Experts gather to analyse rights of migrant domestic workers.
Moderators Elisabeth Prügl and Delphine Gardey
Last Tuesday the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) held its annual conference at the Institute’s Jacques Freymond Auditorium with this year’s event focusing on Gender and the Global Care Economy.
Moderated by Deputy-Director of the Institute and Director of its new Programme on Gender and Global Change Professor Elisabeth Prügl and Professor Delphine Gardey, Head of the University of Geneva’s Gender Institute, SNIS organised the conference with a view to strengthening the collaboration between academics and practitioners to tackle the problems women employed in the global care chain face.
The keynote speech was delivered by Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair of Colombia University’s Committee on Global Thought. Her presentation was entitled “When Gendering Becomes Strategic: The Complexities of Powerlessness”. She said that women in the global care chain are often victimised but that all are not victims and they should not be categorised as such. Through her research she said she began to see domestic workers as strategic elements in larger sectors of activity. “These people are maintaining households that need to run like clockwork to keep industries functioning”. By considering themselves as essential parts of a larger system, global care workers are enabled to create organisations and work for more rights, she added.
Discussing the challenges ahead for workers in the global care chain, Dr Sassen pointed out that creating what she referred to as “portable rights” so that migrant domestic workers could enjoy the same basic rights wherever they may go regardless of their legal status, just as tourists have basic rights when they travel, would be an important step forward. She concluded her presentation by pointing out that as inequality in the world has increased in recent times, working towards more rights for migrant domestic workers will become a greater challenge.
Also part of the conference were two panels consisting of academics and practitioners from international organisations. The first panel discussed “The Gendered Migratory Care Economy, its Variegated Global Manifestations and Associated Socio-Economic Impact on Workers and Host Societies”. The second was entitled “Gendered Care Economy at Our Doorstep – Lobbying and Policy Making for Care Economy Workers in Europe, Switzerland and Geneva”.
SNIS also delivered its International Geneva Award at the Conference to three teams of researchers including Dr Annyssa Bellal, Gilles Giacca, and Dr Stuart Casey-Maslen, researchers at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, for their paper “International law and armed non-state actors in Afghanistan” published in the International Review of the Red Cross.
Closing the conference Professor Elisabeth Prügl said that some of the key themes running through the event were the notions of “portable rights” as well as the ambiguousness of the term empowerment. She said that it is easy not to have an optimistic outlook for the near future for workers in the global care chain. Bernhard Fuhrer, Director of SNIS, said “The conference was fantastic and by bringing together academics and practitioners, we hope to provide a new thinking space in order to create the institutions of the future to tackle these issues”.
The Swiss Network for International Studies was created by the Graduate Institute and the University of Geneva in 2008 to promote the study of international relations and strengthen cooperation between academic institutions and international and non-governmental organisations.