“For some female migrants, leaving for Russia is a chance to start a new life, for others — it is a risk to their reputation”
Sociologist Anna Rocheva on the problems of women from Central Asia in Russia
“In Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, migration is perceived in a special way. It is believed that when leaving far from home a woman becomes “spoilt” because of reduced social control, so migration to Russia for her is not always a socially approved event, " says sociologist Anna Rocheva. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, she spoke about the problems faced by women who migrated from Central Asia to Russia following their husbands or after a divorce.
“Russia has a very poor range of migration statistics”
Anna, from what countries have people migrated to Russia over the past 30 years? And what is the dynamics of this migration?
The migration flows that formed in the '90s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Iron Curtain fell, continue to this day. In the '90s, the first migrants that Russia accepted were those who fled not only from economic turmoil but also from military conflicts, that is, in a way, refugees. There were also those who “returned” from national republics to Russia, who are now called compatriots. Throughout the '90s, there was a large-scale wave of migration from Transcaucasia. It started in the late '80s because of the Karabakh conflict and the earthquake in Armenia — people moved to Russia just to save their lives. In the early 2000s, when oil prices rose, a construction boom began in Russia — and there arose new migration flows from Central Asia, “ethnic” ones.
Now migration flows from Transcaucasia have almost stagnated due to demographic circumstances. Russia and Georgia now have a visa regime, and migration from there has almost stopped. And everyone who could have already moved from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Russia, and now the growth is not very large. Ukraine and Moldova have refocused on European countries.
Therefore, currently, the main migration flow is Central Asia, three countries — Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In Kazakhstan, the economic situation is favourable, and only foreign students and entrepreneurs are coming to Russia from there. You will not find people who would work on building sites from Kazakhstan in Russia.
Therefore, currently the main migration flow is Central Asia, three countries — Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan
“Women, as they say, can get salary arrears out from their employer more effectively than men do”
What is the percentage of women among migrants? And what is the average age of migrants?
From Central Asia, it is mostly men who come. From Kyrgyzstan, the percentage of women among the migration flow reaches 40%, but this is rather an exception. The share of women from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan does not reach 20%.
If you look at the age distribution, it is clear and expected that it is young people who mostly come. Most are men under 30, slightly less — from 30 to 40 years, men older are even less. The same ratio remains among female migrants from Kyrgyzstan. But among migrants from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, there is no such predominance of young women: there are approximately equal shares of women under 30 and older women, mostly married, widows and divorced people come from there. The reason is that Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have a special perception of migration. It is believed that when leaving far from home a woman becomes “spoilt” because of reduced social control, so migration to Russia for her is not always a socially approved event. Whereas in Kyrgyzstan this is treated more loyally because there is a different configuration of gender relations.
What is the migration trajectory of these women?
It depends. More than half of women are married, and those who are not married and have not yet been married are usually few among female migrants. The proportion of widows and divorcees is high. For them, migration to Russia is a chance to rebuild their lives and start over because at home divorced and single people are viewed as “wrong”. In Russia, there is no such stigma, one can earn their own money and not feel such social pressure. And one can build a personal life.
There are those who follow their husbands or come with their husbands. There are cases when married women come to work either first or even alone, and the husband remains in charge of household matters. For example, when we conducted a study in Kyrgyzstan, there was a village where it was considered better for a woman to migrate to Russia. Because in agriculture, men's hands are more useful, and a trip to Russia is some additional income that a woman can bring.
Besides, it is believed that women have better relationships with police officers. And women, as they say themselves, can get salary arrears out from their employer more effectively than men do. Perhaps, this is related not so much to the special characteristics of women as to the peculiarities of their employment. Male migrants from Central Asia mostly work on construction sites. Female migrants mostly work in catering, trade, and as domestic workers. And they have slightly different contact with the employer than men do. It's one thing if you work as a cleaner in a store, come there every day to wash the floors, see the owner of the store and have direct contact with him. But it's different if you come as part of a team, all your fellow villagers are in the team, the foreman is also your fellow villager, and someone cheats someone in a long construction chain of contractors and subcontractors. You, as an ordinary worker, will not be able to get your honestly earned money because you do not really understand who is to blame here, who appropriated the money.
Besides, it is believed that women have better relationships with police officers. And women, as they say, can get salary arrears out from their employer more effectively than men do
“A bed in Moscow now costs 5k rubles a month on average”
How do migrants — women and men — solve the housing issue?
We are currently working on a large project with our colleagues to resettle migrants. We are trying to understand how migrants are distributed in Russia, how it differs from other countries, and look at the formats of residence of migrants.
We see a great variety. If we talk about cities, in particular about Moscow, then there is a form of residence associated with the workplace. For example, you work on a construction site, and your employer, if it is a large construction company, can build for you something like a construction town or a hostel where you will live together with your colleagues, most often countrymen. Another format is when you rent a house in the general housing market in Moscow. Most often, this is a bed. There is a fairly large apartment, for example, a three-room apartment, which is rented by a person, for example, also a migrant from Central Asia, but who has already received Russian citizenship. He looks for tenants through social networks, messengers, websites, or just through word of mouth. He needs to pay the landlord a certain amount every month, he takes one room, lives there with his family and rents out beds to different people in the other two rooms. A bed in Moscow now costs 5k rubles a month on average. There may be different conditions. This can be a women's or men's room, or a family room. And there may also be a room without any division between women and men.
People who live in these apartments do not always know each other well. Because they take them on the principle of “who will respond first to an ad in the chat”. Migrants spend very little time at home because they as foreigners work more than Russian citizens do on average. This is also facilitated by that many people live there, there are queues for the bathroom and kitchen. Therefore, migrants try to spend less time at home, take part-time jobs, and if you have a “lifestyle-style migration”, you want to see Moscow, you will go to see VDNKh or Red Square in your free time.
