By Alexandra Pereira, 2022: Nepalese female migrants during a traditional festival in Lisbon, Portugal (1)

This is the first part of a blog post introducing my postdoc research project with Nepalese Female Migrants from the 1st and 2nd generations in Portugal within the framework of the IHD – Integral Human Development postdoc program at CADOS, Universidade Católica Portuguesa, 2022.

© Alexandra Pereira, CECC, UCP, 2022

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The advent of globalization together with the widespread dissemination of the modern means of transport and communications and the profound changes (verified especially after the 9/11, 2001) in the characteristics of nation-states as we had known them, led both to large-scale migratory movements connecting very distant (or never before interconnected) societies and geographic regions and to varied attempts to regulate those flows, unveiling the pertinence of adopting conceptual frameworks such as transnationalism (Glick Schiller et al., 1992), the mobility turn (Urry, 2007) or the studies of diasporas (Cohen, 2008) in migration research. Castles and Miller (2009) have been stressing for more than two decades now what they call the “age of migration” – corresponding to the “acceleration, globalization, politicization, diversification and feminization” of international migratory movements. Williams (1988), cited by Ebaugh and Chafetz (2002), showed that ethnicity remained salient for many migrants over time and even over generations, while religion often served as an “identity marker” that helped migrants maintain their ethnic identity intact[1]. Basch, Glick Schiller and Szanton Blanc (1994, 1995) also demonstrated that many migrants, even if they invested socially, economically and politically in the destination country, continued to participate in the daily life of their society of origin: the networks of relationships from which migrant subjects developed their identities had links to at least two nation-states (networks were articulated, for example, through remittances, frequent communication with the origin country, a multiplicity of trips, activities and exchanges, return or seasonality).

The new forms of migrant transnationalism described by the researchers are broadly differentiated into new forms of political, economic and sociocultural transnationalism. The new forms of sociocultural transnationalism are characterized by the unprecedented breadth and extension of the “social remittances” sent and the phased construction of (more or less wide) transnational social fields and complex webs of strong and weak ties that cross borders (Sijapati, 2010). Here, the multiplication of ethnic, religious, gender groups or other associations and organizations plays a pivotal role, as does the location of the migrants’ personal safety net (in Nepal or Portugal) and the resumption or modification of their ties, through time and space. The transnational social fields involved in the new forms of sociocultural migrant transnationalism are effected through an exchange of ideas, symbols, practices, rituals, signifiers, meanings and transnational identities (all these constitute the so-called “social remittances”) – this exchange can vary in extent, amplitude, mode, degree and type.

On the other hand, international migrations give rise to a tension between individual and societal interests (or between the search for individual well-being and the so-called “world of societies”). Homi Bhabha (1996, 2004) described migrants as representing cultures in between (because their identity is based on the negotiation of two different cultures which positions them socially simultaneously as “different and similar”). Such hybridity would lead to the construction of a “third space”: for themselves or “to discover others within ourselves”, the margin coming inside (Bhabha, 2004). Hybridity would be a form of in-between space, representing the vanguard of translation-negotiation, essential vectors of culture.

Migrants build their own identities in relation to different places, contexts, environments, groups and countries (Christiansen & Hedetoft, 2004; Sicakkan & Lithman, 2005). In addition to history, cultural, linguistic and religious heritages or ethnic groups, the modes of reception decisively influence the construction of a migrant identity. Not only do migrants bring meanings into places: such meanings change the migrants’ self as well. Place is a central element in defining the principle of identity (Augé, 2002) and space itself can be defined as a place practiced and transformed by the actions of the subjects (De Certeau, 1999). The “person-context” interaction determines the fundamental role of culture, including culture associated with the ethnic group, praticed religion or forms of gender solidarity, in identity development (Ferrer-Werder et al., 2012: 64).

Phinney and Baldelomar (2011) declared that “no identity is free from culture”: since personal or social identity are filled by the cultural context, the way how identity is constructed and segmented becomes relevant to understand different aspects of that construct (Phinney and Baldelomar, 2011: 163, cit. by Sulyman, 2014). Now, the entire migratory process is an opportunity for the creation, reformulation, change, support, transgression or (re)construction of identity and Lotman (1990) saw culture as a text or set of texts and memory as a semiotic phenomenon – in this sense, also the (re)construction of migrant identity involves, at least partially, semiotic phenomena: in a dialectic relationships with the cultural memory carried by each migrant and the aspects reconstructed or reproduced in the host context by their axiological community of belonging. Contexts and discourses are articulated in complex and changing ways with the formal, participatory and identitarian dimensions of citizenship (Colombo, Domaneschi and Marchetti, 2011).

