Accepted Paper:

Culture, gender and migration in the Spanish Basque Country  
Margaret Bullen (University of the Basque Country, Donostia-San Sebastián)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the way gender interweaves with 'culture', economic status and identity in the Spanish Basque Country where immigration policies and projects disclose the uneasy relationship between notions of citizenship and cultural specificity on the nationalist political agenda.

Paper long abstract:

The Basque Country provides a particularly fascinating context in which to explore the concept and construction of multiculturalism in contemporary society. Spanish Basque society, a society which constantly confronts the need to define and re-define its cultural and political identities, is also a space where culture has been constructed in relation to -and sometimes rejection of - the migratory movements of both the Basques themselves and other peoples in and out of the Basque community. The dynamics of these movements are complex in cultural terms and contribute to a fertile field for new debates and negotiation of meanings with regard to the new situations emerging from the recent influx of groups of migrants from outside the European Union.

This paper draws on the ethnographies produced by two different research projects undertaken in the past three years, both in relation to gender and migration in the Spanish Basque Country. One project which carried the title "Individual and collective integration strategies of migrants in Basque society" was funded by the University of the Basque Country and conducted by a team of professors and researchers from the Department of Social Anthropology. The other, titled "Ways of life and expectations for the future of migrant women in Araba and Gipuzkoa", was carried out with a grant from the Department of Justice, Employment and Social Security of the Basque Government.

Considering gender to be a fundamental dimension of the multicultural debate, I look especially at the interweaving of gender-specific variables in the interrelation between "culture", economic status and ethnic identity. Departing from the "invisibility" of women in many migration and multicultural studies, our field work served to emphasize the contrast between the representations of marginality and the active role which female migrants play in Basque society. Looking at the feminization of migration into Spain and the Basque Country and linking women's social status to their position in the labour market, we find most of the women migrating to the Basque Autonomous Community are entering the submerged sector of the economy through domestic service, care work, waitressing and prostitution. As well as being victims of a triple discrimination - on account of class, gender and ethnicity- these circumstances also raise different questions with regard to gender and culture.

An interesting aspect of the multicultural configuration is the notion of citizenship and the way it is expressed in the migration laws and policies drawn up by Spain and the Basque Country. We find the representation of migrants in the Spanish migration laws are contested to some extent by the rather utopian notions of citizenship contained in the programmes drawn up by the area of immigration of the local Basque Government.

Public policies on equality also furnish us with examples of the contradictions inherent in the attempts to project a model of equality in a culturally and economically unequal society. One such example is the paradoxical situation in which local women become the employers of migrant women in their own homes in order to take a place on the labour market themselves, often eschewing the complexity of family and professional conciliation.

The richness of the debate lies in the combination of the different aspects of change in contemporary Basque society and the diverse factors which are brought into play in the attempt to integrate people from a multiplicity of backgrounds into an ideal "Basque culture" where there is at the same time equality for both women and men and respect for all.

Panel W014
Anthropology and the politics of multiculturalism (a friendly merger of W014 & W030)