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Gendered Borders: Analyzing Disparities and Vulnerabilities in Migration Dynamics

The concept of gender encompasses the societal expectations, behaviours, activities, characteristics, and standards that are deemed suitable for individuals based on their sex within a certain culture and historical period. Gender is a comprehensive theoretical framework covering many ideas, hypotheses, and interpretations pertaining to historical occurrences grounded on biological sex (Sabhlok, 2017). The feminist perspective challenges the assumptions surrounding femininity and masculinity, which have led to gender-based disparities in political and social realms. Gender reinforces social hierarchies, status systems, and sexual distinctions. Mass population migrations in the 21st century pose a unique challenge for border institutions, as they must balance the well-being of people and groups crossing borders while maintaining security measures. In 2018, a significant global population of 70.8 million experienced involuntary displacements due to armed conflict, persecution, or violence. The experiences of individuals, including men, women, boys, and girls, about violent extremism show significant differences. Migration has various gendered dimensions and entails distinct susceptibilities to the phenomenon of violent extremism. In Central Asia, young males with limited access to education and career prospects often migrate to seek viable labour alternatives (Anupam, 2021). Women with limited economic opportunities may face increased susceptibility to radicalisation by violent extremist organisations. The ways in which borders are gendered differ depending on the policies and measures in place. Women are more prone to border-based violence and stigmatisation as compared to males. The paper analyses the reasons why borders are always gendered based on issues such as physical violence, human trafficking, inequalities in acquiring opportunities, job roles, family responsibilities, and sexual assault, trans-gender matters, among others. An in-depth analysis of these issues has been done, and the paper concludes with a summary of the findings.

The most common locations identified as hazardous include the Darian Gap in Central America and the Mediterranean Sea. The act of traversing these transit sites often involves illegal activities. It entails significant hazards such as being exposed to dangerous travel circumstances, abandonment, and other sorts of criminal behaviour and violence perpetrated by non-state armed organisations or public authorities. The heightened presence of these individuals often results in smugglers opting for more hazardous routes, hence significantly augmenting the likelihood of fatalities and hardships for the migrants being transported (Flores, 2019). During the process of traversing these transit locations, migrants often encounter challenges related to limited access to potable water, as well as prolonged exposure to various natural dangers and potentially hazardous wildlife. Women have a much greater likelihood of encountering health hazards in this particular setting, primarily due to their engagement in activities such as childcare while in transportation (Freedman, 2016). Pregnant women, children, and elderly migrants are at a higher risk of being abandoned during a smuggling operation owing to their limited mobility, which may hinder their ability to keep pace with the demands of long-distance transit or walking. In the given context, women often experience societal pressures that compel them to remain in their current location, primarily based on prevailing social norms that assign them the responsibility of caring for those who are ill or wounded. During the maritime journey across the Mediterranean, those migrating face significant hazards, which include the potentiality of losing their lives at sea (Paasi, 2016). Approximately 50% of the documented migrant deaths globally are reported in the Mediterranean Sea. Although males constitute the bulk of individuals embarking on maritime voyages, it is evident that women are significantly vulnerable to mortality along this trajectory.

The existing policies in Canada exacerbate disparities rooted in gender and ethnicity, which connect with and contribute to social class distinctions. Implementing procedures that extend interdiction measures beyond the national border perpetuates socioeconomic inequality within Canadian society. One illustrative instance is the demographic composition of immigrants participating in the live-in caregiver program in Canada, where a significant majority consists of women belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups (Marchand and Runyan, 2010). The female individuals participating in this program are subjected to strict regulations that necessitate their engagement as caretakers inside their employers’ residences for two years as a prerequisite for acquiring permanent residency status in Canada. After obtaining permanent residency status, many women endeavour to return to the professional fields where they had received training in other countries. Although possessing foreign qualifications presents obstacles in securing suitable and well-paying employment, several individuals who have previously worked as live-in caretakers also express that prospective employers see their professional experience in this role unfavourably (Aas and Bosworth, 2013). The job experience requirement for attaining permanent residency in Canada poses a barrier to the eventual integration of women of colour into Canadian society. For example, after relocating from Hong Kong, many women abandon their prosperous professional trajectories to facilitate the settlement of their children in Canada and get permanent residency. At the same time, their husbands mostly remain in Asia (Pickering and Cochrane, 2013). Many women choose to disengage from the labour market and prioritise their household responsibilities due to perceiving prejudice from employers who fail to recognise the worth of their international job experience.