In migratory processes, both the transformations of belonging and aspects related to multiple belonging are at stake. Belonging is formed by different layers, emphasizing different aspects: reception and acceptance, identification and involvement. Reception and acceptance underscore the universal desire to be seen as an equal and not excluded, based on discrimination or prejudice. Identification retains an essentialist nature, underlining the “inevitability” of difference. And involvement concerns lifestyles and everyday relationships, participating in the name of a specific interest and contributing to the life and future of the community (Marchetti et al., 2011). The classic Simmel (1908) highlighted two characteristics of the “foreigner”: someone who is considered “absolutely mobile and objectively defiant” thanks to his/her “permanently ambiguous” attitude (between “an insensitive distance and a close involvement”). Thus, this author essentially summarized more than a century ago, while underlining such ambiguity, the challenges posed to the construction of inter-communitary spheres of belonging. This issue will be further developed in the second part of our blog post.

The conception of this research project arised from the realization of the need to develop additional research on Nepalese migrants in Portugal, following my PhD thesis in Sociology: namely on gender topics and the 2nd generations in the reception environment. Since 2014, I carried out continuous research activities on Nepalese migrants in Portugal and their European networks – particularly on themes of transnationalism, mobility, gender, entrepreneurship, labor, new media and migration governance[2]. The WHO, the ILO, the OECD, the Asian Development Bank or Nepal’s own Central Bureau of Statistics have repeatedly singled out Nepali migrant females as a particularly vulnerable group. According to Tam (2010), without an interface of gender identity and ethnic minority, in the context of their transnational mobility and marginalized female existence, Nepali migrant women will be doubly discriminated against – within receiving societies and within their own community. Simkhada et al. (2018) found that family problems at home, labor torture and unpaid wages were associated with the occurrence of health problems among Nepalese labor migrant females.

Gender inequalities remain prevalent in Nepal and suicide was in 2015 the leading cause of death among Nepalese women of reproductive age (CARE, 2015[3], cit. by Borelli, 2022 [4]). The sociocultural and economic disadvantages of Nepalese women have taken different forms over time: impediment to emigrate, labor exploitation and slave labor, human trafficking with sexual purposes, impediment to access religious temples at certain times, impediment to inherit property and assets, to own a bank account or withdraw money from the country, selection of male fetuses (still practiced occasionally in their home country), permission required from their husband and his family (newly married women must move into the husband’s parents’ home – patrilocality) to use contraceptives or to emigrate, early marriages with physical consequences such as uterine prolapse, prevalence of arrangement marriages, exclusive attribution of the husbands’ surnames to children (patrilineality), stigmatization and isolation during the menstrual period, isolation after childbirth and gender violence (CARE, 2015; Dhakal, 2016; Borelli, 2022)[5].

*Please find the portuguese translation on the next page

*Para a tradução portuguesa da publicação, por favor aceda à próxima página 

[1] Contrary to the weakening of ethnic ties that much earlier sociological research had predicted.

[2] References to my previous work should include an article at the IMISCOE Spring Conference (IGOT, 2016) on the integration of Nepalese migrants and two articles on the same topic from 2018. Additionally, articles at the IMISCOE Spring and Annual Conferences in 2020, 2021 and 2022, the National Congresses of Sociology and Anthropology (2016-2021). I dedicated one chapter of my PhD thesis in Sociology (ISEG, 2019) to Nepalese migrant workers in Lisbon, I provided consultancy to health professionals dealing with Nepalese migrants in Portugal (2016-2019), I was a research assistant in a research project on human trafficking and labor exploitation of Nepali workers (ISCTE-IUL, 2017-2019) and argued several Masters theses by Nepali students at ISCTE-IUL within the scope of the Erasmus-Mundus MFamily Program, as well as a Masters thesis on Migration, Inter-Ethnicities and Transnationalism at FSCH-UNL, by GP doctor Arianna Borelli (“Women of the Nepalese Diaspora: The Role of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Reshaping Transnational Identity”, 2022).

[3] CARE (2015). Nepal Gender Brief and Gender and Protection Overview. [acessível em:]

[4] Borelli, A. (2022). Mulheres da Diáspora Nepalesa: O Papel da Saúde Sexual e Reprodutiva na Reformulação da Identidade Transnacional. MA dissertation in Migrations, Inter-Ethnicities and Transnationalism [supervision by Professor José Mapril]. Lisbon: FCSH-UNL.

[5] Among married women, it is estimated that a third experience emotional, physical or sexual violence and 22% of Nepalese females aged 15-49 experience physical violence (the aggressor is usually their husband: 84%) (Borelli, 2022). Some 70-80% of all Nepalese women experience verbal violence from a spouse at some point during their marriage (Dhakal, 2016). Factors such as religion, the age of the woman, her ethnicity and caste (although the caste system is abolished by law in Nepal), her economic status and geographic location (urban vs. rural), her support network and number of children can impact on the incidence of domestic violence (CARE, 2015; Borelli, 2022). Indicators such as the Gender Gap (assessment of differences between genders considering: access to work, education, politics and health) can become useful, in this case (World Economic Forum, 2021).

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