Accepted paper:

Gender politics: governing migration in post-war Sri Lanka


Michele Gamburd (Portland State University)

Paper short abstract:

Recently promulgated restrictive state regulations of female labor migration reflect emerging economic dynamics, national political uncertainty, and changing gender rhetoric in post-war Sri Lanka.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the relationship between the end of Sri Lanka's long civil war in 2009 and a set of restrictive state regulations on transnational female labor migration circulated by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) in 2013. A set of circulars and their associated policies and debates, now referred to as "The Family Background Report" or "FBR" issue, set minimum and maximum age restrictions for female migrant laborers. In addition, a married woman needs her husband's signature on the FBR paperwork before she can migrate. Women who have children under the age of five are forbidden to leave their children to work abroad, and women with children older than five must demonstrate adequate plans for their care. According to the FBR discourse, the government must step in to protect women from making bad decisions and to protect children from the predations of their uneducated, short-sighted, misguided parents. The regulations present a marked change from the policies that regulated female migration for the prior three decades. Why would Sri Lanka implement the FBR policy, which will decrease remittances from abroad and increase undocumented or extra-legal migration? This paper explores how the shift relates to the end of the war by examining gendered discourses, changing demographics of migration, and the political benefits of paternalistic protectionist rhetoric deployed at a moment when the post-war government felt its hold on power beginning to slip. The research contributes to discussions in political anthropology about interactions between the family and the state.

panel P36
Anthropology and the post-war present in Sri Lanka: ethnographic reflections