Tag Archives: feminism

What would be the best way to advance feminism? Open borders

Tiago Ribeiro dos Santos, the author of this guest post, is a diplomat at the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil and a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either institution.


Today is International Women’s Day. It is the day we celebrate how much women have achieved since the beginning of the feminist movement but, more than that, it is a day to realize how much there is still to accomplish in gender equality. Even in developed countries, discrimination happens in so many ways that it may be hard to pick a specific way to help the plight of women.

I say we should try to help the vast majority of women worldwide who live in poor, repressive societies. The challenges a woman in New York faces, however serious they are, pale in comparison to what a woman in the most repressive countries has to deal with.

Many feminists heavily prioritize advancing women’s rights in developing countries exactly because of this difference in the size of the challenges. Women (and men) from around the world fight practices such as stoning, female circumcision, abusive dress codes and several others. Most of the efforts involve some form of governmental or non-governmental pressure to stop these injustices from happening.

But one neglected approach is to allow these oppressed women move to a society where they would not be oppressed. To let them live a life (significantly) free of discrimination, persecution and poverty. Which is what open borders would achieve. The number of women who would benefit is enormous. As mentioned previously in the open borders blog, 49% of migrants are women, according to the International Organization for Migration.

I will not delve into what other effects an open borders policy would achieve, because many others have done so with much  more competence than I could attempt to achieve. What I would like people to take away from this day of reflection is that if we are serious about helping the most afflicted women in the world we should consider allowing them to enjoy the benefits we have already conquered alongside us.

Feminism, open borders, and nannies

A while back, Joel Newman and Victoria Ferauge wrote a couple of posts on open borders and women. Joel argued that women would particularly benefit from the opportunity to escape countries where women’s status is low and their opportunities restricted. Victoria said that “open borders would be great for women,” for the same reasons they would benefit everyone but also because many women migrate to be with husbands, and in citizen/non-citizen marriages there is an inherent power imbalance which a generalized right to migrate would resolve.

My take is a bit different.

First, a little about myself. When I was single, I preferred younger women, and had a mild basis against careers. Younger women tend to be more beautiful, and promise more years of beauty to come, but that was a minor factor. More importantly, they have more years of fertility ahead of them, and I like big families. Careers were a minus for the same reason: a woman with a career is more likely not to feel she has time for children. A century ago, when contraception wasn’t the norm and childbearing a marital duty, I might have had less of a bias against career women, since fertility was an obligation, but nowadays, a man can’t assume that a right to get his wife pregnant inheres in marriage. She has to want it. She can’t commit, either. If she changes her mind, tough luck. At least, as far as I understand. My church (pious membership in which was an absolute precondition for me marrying anyone) quietly but definitely disapproves of voluntary childlessness, and that was some protection. Certainly, I would be safe from a church wife aborting my child. But I’d feel a little more comfortable with a wife for whom childrearing was the major item on her life agenda, than with a woman with her heart set on a career. I’m happy to say, I found one. It’s wonderful. I highly recommend it to other bachelors.

Now, these preferences of mine would be very retrograde and reprehensible from a feminist perspective. If all men had them, women’s opportunities in life will be quite different from men’s. Men have more time to pursue careers, which will then help them find wives. Women who focus on career in their 20s will sacrifice their most competitive years in the marriage market, and the hard-won career will continue to count against them. It might even be helpful to sacrifice careers pre-emptively to signal their housewifely ambitions to potential husbands. Universities, law schools, and employers may accept them on an equal basis with men, but if they take these opportunities, their prospects in personal life, unlike those of their male colleagues, will be deteriorating fast. Not fair! Yet my preferences were not only in harmony with my instincts and tastes, they were a wholly reasonable way to pursue a very natural and worthy goal. Truth be told, I am rather unsympathetic with the “gender equality” agenda. Yes, domestic violence is a problem, single mothers in poverty are a problem, Saudi Arabia limits women’s freedom far too much, and I’m all for women being allowed to enter the full array of professions and public offices. But I’m not troubled if few women choose to enter some professions, or turn out to be competitive in them, or if voters usually elect men; I’m not bothered by male advantages in average pay which usually reflect differences in work hours, risk tolerance, competitiveness, experience, etc.; I don’t think men who prefer housewives to career women ought to be blamed for it; and it’s absurd to regard housewives in comfortable suburbs as victims just because circumstances and childcare responsibilities haven’t given them the same opportunities to pursue careers as their husbands enjoy. I am sympathetic to women who, rather than demanding equal opportunity as a right, simply feel that childcare is too easy a job for them, and want to make more use of their talents for the good of humanity. To that, I’ll return.

