Arriving in Rural Village Communities, Staying There or Leaving
Women and Foreign Immigration in the Perpetuation of Agrarian Economies and Rural Societies
K. Wiest (ed.) (2016): Women and migration in rural Europe, Houndmills (Basingstoke, Hampshire) and New York: Palgrave Macmillan
A. Corrado, C. de Castro y D. Perrotta (eds.) (2017): Migration and agriculture: mobility and change in the Mediterranean area, Abingdon (Oxfordshire) and New York: Routledge
Economic globalisation and processes of urbanisation of ways of living have had a major impact on agrarian economies and rural communities all over the world. The pre-capitalist cultures still existing in agrarian societies until the mid-20th century have been transformed by an economic system that has placed industry and cities at the heart of economic activity, relegating agriculture and rural areas to a marginal position. Societies have gradually incorporated the logic of industrial and post-industrial capitalism at different points during the 20th and 21st centuries, and the most immediate consequence of this process has been the activation of human mobility. Such phenomena are widely studied by the social sciences and political economics: the implementation of the capitalist system demands the integration of the capital markets, of workers and of goods. More euphemistically, today we use the expression global chains, which connect and mobilise financial resources, workers and products all around the world.
The migratory realities of the different ruralities that exist in the developed world often remained outside the purview of scientists, a situation that in recent years has started to be remedied. This is what two very recently published books do by tackling the subject of migration to the rural and agrarian areas of Europe and the Mediterranean from two different and complementary perspectives. The first, edited by Alessandra Corrado, Carlos de Castro and Domenico Perrotta, Migration and Agriculture. Mobility and Change in the Mediterranean Area, analyses the transformations of the agri-food system in the Mediterranean. It features 19 contributions, based on local research studies, and that interpret the immigration of foreign workers as playing a key role in the process of adaptation of agrarian farming operations in the Mediterranean area to the economic conditions of the global agri-food markets. The second book, compiled by Karin Wiest, Women and Migration in Rural Europe. Labour, Markets, Representations and Policies, features 12 contributions that present – from the dual perspective of rural studies and gender studies – European rural zones as spaces of emigration, especially by young women who, from diverse personal and local circumstances, take the migratory decision of staying or leaving.
The two studies offer us a close-up of the mobilities caused by the globalised economy, which influence rural and agrarian society from two viewpoints of the migratory phenomenon: the flight of women from European rural areas due to their lack of life opportunities, and the arrival of foreign labourers who find work in a Mediterranean agricultural sector that takes advantage of their vulnerability. The structural conditions imposed by the market system and that give impetus to mobility are the same worldwide; only the study of local realities – of which both books offer a splendid close-up – allows us to grasp the complexity of the combination of structures and systems of social representation with which we must approach investigation, of both ruralities and mobilities in the world today.
The book by Corrado et al. is based around the argument that changes in the system of food production, distribution and consumption are closely linked to internal and transnational mobility. Neoliberal policies and globalised markets have impoverished peasant farmers the world over and have favoured their emigration to become temporary labourers on small- and medium-scale farms, which exploit them in order to resist the conditions imposed by the very same system that caused the foreign workers to emigrate. According to the authors, under the current “food regime”, the global supermarket chains exercise absolute control over the circuit of food production, distribution and consumption. Small-scale agricultural producers, widespread across southern Europe, solve the profitability of their farms by reducing labour costs and employing migrant labourers. Products destined for export and produced at different points around the Mediterranean – strawberries from Huelva and the Peloponnese, citrus fruits from Valencia and Calabria, tomatoes from the north and south of Italy, wines from Provence, cheeses from the Po Valley or vegetables from Murcia and Almería – are harvested by Moroccan, Punjabi, Ecuadorian, Algerian, Polish and Rumanian immigrants, who make up a labour force that makes the cycles of food production and processing possible.