Specific individuals lead solitary and discontented existences while they diligently strive to meet the necessary residency criteria for Canadian citizenship, which would allow them to recommence their former lifestyles elsewhere. The aforementioned instances demonstrate the significance of considering the impact of border restrictions on both the substantive and formal dimensions of citizenship (Wastl-Walter, 2016). The level of economic achievement in Canada may assess the degree of immigrants’ complete integration into Canadian society. The recent census data provides empirical evidence that supports Bauder’s claim on the unequal economic participation of immigrants. The situations of immigrant women are a cause for concern, as shown by Statistics Canada (Friedman, 2013). There exists a disparity in the labour market between immigrant women and immigrant males, with the former experiencing comparatively lower levels of success. Despite a decrease in unemployment rates for both immigrant and Canadian-born employees, there remains a disparity in job opportunities between immigrant women and Canadian-born women. This disadvantage has persisted since 1991 and has yet to return to previous levels (Kabeer et al., 2013). The recent rise in the percentage of immigrant families with low incomes further highlights the economic challenges faced by immigrant women. In contrast, the rate of Canadian-born families with low incomes has declined. The implementation of extended border restrictions, coupled with intensified enforcement measures, has the potential to hinder economic integration and, hence, perpetuate existing disparities based on gender, race, and class.

At the borders, both women and men encounter various challenges during migration. Women often face gender-specific issues such as gender role disparities, sexual assault, exploitation, and severe poverty. These factors contribute to their decision to migrate and also make them vulnerable to further exploitation and abuse during their journey. On the other hand, men are attracted to job opportunities and the ability to support their families. Still, they also face social expectations and cultural standards that impact their migration decision. During periods of crisis and conflict, specific groups face distinct and disproportionate challenges (Weitzer, 2014). Unaccompanied women and girls undertaking journeys are at risk of sexual violence and trafficking. Pregnant and nursing mothers who are physically weakened due to displacement face additional hardships. Children, in general, are vulnerable to predators and at risk of abduction and trafficking. Women and girls living in isolated communities or with impairments face further obstacles. Both men and boys are susceptible to being recruited by criminal organisations, militias, and armed forces. This is particularly true for young males with limited access to education and career prospects, as they see migration as a means to seek employment opportunities. However, individuals who are unable to find work or face discrimination and exploitation in the countries they migrate to may become more susceptible to being recruited by violent extremist organisations. For instance, in Central Asia, a significant proportion comprises young males with limited access to education and career prospects (Shelley, 2010).

Consequently, they undertake migration as a means to seek employment possibilities. Individuals who are unable to get work or are exposed to discriminatory practices, abuse, and exploitation in the countries they migrate to may have increased susceptibility to being recruited by violent extremist organisations. The absence of male providers can also increase the vulnerability of women to radicalisation by violent extremist organisations. Women who have limited economic opportunities may be more likely to engage in acts of terrorism as a means of survival or empowerment (Gallagher, 2010). A combination of factors such as gender disparities, violence, poverty, and social expectations influences the challenges faced by women and men at the borders during migration. Understanding and addressing these challenges is crucial for creating policies and interventions that protect the rights and well-being of all individuals during migration.