For now, using my own experience/preferences as a point of departure, here’s a little exercise that may shed light on how open borders could affect the marriage market. It may be more amusing than insightful– when I first saw the old demand-and-supply model applied this way, I thought it was a hilarious joke, but nothing more– but at least it makes a certain interesting hypothesis clear. Continue reading Feminism, open borders, and nannies

Open Borders Would be Great for Women

This is a guest post by Victoria Ferauge. Victoria is an American expatriate currently living in France.  She thus has first hand knowledge of how immigration controls work and impact migrants. Victoria also maintains a blog here.

I am an immigrant.  In 1989 right after I graduated from university I left the United States for France.  I have lived nearly 20 years now in the Hexagon where I am a legal resident and hope to be a citizen soon.

I’m not alone. According to the International Organization for Migration, 49% of the 214 million international migrants are women.  So why do so many of the discussions about migration assume that the average migrant is a relatively young man seeking better opportunities elsewhere?  This gender bias makes it very hard to join a conversation that revolves primarily around the economics of migration and ignores all the other factors that go into every woman’s (and man’s) decision to cast him or herself onto a distant shore.

In a previous post here on Open Borders, Joel Newman talked about one advantage that women would have under Open Borders: escape from persecution and discrimination .  This is certainly true but these cases don’t represent the majority of woman migrants.  It’s incorrect to assume that “escape” is the primary reason that woman migrate.  Some of our reasons (like opportunity) are, in fact, very similar to those commonly attributed to men.  The Moroccan women I know here in France came because their language skills and degrees meant more opportunity for them in a Francophone country in the EU, and not because they felt actively persecuted at home.  Other migrants like myself had other reasons to migrate that were just as important as the chase after better opportunities.

Family is one of these.  It can be about joining family members already living outside the home country, it can be a decision to get married and start a family with a native citizen in another country, or it can mean moving the entire family to a safer place to raise children in a society that invests in children.  For the record, one of the primary reasons I’ve heard from American immigrants in Europe and elsewhere for migrating is to raise children in a less violent society with better public schools.  For this, they were more than willing to trade economic opportunity (and pay higher taxes) for a more “family friendly” environment.

The problem women migrants face when they migrate to join family (especially a spouse) is that the woman begins her migration journey as the appendage to the man.  The assumption is one of “dependent” status. This impacts the economic equality of immigrant women within their marriages to citizens or to other legal residents.  In most countries it is a fact that women make less than men.  Many skilled immigrants are under-employed compared to their education level and skill sets during the time that they assimilate and learn the language.  If you combine the two, this means that the difference between the native husband’s income and that of the foreign woman struggling to start or restart a career, can be enormous.  As a result of this inequality, she may have less power when it comes to deciding how the children are brought up, what language(s) to use in the home, and what traditions will be followed.

To be very clear all too often her right to live and work in the country of arrival is based on her relationship with her spouse (or another family member – usually a father or brother) and that gives them extraordinary power over her. This power lessens over time as the woman establishes residency but in the beginning, it is a powerful weapon that can be used to control a woman’s behaviour in the host country.

So my argument for Open Borders is simply this:  It would give us women more equality in our migration journeys.  We could enter other countries on our own terms, and our status and ability to stay, to live and work, would be completely independent of our husbands or fathers.  And finally, it would make bi-national marriages and partnerships where one is a citizen and the other is not, much more equal.

And that is why Open Borders would be good for women everywhere, regardless of socioeconomic status and country of origin.

Women and Open Borders

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the links contain graphic descriptions of rape, assault, and other forms of abuse.

In May, Christine Pelosi, chair of the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, urged feminists to support “immigrants’ rights as women’s rights” and “push for the most women-friendly immigration bill possible.”  She also observed that “many women’s rights advocates don’t see immigrants’ rights as a ‘women’s issue’ either out of privilege or unfamiliarity.”  Ms. Pelosi is correct about the overlap between immigration policy and the welfare of many women, although she doesn’t identify the best way to help women around the world: open borders policies in Western countries.

