Project: Gendered Dynamics of International Labour Migration


This study is part of a multi-country research project ‘Gendered Dynamics of International Labour Migration’ also involving Lebanon, Pakistan, and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), which investigated drivers of migration, incorporation of migrants into the labour market, experiences of work and living in Turkey, agency, coping strategies and use of public space. Overall, 28 migrant women working in a variety of sectors, such as domestic and care, textile and trade industries, in addition to professional sectors, were interviewed, between July 2020 and June 2021.

The majority of the skilled women interviewed are upper-middle income academics, teachers, editors, translators, and NGO workers, who mostly migrated from North America, Europe and the Middle East. Most migrant workers whom we interviewed in lesser skilled sectors are migrant domestic workers (MDWs), who mostly migrated from Turkmenistan, Georgia and Armenia. While many of them have short-term residence permits, only two have work permits and social security tied to it, which enables them to access free healthcare; and two of them are irregular workers.

Key Findings

  • For the skilled migrant women, precarious working conditions resulting in a lack of future appear to be one of the drivers of migration, concomitantly with kinship ties, marriage migration and the desire to make a change in lifestyle. Other drivers of migration, mostly consisting of Syrians, Iranians and Lebanese, were mainly conflict and political pressures, gender inequalities, violence, and discrimination towards sexual identity in their home countries.
  • Our findings indicate that the majority of our participants were exposed to verbal, physical and/or sexual harassment in public spaces in Istanbul. However, the city itself is often one of the reasons they chose to remain in Turkey, because it is a global place. However, cultural differences and exclusionary attitudes in Turkey often cause these women to feel excluded.
  • In relation to the lower skilled migrant women, the women’s narratives reveal that the drivers of migration link to their country of origin where some experienced discrimination, heavy and unequal work burdens based on gender division of labour and the lack of right to work, as well as domestic violence.
  • In Istanbul, many work without a work permit and without basic social security. Within the framework of informality, lack of standards on MDWs working and living conditions, the particularities of “home” as a workplace and privileged position of employers seem to reinforce the inequalities and vulnerabilities of women workers’ experience. Their coping strategies are not based on collective action, but rather individual-oriented and limited.
  • However, despite the precarious labour positions in the care sector, their desire and will to better their and their family members lives, as well as to leave behind the patriarchal relations and ties become crystal clear when women’s gains and achievements from their employment are considered.
  • The research highlights that COVID-19 deepened the discriminatory practices of MDWs in Turkey. Some women who lost their job, relied on friends’ or employers’ financial support. In contrast with the skilled migrants, the analysis of women MDWs’ spatial mobility, use of the city and their access to public transportation reveals that these are gendered and rather limited.
  • All the women pay attention to gender codes and are anxious about the femicides and violence against women, as they feel threatened in the streets. The research found that gender inequalities are spatialized and experienced by the MDWs, and other migrant women, living and working in Istanbul. 


  • More research is needed to understand the complexity of the profile of MDWs, including their educational levels and skills, who survived upon the circular labour migration between the Former Soviet Countries and Turkey. Research should dismantle the assumption that highly skilled women come only from countries of the Global North. Additionally, also the complexity of the motivations and experience of Global North migrant women workers require more investigation.
  • The Government of Turkey, also in collaboration with local authorities and the third sector, as well INGOs and NGOs actors UNHCR, local partners, should joint work to raise the awareness, to kick-off a shift in gender discriminatory social norms and to improve the understanding and the enjoyment of women rights in the country, including their free use of public spaces.
  • The Government of Turkey should intensify efforts to legally protect the work of migrant domestic workers, under the national legislative framework, to ensure basic workers’ rights and social security for these, as well as other women migrant workers in the informal sector, primarily. Bilateral agreements with the countries of origin, and with the collaboration of international, regional and local actors, should be considered to improve the conditions and the assistance towards MDWs along all the phases of their journey. Economic empowerment, legal protection, job security, access to health and social care, social norms changes should be granted to all migrant women workers.
  • The government should make advancements towards urgently re-joining the Istanbul Convention, which was abandoned in March 2020. The Convention establishes the protection, prevention, prosecution and ultimately the elimination of all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence and specific measures for the protection of migrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking women.

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