Human trafficking has significant impacts at the borders, particularly on vulnerable populations such as women, girls, and children. These individuals are often targeted by traffickers who exploit their vulnerability and offer deceptive opportunities. The presence of refugee camps and displacement due to conflict provide avenues for recruiters to manipulate and exploit these vulnerable populations (Winterdyk and Reichel, 2010). According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, women and girls make up 71% of trafficking victims worldwide, with the majority being trafficked for sexual exploitation. Traffickers often use sexual assault as a method of coercion and control against their victims. Young females are particularly at risk, accounting for 75% of kidnapping victims. As an example, it has been observed that Rohingya children, who have been separated from their families during their escape from Myanmar, have been discovered in distant locations such as India and Nepal (McCarthy, 2014). These youngsters have been subjected to abduction, threats, and enticement by traffickers, highlighting their heightened vulnerability as a targeted population. There has also been a notable increase in the trafficking of individuals for forced labour, with approximately 40% of victims identified between 2012 and 2014 being subjected to trafficking for this purpose. It is worth noting that males constitute a significant majority of victims trafficked for organ removal. However, male victims of trafficking often face challenges in acknowledging their victimisation due to prevailing gender norms associated with masculinity. This can result in their concerns and requirements being overlooked regarding vulnerability, help, and security. To effectively combat trafficking and smuggling, it is important to adopt an intersectional perspective that considers factors such as gender, age, education, sexual orientation, and individual experiences (Pickering and Pickering, 2011). Border agents should move away from limited techniques such as profiling and instead incorporate gender considerations into their operations through gender analysis. This will help identify biases impacting logical reasoning, strategic planning, and overall functioning. Human trafficking has significant impacts at the borders, particularly on vulnerable populations such as women, girls, and children. It is crucial to address these impacts by adopting an intersectional perspective and incorporating gender considerations into border operations (Meger, 2016).

Obtaining legal identification papers that align with individuals’ gender identities is still difficult or unattainable in several locations. This situation exposes individuals who identify as transgender or intersex to discriminatory treatment and threatens their fundamental rights to personal protection, privacy, and freedom from unwarranted searches (Wright, 2011). Transgender and intersex individuals face heightened vulnerability when crossing borders due to the potential for detainment or being targeted for suspicion. This is often a result of inaccurate documents or a lack of understanding of bodily diversity. Trans individuals worldwide have had notable legal victories over the last five years, spanning from Argentina to Malta. Unfortunately, the progress made is hindered or weakened by the disparities in gender recognition regulations among nations. Several nations, such as India, Malta, and New Zealand, allow individuals to get passports with a third or neutral gender designation. However, visitors with such passports may encounter challenges while visiting nations that do not acknowledge nonbinary genders (Freedman, 2016). The difficulties are exacerbated when airport and border security barriers increase in response to terrorist efforts and immigration limitations. Transgender refugees, who often escape from violence and prejudice due to their gender identities, encounter extra hazards when navigating the asylum and resettlement process.


Women navigate societal expectations of gender, crossing physical and emotional boundaries. The patriarchal system perpetuates domination, including sexual assault, which challenges women’s understanding of male dominance dynamics. Migrant women often struggle to report the harm they have experienced due to sexual assault, as it is often seen as predictable and apparent. The feminist movement has made progress in addressing patriarchal structures, but sexual and gender-based violence still hinders women’s freedom of movement and access to authority positions. Migrant and refugee women demonstrate resilience by actively opposing, evading, and reducing potential dangers associated with sexual assault to pursue a life of dignity and freedom from harm. Connecting with local populations is crucial for maintaining border security, especially in regions with low-level violence and instability. Border regions are characterised by diverse populations, including migratory groups, merchants, refugees, asylum seekers, and perpetrators of human trafficking and people smuggling. Vulnerabilities faced by people in border regions include concerns about extremist recruitment, organised criminal activities, and susceptibility to human trafficking and gender-based violence. The security of settled communities residing close to border regions faces additional challenges, such as competition for natural resources, disease propagation, animal and property theft, compromised trade commodities, and market disruptions due to delays at border crossings.


Sabhlok Anu (2017) ‘Main Bhi to Hindostaan Hoon’: gender and nation-state in India’s Border Roads Organisation, Gender, Place & Culture, 24:12, 1711-1728, DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2017.1384365

Anupam Patel Tania (2021) Bordering and Othering: Encounters at Shrine of Chamliyal at the India-Pakistan Border, Journal of Borderlands Studies, 10.1080/08865655.2021.1948901

Flores Lisa A. (2019) At the Intersections: Feminist Border Theory, Women’s Studies in Communication, 42:2, 113-115, DOI: 10.1080/07491409.2019.1605127 (and the other articles of this Special Issue)

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