Before addressing how open borders could help women, I would like to observe that, just as many feminists may not concern themselves with “immigrants’ rights,” there is a dearth of women writing in support of open borders.  None of the contributors to this site are women.  Among those authors supporting open borders who don’t appear on this site, Vipul identifies only three women: Teresa Hayter, Jacqueline Stevens, and Aviva Chomsky.  (Harriet Grimsditch, a founding member of No One Is Illegal UK, can also be added.) (Ms. Chomsky’s support of open borders has to be inferred.  In her book  “They Take Our Jobs” and 20 Other Myths About Immigration (2007), she writes that “the decriminalization of border crossing would encourage almost all would-be immigrants to pass through established inspection stations…” (p. 190))  It is unclear why women are significantly underrepresented in authoring arguments in favor of open borders.  (It is interesting that a survey of global public opinion showed no gender differences in views on immigration policy.)

Open borders potentially could benefit women even more than men.  Like men, women would benefit from the economic opportunities made available by open borders and, conversely, be released from the various hardships imposed by restrictionism such as deportation, detention, separation from family, fear, exploitation, and being forced to remain in their home countries.

In addition, given the special plight of many women in many developing countries (and some wealthier countries, like Saudi Arabia) open borders would provide a crucial means of escaping their societies for the safety and freedom of the Western world.  In their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide (2009), Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write that “in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.” (p. xvii)  They ask, “Why is acid thrown in women’s faces, but not in men’s?  Why are women so much more likely to be stripped naked and sexually humiliated than men?  Why is it that in many cultures, old men are respected as patriarchs, while old women are taken outside the village to die of thirst or to be eaten by wild animals?  Granted, in the societies where these abuses take place, men also suffer more violence than males do in America–but the brutality inflicted on women is particularly widespread, cruel, and lethal.” (p. 67)

As Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn suggest, many women around the world face widespread violence.  Some of the perpetrators are family members.  While domestic violence certainly exists in the U.S. and other Western countries, it is more pronounced and more tolerated in certain societies.  A Guatemalan lawyer claims that over a decade in her country, more than 4,000 women were killed in domestic violence, and only 2 percent of these cases had been solved.  Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn describe the case of Zoya Najabi, an Afghan who was married at age twelve to a sixteen year old boy and who reported that “‘Not only my husband, but his brother, his mother, and her sister–they all beat me…’”  Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn note that “the worst moment came when Zoya’s mother-in-law was beating her and Zoya unthinkingly kicked back.  Resisting a mother-in-law is an outrageous sin.  First, Zoya’s husband dug out an electric cable and flogged his wife until she fell unconscious.  Then, the next day, her father-in-law strapped Zoya’s feet together, tied her down, and gave a stick to the mother-in-law, who whipped the soles of Zoya’s feet.  ‘My feet were beaten until they were like yogurt,’ Zoya said.” (pp. 68-69)  Two other Afghan women were beaten each day for a week by their uncle and cousins, under their father’s supervision, for refusing to marry cousins. (pp. 156-157) Another form of domestic violence in parts of the world involves “honor” killings.  Sometimes, write Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn,  “… a family kills one of its own girls because she has behaved immodestly or has fallen in love with a man…” (p. 82)  They estimate that there are at least 6,000 honor killings each year.

Women are threatened by strangers as well, with little protection from law enforcement.  In the Ethiopian countryside, according to the Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn, “…if a young man has an eye on a girl but doesn’t have a bride price (the equivalent of a dowry, but paid by the man), or if he doubts that the girl’s family will accept him, then he and several friends kidnap the girl, and he rapes her.  That immediately improves his bargaining position, because she is ruined and will have difficulty marrying anyone else.  The risks to the boy are minimal, since the girl’s parents never prosecute the rapist–that would aggravate the harm to their daughter’s reputation and would be resented in the community as a breach of tradition.”  Until 2005, the authors note that “Ethiopian law explicitly provided that a man could not be prosecuted for violating a woman or girl he later married.” (62)   Similarly, a Mexican woman related how a man “… made her live with him, and forced her to have sex with him by putting a gun or a machete to her head, by breaking her nose and by threatening to kill the small children of her sister.  Once when she became pregnant, she said, she barely escaped alive after he had poured kerosene on the bed where she was sleeping and ignited it…  Local police dismissed her reports of violence as a ‘private matter,’ the court documents said, and a judge she turned to for help tried to seduce her.  ‘In Mexico, men believe they have a right to abuse their women because they are like a possession,’ she said.”   Mr. Kristof and Ms. DuWunn report that in Pakistan authorities are indifferent  “to injustices suffered by the poor and uneducated.”  They quote a gynecologist in Karachi who treats poor young girls who have been raped, usually by wealthy perpetrators: “‘When I treat rape victims, I tell the girls not to go to the police… Because if a girl goes to the police, the police will rape her.’” (pp. 83-84)

