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Accueilnumeros2009/2ArticlesFemale Migration in a Changing World


Female Migration in a Changing World1

Eastern Europeans in Central Italy
Les migrations féminines dans un monde changeant. Les Européennes de l’Est en Italie centrale
Armando Montanari et Barbara Staniscia
p. 227-241


L’aire urbaine de Chieti-Pescara représente bien ce modèle. La migration féminine dans cette région est caractérisée par un nombre important de femmes d’Europe de l’est, plutôt bien éduquées, ayant migré seules, motivées par des considérations économiques et qui recherchent une certaine indépendance. Elles jouent un rôle important dans la sphère domestique dans une société mature où les femmes ont un travail en dehors de la maison. Leurs salaires ne sont pas très élevés mais sont essentiels puisqu’ils contribuent fortement à la survie de la famille restée au pays avec laquelle elles gardent des liens forts.

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  • 1 Although this paper is the result of a joint collaboration of the two authors, Montanari coordinate (...)

1This paper focuses on a region of Central-Adriatic Italy, the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area. The presence of a fairly significant number of foreign women [Montanari and Staniscia, 2006] and a large number of Eastern European women in the area corroborate the hypothesis of the existence of an Adriatic model of female migration [Staniscia, 2009]. This model is characterised by a high presence of Eastern European women when compared to the ones coming from other countries. This model characterises the Adriatic Italian regions and can be considered as a sub-type of the Mediterranean model [King and Zontini, 2000]. The Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area can be considered as representative of the Adriatic model. This paper will investigate the main reasons, characteristics and problems relating to the migration of women from Eastern Europe.

2This paper is organized as follows. In the first chapter, we will devote our attention to the political and economic changes taking place in countries that formerly had a planned economy, specifically Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Rumania and Ukraine. The second chapter highlights the main characteristics of female migration in the post-Wall era. The third chapter develops an analysis concerning foreign women in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area, based on the results of fieldwork undertaken in 2007. The fourth chapter outlines the profiles of Eastern European women of various nationalities derived from analysed data. Conclusions will follow.

1. Political and economic changes in eastern european countries: Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Rumania and Ukraine

1.1. General characteristics of migratory flows

3As of 1 January 2008, there were 3,433,651 foreign residents in Italy. A high percentage of them come from Eastern European countries. Rumanians make up the largest community in absolute terms. Their number increased by 83% in the 2007-2008 period, surpassing the Albanian community, which increased by merely 7% in the same period. Significant increases were also noted for the Polish community (34%) and Ukrainians (11%).

4Blangiardo and Menonna (2008) have predicted the future growth of migratory flows to 2030. Their forecast is based on a model that takes both the dynamics registered in Italy and demographic and socio-economic perspectives in the home countries into account. According to their forecast, the number of Rumanians will have doubled by 2015 and the number of Ukrainians will go up by 50% by 2010, while the number of Albanians will double by 2030. After this date, flows originating from Eastern European countries such as Poland, Rumania and Ukraine will stabilize, while the size of other national groups will increase.

5The expected increase in migration from Eastern European countries over the next twenty years will mostly be due to family reunification. Push factors related to labour market imbalances will actually be reduced in the next five years in Ukraine and Poland and over the next ten years in Rumania.

Table 1. Italy. Citizens coming from Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Rumania and Ukraine. 01.01.2008



Percentage of total immigrants

(x 1,000)























Total foreign population in Italy




Source: Istat, 2008.

1.2. Organization and management of social services from planned to market economy

6According to Ellman (1989), countries with a planned economy operated on the basis of a model integrating five elements: (i) public ownership of means of production, (ii) control of all activities by the Communist Party, (iii) centralized decision-making power, (iv) a pyramidal hierarchic structure characterized by a top-down process in the transmission of decisions and (v) a planning process based on the amount of goods to be produced rather than their monetary value.

7However, this is merely a theoretical model that was never actually applied. It was managed through competitive conflict between political bodies and public institutions. Moreover, each country interpreted the model individually and it was merely used as a formal reference, particularly during the years of the Communist regimes. The difficulty of managing this reference model has been mentioned here in order to highlight the role of enterprises in the distribution of power between the Communist Party and public institutions.

