Abstracts for L'Homme 2/2004

Left aside categorically. The category of gender in asylum politics

Gender has so far not been recognized as a category with great impact on flight and migration. During the flight as well as during the stay in the new host country, women are far more vulnerable than men. Therefore, they need special protection. In her article, Susanne Binder focuses on a gender sensible view of flight at different levels. Beginning with an analysis on the asylum legislation, it becomes clear that this legislation is based mainly on the situation of male refugees. Women and their specific female reasons for flight, as well as the reasons for persecution, do not find entry into the legislation. After arrival in the country of asylum, refugees face difficulties they have to cope with. The situations differ for men, women, and children. A gender sensitive approach can help asylum-seekers to feel more comfortable and to better adapt to the new challenges.

This article not only deals with theoretical insights, but also offers empirical data on the subject. Sofija K., a refugee from Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the author’s interview partner during a study of Bosnian refugees in Austria. Her experiences and the results of the study enlighten the theoretical approach; gender specific aspects become especially relevant by analyzing the changing roles of the family members in exile.

Finally, it is the aim of the author to emphasize that refugees are not passive, but that they instead have to actively deal with their new situations. Anthropological research looks beyond the role of the victim and strongly points out the active roles and agencies of asylum-seekers.

Flight and refuge as domestic servant to England. The example of three women from Vienna

Over 55 per cent of the 55 000 refugees who came to Britain on their flight from persecution in Germany and Nazi-occupied Austria were women. Nearly 20 000, or over one of every three, of the refugees – the vast majority of these being female – came as domestic servants.
These are the astonishing figures the author of this essay was confronted with when she was researching the background of Luise Fischer’s flight from Nazi oppression in former Austria to Great Britain in autumn 1938. Fischer, a journalist, used a “domestic permit” as her flight document. And so did Dr. Stella Klein, a teacher at the Jewish Gymnasium in Vienna, and Hedy Feller, working in a Viennese kindergarten. The domestic permit – at first a document for British employers enabling them to engage foreign domestic servants for a fixed period – became the only available opening into England, especially for women. A considerable proportion of these women, who used this document to escape from Nazi persecution because of their Jewish origin, were not actually domestics by trade. The essay tries to illuminate the backgrounds of flight by the help of a domestic permit in relation to the following: a special Austrian tradition of young women – not only Jewish ones – who went to England as domestic servants as early as the beginning of the Great Depression; the British refugee policy; the work of the refugee organizations; the problematical relationship between mistress and maid, and so on. There is also a focus on the fundamental change of living conditions of the refugee servants after the beginning of World War II – suspicions of being German spies and interment as “enemy alien”.

The essay is a preliminary study connected to the doctoral research of the author.

Women in flight. Asylum and integration in Austria from a woman-specific perspective

The article deals with the general situation of female asylum-seekers and refugees in Austria as well as with their special needs and problems. It is based on a broader report on behalf of the UNHCR in Vienna.

Since the war in the former Yugoslavia, there has been a growing awareness about gender-related aspects of migration in Austria. This can be recognized in political and public discussion. The main points are the appreciation of female causes in the asylum-seeking process and the special needs of female refugees during their integration period.

In spite of the demands of UNHCR, ECRE, and various NGOs, very few political measures have taken place to improve the situation. No special laws have been enacted as of yet. Despite the legal situation, some women have attained asylum as a result of female reasons in recent years.

Public opinion in Austria sees women of foreign countries who have other social and religious backgrounds more as members of a bigger group than as individual persons. Therefore, Austrians tend to generalize; for example, they think all Arabic women are dominated by their men.

Female refugees said this point causes them the most stress because Austrians do not like to see them as individuals with their own habits and problems. The women said they have to defend their religion, their husbands, and their ways of living far too often. This point is not only a personal problem. As we know, this is one of the main problems – for women and men – of integrating into Austrian society, especially in the employment sector.

Therefore, Austria needs to raise the awareness about the real situations of female asylum-seekers and refugees in everyday life as well as in the legal field.

Young, unwed, mobile, and female. From the countries of the Hapsburg Monarchy to the United States

Although women participate in every human migration (more actively in some than in others), they have been ignored by migration research for a long time. However, migrating women, or women in migration processes, whether as stayers or movers, are no longer invisible. Analyzing a sample passenger list from Bremen to New York and the US Census of 1910 give new insight into female migration over long distances, from the Habsburg Monarchy to the US, during the first decade of the twentieth century. While women accounted for roughly 40 per cent of the total immigration in the second half of the nineteenth century, since 1930 women have dominated migration to the US.

Inhabitants of the Habsburg Monarchy had already started migrating to North America in the eighteenth century, but, in the decades preceding the outbreak of World War I, there emerged a new type of migration. Particularly in the first decade of the twentieth century, Austria-Hungary became a major source of migrants to the US. The proportion of women who took part in this great overseas migration varied by ethnic background and type of migration. The unmarried, young, and independent migrant was female, since more single women than men from the Habsburg Monarchy decided on a transatlantic move.