By the way, the idea that all migrants come to Russia only to earn money is not quite correct. There are different migration formats. It is clear that the economic component associated with that the per capita income in Russia is higher than, for example, in Tajikistan, prevails and is a clear background for everyone. But when we conducted our research in Kyrgyzstan, we found ourselves in several villages where residents are not only engaged in agriculture or have a small business but also work for hire the Kumtor gold mine, which is a large plant in Kyrgyzstan that provides a significant part of the country's budget, and working there involves relatively high earnings. If someone in the family works for Kumtor, it is considered well-off — does this mean that none of this family will go to Russia? It turned out that no, it doesn't. For example, in one of these families, a young boy, a son, went to Russia — to Moscow to see the city, working in parallel, but he did not go for earnings.
If you look at the age distribution, it is clear and expected that it is young people who mostly come. Most are men under 30, slightly less — from 30 to 40 years, men older are even less.
“Their parents often insist that they create families with people of their own ethnicity”
I've read on the website of your research group mer-center.ru that migrants mostly marry “people of their own ethnicity” but they start romantic relationships with local girls. Why is that?
Yes, it was a study about second-generation migrants, about those who grew up or even were born in Russia and live here all their lives. These are children whose parents came from Transcaucasia and Central Asia at the age of 18-35. Their parents often insist that they create families with people of “their own ethnicity”. In the case of religious families where the parents profess Islam, this framework can be extended to a person of the same faith. For Armenians, there is no such option — only Armenians. In some cases, parents hold very strict views and want the future spouse of their child to come from the same village or at least from the same region where they came from. This, of course, complicates the search for the bride and groom.
Children in some cases accept this attitude of their parents. Sometimes they try to rebel, go against each other, but still often give in, and sometimes they themselves hold the opinion that it is more comfortable with a person who grew up in a similar family, maybe even in Russia, but that his parents came from, for example, Azerbaijan.
As a result, more than half of the marriages of second-generation migrants are with representatives of “their own ethnicity”. But romantic relationships — with different partners. For strict families of Transcaucasia and Central Asia, it is typical that a girl before the wedding was chaste, “untouched”, she must not be suspected of any relationship with other men, except the groom. Therefore, romantic relationships for girls in strict families practically do not exist. It is necessary to make a reservation that there are liberal families, their upbringing does not differ from the average Russian family in a big city. But at the same time, there are many conservative families, and romantic relationships for girls, in this case, are taboo. For young people, such relationships are quite acceptable, and they often occur with girls of “other ethnicities”.
If we talk about first-generation migrants, that is, those who grew up in the country of origin and came to Russia as adults, the share of “mixed marriages” among them is lower than among second-generation migrants.
“The sexual life of female migrants from Central Asia in Russia is not the most active”
What is the birth rate among migrants? What difficulties do pregnant female migrants face?
Unfortunately, there are no good statistics on this issue. Research data is quite limited. The idea that women from Central Asia come to Russia and give birth to a child here so that he or she received citizenship here and they together could “anchor” in Russia (in this discourse, there is even a term — anchor baby) is not justified. Because in Russia, a child who was born to two foreign parents will not receive Russian citizenship. This means that his parents will not be entitled to maternity capital. Only if at least one parent has citizenship, the child can claim Russian citizenship, and the parents can claim maternity capital.
Due to that many women come divorced or widowed, and they already have children who are left with their grandparents in the country of origin, they are unlikely to give birth here. Besides, few studies show that the sexual life of female migrants from Central Asia in Russia is not the most active.
The idea that women from Central Asia come to Russia and give birth to a child here, so that he or she received citizenship here and they together could “anchor” in Russia is not justified. Because in Russia, a child who was born to two foreign parents will not receive Russian citizenship
The model of life shared by many visitors from Central Asia is similar to the all-Russian, but not Moscow one but provincial when a woman should get married early and give birth to a child early. If a woman comes with her husband from Kyrgyzstan soon after her marriage, she is expected to give birth to a child. In Russia, this is quite difficult to do, and not even because Moscow medicine is not designed to provide services to foreign women in labour but just because it will be difficult to find a housing later. After all, if you rent a bed, then your neighbours will not be happy to live next to a child who cries and keep them up at nights. Therefore, many people prefer to go to Kyrgyzstan, give birth to a child there, wait until the child turns a year or two, leave with their grandparents and return back to Moscow because they are afraid of losing their husband and because working together you will earn more. The percentage of women who would just keep house as foreigners is quite low.
Why are they afraid of losing their husband?
It is believed that a woman without a man is like a “weak flower” that will die and will not be able to live on. Therefore, it is necessary to save the family in all possible ways. It is believed that in Russia women are quite different, it is very easy to lose a husband. And not only because of some conventional Russian woman but also because there may be other Kyrgyz unmarried women there. And since a divorced woman is not a comme Il faut, it is better for a woman to live with her husband in Russia.
Is the fear of dying without a husband related to that women will not be able to provide for themselves?
At home, in agriculture, it will be more difficult for a woman than for a man because of the difference in physical capabilities. Besides, studies show how women live when their husbands have left for Russia and they are still heads of households — in Tajikistan. For example, in a village, the land is divided. And women are given plots of land that are worse and further away, they will be more difficult to cultivate. No one sees these women as vulnerable groups and gives them better land plots.
If we look at the difference in wages between male and female migrants in Russia, it is there and it is significant. According to our data for 2017, the difference is about 4,000 rubles. This is also related to the areas of employment. Men work mainly in construction and get more. And women work in catering, trade, where wages are lower. And if we look at money transfers, women send home in absolute terms less than men do, but they send the same share of income as men do.