The arrival of migrant workers to rural areas again highlights social inequalities, especially in the case of women, because they are accessing a labour market that is viewed poorly, with tough conditions and bad pay and that has been abandoned by the weaker segments of the local population: women and labourers. The book compiled by Wiest reminds us that women were among the first to abandon rural areas and they continue leaving them today due to the scarce opportunities for work and social advancement that they offer, and because the patriarchal models that subordinate them to men are still in force. Meanwhile, foreign immigrants are arriving in these rural areas, particularly places with the productivist agricultural activities that can provide them with work. However, deagrarianised or economically disadvantaged areas continue to suffer from problems of depopulation and masculinisation due to abandonment by the local population, especially by women.
The rural areas of Europe need to stabilise their populations and attract new settlers. Both Corrado et al. and Wiest devote their attention to analysing the impact of public policies on the migratory flows in rural zones: migration, rural development and equality policies. With regard to foreign immigration, local research conducted in the Mediterranean area – a region extremely sensitive to the passage of migrants and refugees – are evidence that the migration policies of European states are at the service of the needs of the labour markets. Labour intermediation systems and hiring workers in their country of origin are examples of this, along with policies aimed at obstructing access to full citizenship, because such barriers perpetuate the vulnerability of the foreign workers. Migrants are the weakest link and for that reason they end up in a labour market that is segmented from the perspectives of ethnicity, gender and citizen rights. In the words of Gadea, Pedreño and De Castro, authors of one of the chapters in the book by Corrado, the aim is to make up a reserve army of idle and docile workers who are always available.
Foreign immigration policies contribute to the existence of a segmented agrarian labour market and, therefore, to the arrival of foreign people in rural areas to be employed in agriculture. How do rural development policies and equality policies contribute to the migratory regulation of rural communities? Both policies have been deployed by the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy in disadvantaged rural areas, which are areas that have not developed intensive farming like that described by the authors of Corrado’s book.
In the more disadvantaged environments of European rural areas – the authors of the book edited by Wiest argue – the aforementioned development policies have been unable to slow down population losses. Why do women continue to abandon rural life? To interpret the migratory decisions of women, the authors take into consideration both the political and structural contexts (public policies, labour markets, etc.) in which women live their lives as representation systems that construct cultural imaginaries on rurality and the power relations established between rural masculinities and femininities. The most important conclusion is that to put an end to the cultural models of gender inequality that still subordinate women today and prevent them from living their lives under conditions of equal opportunities with respect to men, it is vital that equality policies have a strong presence in rural areas. The researchers alert that, despite the emancipatory discourse, even women with higher qualifications reproduce gender roles and ideas of submission and sacrifice.
The authors agree that it is necessary to continue advancing in public policies on equality and reposition them as true development policies for rural areas. Therefore they propose to guarantee transport to equate the mobility conditions of men and women, decentralise higher education, create infrastructures for attention to the dependent population in order to free women from caregiving tasks and invest in the development of services with the aim of improving employability among women and stimulating entrepreneurship among them.
It would have been interesting if the contributions in Wiest’s book had also tackled the study of the situation of foreign women that have arrived in the rural village communities, because they have even fewer opportunities than local people due to their accumulation of more factors for discrimination (rural women who are immigrants and employed in precarious jobs). The book by Alessandra Corrado et al. does tackle the situation of inequality suffered by immigrant women, often hired in their countries of origin, who work in the countryside and in the agro-industrial sector of Mediterranean countries. These are rural women affected by foreign immigration policies and that are unlikely to be favoured by initiatives that promote gender equality.
Rich and diverse rural areas attract the foreign immigrant population and favour the permanence of women in rural village communities, but nationality, gender and citizen rights continue to segment these communities. These rural areas are attractive because they offer quality of life, but the same should be true of working conditions and the resources and services that they offer to the resident population. Women will remain in them and foreign immigrants will be attracted to settle in them, beyond pure need, only if they find decent working conditions and can access employment under conditions of equal opportunities.