Although migrant women wage-earners in the US, like in Europe, clustered in a very few female-dominated occupations, their possibilities to earn a living changed after they went overseas. While domestic service was the most important and most exclusively female occupation in Europe, the demand for factory “girls” increased in the US and more and more Polish, Czech, Jewish, and German women were occupied in textile factories and garment production. Especially for the daughters of the migrants, the transatlantic move raised their chances to climb up the social ladder. In addition, female migrants of every background were less likely to return to their homelands than were men.

“Remade marriage”. Seperation of “bed and board” (seventeenth-century Rome)

Analysis of the trail records of two separation lawsuits “a thoro et a mensa”, heard before the Roman Tribunal of the “Sactred Rota” in the seventeenth century, show how marriages in the seventeenth century, often made without the consent of the couple or without satisfying the economic or political demands of the two families involved, could be “remade” – either by husband and wife or by their two families, especially in the case of aristocratic families.

In the two cases studied, the conflict was provoked normally by the wives, not when living together became unbearable, but when the women had help and support leading them to believe that the outcome of the trial would be in their favour. Women took the initiative when they had rights to reaffirm and when they thought that, with a court trial or by running away from home, they could change their married life. Reaffirming rights, restoring damaged rights, insisting on better treatment for herself and her children – all meant a good knowledge of legal instruments.

The article is concerned with two conflicts between two couples of quite different social status. The addresses of the lawyers of the aristocratic couple and the trial records of the separation between a servant and a hostess nevertheless show how conjugal relations in court worked around two key intertwining elements: alimony and honour. Alimony redefined the family roles and served to rebuild identities, above all of the men. The honour referred to in these trials was founded on the fame that men and women were able to gain in their surroundings. For women, honour also meant sexual integrity.

Legal fights. The petitions of the Austrian middle-class women’s movement for changing marriage and family law at the turn of the nineteenth century

In my exposition, questions concerning the meaning and efficiency of the right to petition in the bourgeois women’s movement are highlighted. By examing the following petitions, the questions should be answered: the “Allgemeine Oesterreichischer Frauenverein” in 1904 and the “Bund Oesterreichischer Frauenvereine” in 1905 and 1907 submitted petitions to parliament. Cause for this action was the “Kommission zur Revision des Allgemeinen Buergerlichen Gesetzbuches”, which had been in the process of formation since 1904. Basically, demands of all three petitions were aspects like acknowledgement of rights for illegitimate children, the possibility of maintenance against the child’s father, the obligation of a child’s father to support the unmarried mother, the embodiment of parental instead of fatherly authority, and control or the right to appoint women as guardians.

The demands were drawn up by women in institutions of legal protection, from where they were submitted to parliament via close members. For my exposition, the consideration of if and how these demands attained validity are central.

Family and individual strategies of husband and wife in rural Lithuania, 1864-1904

This article deals with the strategies of the family and of individual member in a household in Lithuania in the second half of the nineteenth century, and shows that husband-wife relationships should be conceived not only as the result of ideology, but as a potential indicator of cultural, economic, and social factors. In examining marital relationships, the focus of most historians’ attention has remained on the issues of how patriarchal order worked and whether love and devotion softened and modified men’s patriarchal authority over women in the nineteenth century. An analysis of the daily practices among peasants in Lithuania through the second half of the nineteenth century shows that spouses’ relationships were hierarchically structured on the one hand, but complementary, on the other. Though the dominant culture legitimized inequality and subordination in husband-wife bonds and prescribed reciprocal behaviour in terms of exchanging obedience in return for protection and welfare, there was some space for women to evade or counter patriarchal dominance. Women could hardly escape the repressive control of a husband by choosing any other way than placing themselves under the control of other men, typically their fathers or brothers. This strategy might negatively affect the husband’s authority. The article suggests a high degree of complexity in the relationships between husband and wife, in which they were both partners and rivals when negotiating their rights and duties, and expressing their expectations and sentiments.

Authority of men and the state. Early modern marriage conflicts in front of court in contemporary regional historical perspective

Research into early modern marriage and gender emphasizes that the authorities bolstered husbands’ patriarchal powers over their wives. In a manner of speaking, husbands appear as the “state within the house”, with a monopoly of violence and the right to punish all members of their households. This contradicts the widely held view that the state monopolized all forms of legitimate violence in the early modern period, as argued by Weber, Elias, and Foucault.

However, case studies of Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic marriage courts reveal that domestic violence was often denounced as “tyranny”. Men should “not behave like tyrants over their wives”. Quantitative analysis shows that it was usually wives who cited violence in their husbands: 60 per cent of accusations were made by women. The authorities hardly appear as instigators, and neither do neighbours. Violence was the predominant concern of female plaintiffs and a powerful argument: on the whole, women achieved a high rate of success.

Marriage conflicts demonstrate the extent of state interference in domestic relations. Households were no “peculiars”, but placed under state control. The state monopoly over legitimate violence gradually eroded the powers of masters of households. State and church courts emerged as highly useful resources for early modern women. “Monopolization of legitimate violence by the state” should thus not be seen as a process imposed on society, but emerging from within.

Published 25 January 2005
Original in English

Contributed by L'Homme © L'Homme Eurozine


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