that Filipina are smarter and more intelligent than others. Sri Lankans are reputed to be harder workers and less apt to demand independence and push for certain rights. For example: to demand a mobile phone or the freedom to go out on weekends. Ethiopians are more obedient. There is also discrimination linked to skin color. Filipina have the reputation to be more « clean » and « beautiful » rather than women with darker skin.

The identity of female domestic workers is clearly stated by different agents based on a hierarchy of power defined in terms of sex, class and race.

Migratory Framework

The Jordanian labor market for domestic workers is regulated through a sponsorship system called the Kafala. In this labor market each migrant has to have a Kafil. The Kafil must be the migrant’s employer and a national citizen. He is a ‘legal representative’ and an intermediary with local society, without who the migrant can not legally exist (Beaugé 1986). Under the Kafala system, the migrant can only work for her Kafil. In most cases, the Kafil, or employer, takes the migrant’s passport on arrival in the household to ensure that they do not leave before the end of their contract. In Section 4 of the Jordanian Law on Domestic Workers [3], the Kafil is also referred to as ‘householder’ and is obliged to ‘employ the worker in his permanent or temporary place of residence’. Conversely, Section 5 relates to the worker’s duties and states that the migrant shall ‘refrain from leaving the house without permission of the householder who must be informed of the worker’s whereabouts’. The consequences of this system for live-in domestic workers are potentially far more dangerous than for other workers, because of their total isolation in the employers’ house and their vulnerable legal status. Jordan however is the only Arab country to have labor laws that include domestic workers. These laws outline an obligatory day off for domestic workers and other obligations which the employers must follow. This representation leads to the development of a normative ‘live-in’ trajectory for women domestic worker that aims to limit their spatial and social presence by defining which body belongs where.

Sample of the research participants

My work focuses on the women who have passed from live-in to live-out working status.    Indeed, while the legal system aims to enclose them in the domestic sphere, migrant women manage to circumvent the norm to live outside their employer’s house. Three types of trajectories can be drawn up corresponding to three types of circumventions. I call this new position ‘circumvention’ as this is not a negotiation. Filipino women manage to completely bypass the situation of live-in imposed by the Kafala. It goes further than daily negotiation to access public spaces and social life. However, capacity for circumvention depends on daily practice of negotiation that has been developed in live-in position.

The first group is made up of live-out women who are living on their own but have only one employer who is their Kafil. Observation has revealed two sub categories. First there are women who negotiated to live outside of the household after several years as a live-in worker with the same employer. This came from the construction of ‘a tie of confidence’ year after year with their employer, which give them the capacity to negotiate their exit from the house. Second, a part of migrant women decided to leave their employer’s house after a two contract, even though they had a good relationship.

The second group includes women I call ‘freelancer-legal’. It corresponds to women who are living outside the employer’s house and legally work for multiple families. These women manage to have their passports returned after a live-in contract. In most cases, these women find a fictive Kafil. What I call a fictive Kafil can be defined as a national (Jordanian) citizen who gets paid to have two or three migrants under his name to be their employer on administrative paper (Kafil). A woman then has to pay around $700 (USD) per year to be a legal freelancer.

The last group corresponds to women “freelancer-irregular”: this group of women did not manage to get their passport back when leaving their first employer as live-in employees. The women included in this category are mostly those who could not go out during their stay as live-in workers.

In France, all women are freelancers, regular or irregular. The system of agencies exist for some nationalities such as Eastern Europe women. Otherwise, women are entering the country through irregular channels. Mostly there are no contracts for domestic workers and the law does not regulate their work. Women are more “anonymous” in Paris than in Amman, but some process are similar.

Research Questions

 To understand the modality of presence of racialized body in public spaces, I have several research questions:

  • How do some women domestic workers manage to develop capability / competencies to invest new spaces (social spaces, work spaces, residential spaces, public spaces) whereas other don’t?
  • How are bodies, spaces, and emotions a co-constructed process which impacts public spaces and urban interactions?
  • How are the different spatial practices of women migrant domestic workers organized in Amman?
  • What are the interactions of these women in public space?
  • What are the different forms of space appropriation for women?
  • How were the city and the daily practices within specific spaces perceived and experienced by migrants and locals?

Research process

 First fields trip in 2017

During my first field research trip to Amman in 2017, I conducted an ethnographic study by living with 5 Filipina domestic workers for 2 months. This allowed me to grasp their daily life in the city and to follow them in their daily movements and in their intimacy. In addition, I stayed 2 more months in Jordan where I conducted observation in public spaces and in other communities of female workers such as Sri Lankan, Ethiopian and Indonesian communities. I conducted 30 interviews and urban walks in the city to understand workers’ presence in urban public spaces.

Second field research in 2018

I am on my second field research where I tried to develop original methodology to understand the link between emotions and city spaces. As such, I have documented workers through videos and photos. It allows me to understand how integration within the city is related to space, body and emotions. My current challenges are to integrate emotions in my study and to assess the collection of information on these matters. I would also like to return to my ethnographic methodology.

[1]   Daphne Caillol is a Ph.D. student in Geography at the University of Paris VII. Her interests include gender studies, migration, feminist theory, mobility and urban studies. She holds a Master of Geography from the University of Paris VII in 2013 before completing a Master degree in Political Science at the University of Paris I in 2014. Caillol wrote two master theses: on the spatial practices of Filipina domestic workers in Jordan and on the reintegration of Ethiopian women returnees from Saudi Arabia. Following her graduation, Caillol worked at the International Labor Organisation (ILO), and at the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Addis Abeba where she worked on a project to protect the rights of female Ethiopian domestic workers throughout the Middle East. From September 2015 to August 2016 Caillol was employed as a Mixed Migration Officer at the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Abidjan before gaining acceptance into the PhD program at the University of Paris VII. Throughout her studies she will conduct research on female migratory workers in Jordan.

[2] Jordanian Statistics Agency, 2009

[3] Jordanian law, Regulation No 90/2009 of Domestic Workers, Cooks, Gardeners and Similar Categories

Photos taken in Amman by Daphné Caillol as part of Lajeh’s programme can be found here.