8The planned economy cannot be intended as a tool able to fully control processes. In reality, therefore, large national companies were not powerless entities passively adapting to central government decisions. These enterprises were actually a concentration of power in the hands of managers who had very precise ideas about how to expand the firm, and who tried to influence both party and public institutions.

9Shomina (1992) asserts that there are at least three types of relationships between state companies and local authorities: “owners”, “neighbourhoods”, “parasites” and, more rarely, “partners”. Yanitsky (1991) affirms that state companies “feed” the community since they directly manage many functions of local governments, such as housing supply for their employees, access to health care, opportunities for recreation and free time, holiday organization and even food supplies.

10Besides, these companies contribute to the creation of infrastructure, providing equipment and know-how for industrial production and maintenance.

11Radaev (1991) describes the situation as “occupation-based welfare” and underlines the paternalism of the employer who controls the living standards of employees, not through the salary paid, but through the control of goods and services.

12In the shift from the planned to the market economy and because of the consequent innovations, state companies disappeared and, as a result, the welfare state that they supported.

13It would therefore be inappropriate to check the efficiency of goods and services provided by local authorities that never operated autonomously, neither before nor after 1989. The changes that have occurred in the state companies have not only modified the productive system but also the functions of assistance to the population and the supply of services, for which the local authorities were not ready.

1.3. Proof of the social and economic crisis

14The five countries analysed here do not have many common elements except for having been part of the Eastern Bloc. Since 1989, therefore, they have entered a transition phase due to the dismantlement of the Socialist system. But some countries differed from others. In Albania, the transition phase had peculiar characteristics, since that country – incidentally the poorest in Europe – had lived in a sort of autarchic isolationism since the Second World War and up to 1990.

15“Stalinist” practices and State control of every single individual decision were far more rigid in Albania than in other countries with planned economies, and changes to the economic and political system only came about after 1990, much later than in other countries. The rapid growth of the private sector was accompanied by high unemployment rates, not least because of public sector waste and rather more substantial temporary migratory flows than in other Socialist countries [Çuka et al., 2003]. Rumania was controlled by the Ceausescu regime, and had therefore experienced an overly centralised decision-making system and the concentration of State property. According to Earle and Sapatorou (1993), social mobility was rigidly regulated, with graduates undertaking careers on the decision of the central government, which also determined wages on the basis of parameters such as the production sector, nature of employment and length of service. Ukraine is the only one of the analysed countries to have been part of the Soviet Union. The Ukrainian government abolished exit visas in January 1993 and passed a specific law to this effect in February 1994. It is from this period onwards that the most substantial migration began. The government estimates that Ukrainian migrant communities currently reside for the most part in Russia (1,000,000), Poland (300,000), the Czech Republic and Italy (200,000). A survey undertaken in 2002 [Malynovska, 2004] showed a significant increase in the migratory flow towards Germany, Portugal and Italy compared to a previous survey using the same methodology in 1994. The second survey showed that while the percentage of emigrants with a secondary school diploma remained high, the percentage of those with a higher education degree, who had managed to find a suitable job at home because of the process of economic development, dropped by about half. Flows towards Poland, Russia and Portugal were primarily made up of male emigrants who found work in construction and agriculture, while flows towards Greece and Italy were largely made up of women who found work in these countries as household help.