Mr. Kristof and Ms. DuWunn note that some recent conflicts, including those in Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Congo, have involved mass rapes. (p. 83) Even after the conflict ended in Liberia, the predation against women persisted.  According to Mr. Kristof, the war there “seems to have shattered norms and trained some men to think that when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.  Or at school, girls sometimes find that to get good grades, they must have sex with their teachers.”  During the war it was estimated that 75 percent of the country’s women had been raped.  “The incidence of rape has dropped since then but is still numbingly high.  An International Rescue Committee survey in 2007 found that about 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way in the previous 18 months.”

Another harm women face in some societies is genital mutilation.  According to a U.S. court ruling, “The practice of genital cutting, a tradition throughout sub-Saharan Africa, has long been criticized by human rights groups and the United Nations and frequently takes place under unsanitary conditions, with tools like knives, scissors, razor blades and shards of glass…”  Alima Traore, who is from Mali, had endured this mutilation as a child  and applied for asylum in the U.S.  She said this about the U.S.:  “’It is a better place for women than Mali, because in Mali women don’t have any voice… Because it is the men who control.’”  Other African women who were victims of genital mutilation have also sought asylum in the U.S.

Governments severely restrict women’s freedoms in some countries.  In the Sudan, women are prohibited from wearing pants and are flogged for doing so.  In Saudi Arabia, women “need permission from their husbands or fathers to work, travel, study or even receive health care.  They cannot drive.  While more than half of the university students are women, their job prospects are severely limited.”    A woman can be whipped for being alone with a man to whom she is not married.  In Iran, the government in 2007 cracked down on “un-Islamic dress” and detained 150,000 women for violating the dress code.

Ending oppressive laws and the violence inflicted upon women in many countries is a formidable undertaking and a goal that could take a long time to realize, if ever.  A way Western countries could relatively quickly help women in these harsh situations is to open up their borders.  This probably would not mean a mass exodus of mistreated women to Western countries, since, as Mr. Kristof and Ms. DuWunn suggest, some of these women may be comfortable with the status quo: “… women themselves absorb and transmit misogynistic values, just as men do.  This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimized women, but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike.” (p. 69)  And obtaining the resources and arranging the logistics for those who wish to leave would be a challenge.  This is where those in the West concerned about the situation of women in these countries could help by providing shelters and financial help to women seeking to emigrate.  In some situations in which societies and families would be hostile to such interventions, a kind of modern day Underground Railroad system could be established to help women flee.  But first an open borders policy needs to be established to guarantee that those women who want to escape from their societies could find refuge in countries that respect them as women and people.  (Open borders would also allow victimizers to enter Western countries, but Western laws and institutions would better protect immigrant women than those in their home countries.)

Currently, for women seeking refugee in the U.S., the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies notes that U.S. immigration law has often been unfriendly to women seeking asylum based on gender related harm. “Decision-makers often fail to recognize that harms unique to women — such as forced marriage or honor killings — may constitute persecution.”  In 2009, a Mexican woman was killed by a former boyfriend shortly after being forced to return to Mexico by U.S. agents.  In an article in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, the author relates the case of an asylum seeker from Guinea:  “… a woman was told that she would marry her uncle’s friend, who was fifty years older and already had four wives. When she objected, her uncle beat her. She escaped briefly, but upon her return was again beaten before the imam and then before the tribal elders, all of whom instructed her to proceed with the marriage. In addition, her uncle threatened to kill her should she persist in her refusal. The woman was finally able to escape and apply for asylum in the United States. Despite her credible testimony, the immigration judge denied the woman’s claim… He did not address the various forms of coercion being brought to bear upon her, or whether a marriage entered under such duress would constitute future persecution.” (p. 91)

The realization of open borders would benefit numerous women economically and/or enable them to escape from oppressive situations in their home countries.  To help make open borders a reality, more men and women in the West need to join this effort.