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Migration is on the increase across the world, but a person's experience of it can be very different depending on their gender. Yet the variances in men's and women's situations as they tried to make new lives in new countries was relatively little studied when Middlesex's Professor Eleonore Kofman began to analyse them in 1992. Since that time she has acquired an international reputation in this vital research field.
"There had been little in the academic literature on migrant women, looking at their experiences and problems, how legislation and access to welfare affected them differently," she explains. "There's been an increasing globalisation of migration in general but men and women's experiences are very different. Women have had an increasing opportunity to migrate as independent migraters; traditionally they were always looked at as family migrants who were dependent on a man or joined a man. But there has been a greater independent movement of women, particularly for educational and labour reasons."
Today, the focus is largely on women who move in order to provide domestic work and care services. But this was only part of the story, as Professor Kofman's own experience shows: she was the perfect example of a different kind of female migrant: skilled, professional, salaried, moving from Australia to work in education in England.
"Traditionally migrant literature has discounted skilled migrant women and has looked at the sectors men are in. I was interested to look at both the deskilling many women face – often they will migrate with a university education but they can't get a job that is commensurate with their qualifications," she says. "You find a disproportionate number of women who are cleaning, providing care, who often have a degree. In many instances they can't get their qualifications recognised, or their English isn't good enough and they get stuck in those sectors. I'm interested in the strategies they use to try to overcome this, particularly how legislation and the nature of the labour market that they're in effects what they can do."
Professor Kofman has also studied the differences in access to social rights and welfare depending on whether a migrant is skilled or not. She explains: "A skilled migrant can bring in family members but someone who is coming in through a less skilled route can't. I've been very concerned about the tightening restrictions placed in the past decade in many European states on family migration and settlement."
Professor Kofman has undertaken a number of comparative European research projects and written briefing papers for the European Union and the European Women's Lobby, as well as barristers and NGOs looking at issues of migration, family migration and gender discrimination. As the subject of migration takes more prominence, policymakers, agenda setters and workers in the field turn to Middlesex and Professor Kofman to help them steer a fairer course.