16It is hard to measure the state of malaise experienced as a result of high unemployment rates, a different wage structure, the reorganisation of the production system and the different distribution and organisation of services, but also the perturbations that derived from the change in the way the issues of ethics and civil conscience were considered. Although the Western way of thinking, based on civil rights and freedom of expression, had been anxiously awaited, it subsequently led to a form of confusion and an existential crisis. The transition period created serious imbalances in the administrative system and the distribution of services. The health system in particular suffered, leading to an alarming rise in the mortality rate, especially in Russia and the other former USSR countries [Leon et al., 1997]. One figure that more widely concerns all Eastern European countries is the suicide rate, measured by Mäkinen (2000) for the 1984-94 decade and calculated in relation to the consumption of alcohol products, economic growth, the percentage of homicides, life expectancy, freedom and political rights. In this study, Ukraine was classified in Group 1, “high-suicide countries”, together with many former USSR countries; Poland and Rumania in Group 3, “low suicide, unequal sex distribution”, Bulgaria in Group 4, “low suicide, unequal distribution”, and Albania in Group 5, “low suicide, equal distribution”. For Group 1 in particular, it was possible to identify a clear correlation for the entire decade between the suicide rate and alcohol consumption. The results of this study could contribute to understanding the reasons for the emigration of the women in Pescara. When interviewed, they said they had left behind difficult relationships with their partners, besides having to work abroad in order to support the rest of the family back home.

2. Migration of eastern european women

17Contemporary societies in developed countries are increasingly populated by those defined by Saskia Sassen (2001) as “professional households without a wife, regardless of the fact that it may have a couple of man and woman or man and man or woman and woman”. Sassen hypothesises that in global cities, household tasks are externalised and consigned to the market either directly, through the purchase of goods and services, or indirectly, through the purchase of domestic work. Work of this kind is increasingly done by immigrant women [Staniscia, 2009.

18The situation of Eastern European women in Italy is similar to their situation in other Western countries and the stories of these women all seem to resemble each other.

19There are several reasons why Eastern European women decide to emigrate. The main reason is the search for work and improved financial conditions, followed by other, more personal reasons such as the desire to change one’s life or escape a husband who is sick, violent or an alcoholic and finally, the desire to save money to support oneself and one’s family [Näre, 2007]. Another very important reason is to earn enough money to educate one’s children and buy a house for them [Fedyuk, 2006]

20Lena Näre (2007) analyses the migration paths and stories of Ukrainian and Polish women in Naples, pointing out that nearly all these women work as caregivers and domestic help. These women often live with the families they work for and do everything: they wash, iron, clean, cook and care for the elderly or the ill. Sassen describes it as the return of the servant class. Eastern European women often complain about not having a work permit because their employers prefer not to regularize them so as to avoid paying taxes and national insurance contributions. Näre (2007) points out that the lack of a work permit is a handicap not so much in terms of finding work but rather in terms of reduced mobility. Ukrainian women complain that, since they cannot travel freely to their country of origin, they are unable to maintain stable relations with people at home.

21Relations with the country of origin are not always easy or positive. In Ukraine, women who emigrate are considered prostitutes, pig-herders, wood-choppers: women who earn too much money to be doing honest work [Fedyuk, 2006; Keryk, 2004]. They also deprive themselves of political rights and in fact give up participating in public life. However, they do not integrate into their host society because they consider their path to be temporary. They tend to return to their country of origin when they can, but usually leave again quite quickly, either because they cannot accept the low wage levels or because they are unwilling, in Ukraine, to do the menial jobs that they are willing to do abroad.

22It is hard for women from outside the EU to obtain a work permit in Italy because of very strict laws and a very muddled bureaucracy. There are two opposing interpretations of the way Ukrainian women react to this. Lena Näre (2007) talks of desperate women who are prepared to pay taxes and contributions out of their own wages in order to obtain a work permit. This, the writer says, would give them freedom of movement and free them from their employers. Fedyuk (2006), on the other hand, says that it suits Ukrainian women not to have a work permit because they prefer to remain invisible, go abroad for short periods and earn a higher income, as they do not have to pay taxes and contributions. Perhaps their attitude depends on the time perspective: obtaining a work permit is far more important for someone who has decided to stay in Italy for a long time than for someone who wants to return home quickly.

23What is the profile of Ukrainian women in Italy? Keryk (2004) confirms that most Ukrainian immigrants in Italy are women, most of them from Western Ukraine. The majority are in the age range of 36-45 years and most of them are separated with a dependent child left at home. Nearly 40% of them are highly educated; nearly 50% work as cleaners and nearly 44% as caretakers of elderly individuals or babysitters. More than 40% of them say they manage to send home 400-600 dollars a month and 12% say they manage to send more than 600 dollars.

24It would be impossible to discuss the migration of Eastern European women to Italy without making territorial distinctions. To start with, there are differences in the national character that explain why the attitudes of Ukrainian women are different, for example, from those of Rumanian women. Then there are differences between women coming from urban areas and women coming from rural areas.

25The process of migration from Rumania underwent a sudden change starting from January 2002, when Rumanian citizens acquired the right to free circulation within the Schengen area once they had entered it as tourists. Before this date, it was mainly men who emigrated; women only did so to follow their husbands or other male members of the family. It was very rare for women to migrate on their own, as they considered themselves or were considered to be unsuited to undertake what was often an illegal journey. Obtaining a visa was so costly that illegal travel was often the only way. It was hard for women to run this risk. The fact that women who decided to migrate were generally viewed as “prostitutes” if they did so without a male member of the family should also be considered. Starting from 2002, however, the free circulation of tourists changed everything [Vlase, 2006]. Women migrate regardless of their husbands or brothers to improve their financial situation, escape the control of the family or improve their situation once they have returned home. According to Ionela Vlase (2006), the decision to migrate creates a genuine process of empowerment. However, unlike other national groups, Rumanian women tend to live with other members of the family, try to get their husbands to follow them or go back to their husbands. This also influences their choice of job. They work as domestic help but tend not to live with the employer and prefer to work by the hour so as to be able to look after their families. Despite this, they complain of feeling extremely isolated and alone. They feel excluded from life in Italy while finding it difficult to create a life of their own.

26Turning our attention to Polish women, we find a situation similar to the ones described earlier. The economic crisis generated by the transition to a market economy has created unemployment and a sharp fall in income levels, which has principally affected women. Their right to work has also been restricted by the policies of conservative governments in recent years: no more social services to look after children and help mothers, limited access to contraceptive methods and an anti-abortion stance. All these measures have been implemented to return women to their role as daughters, wives and mothers within the four walls of the home: not independent workers but rather financially dependent [Coyle, 2007]. These neo-conservative governments reflect the social situation of the country, where there are men with health problems such as alcoholism and men who are violent, especially at home. Hence, financial problems, the desire to escape oppressive families and the denial of their human rights have led Polish women to undertake migration paths. In countries where it is difficult to settle legally and where policies are unfavourable to foreigners, such as Italy, even the most highly educated women do menial jobs – baby-minders, caretakers and cleaners – often remaining illegal. Bulgarian women experience the same situation [Suter, 2008]. We must ask ourselves what will happen in the future and how policies will evolve, considering that Poland has the highest female education rate in the EU [Eurostat, 2005]. These women undertake paths that make them feel like long-distance commuters or travellers rather than migrants. They often move temporarily, often returning to their country of origin where they have often left their children. They have a very close network of friends and acquaintances through which they find a place to live and a job once they have reached their destination, and with whom they share their problems and interests. By working long hours for a satisfactory income, they manage to create the kind of modern and globalised life for themselves that they cannot have in Poland. “Polish women have been able to construct alternative livelihoods and worker identities and avoid becoming the gendered subjects of official conservative discourse. Mobility has enabled many women to remain economic actors; unmarried women to cohabit with their partners without censure; lesbian women to form same-sex relationship without discrimination; and married women to achieve a socially legitimate form of marital separation” [Coyle, 2007].

27The working situation of foreign women changes for the better as time goes by. When they arrive in the host country they generally live in the house where they work, doing what Anderson (2000) calls the three “Cs”: cleaning, cooking and caring. This is a comfortable situation in that they spend their lives in someone else’s house, not having to worry about anything and carrying out tasks that any Italian woman would have done until about fifty years ago. However, the situation is psychologically unbearable, as in fact the foreign women become the property of the host family, on which they are totally dependent. They have no independence and no freedom; they are paid very low wages and in general their presence is illegal. It is for this reason that the women’s path moves towards emancipation, abandoning the house and leading them to the search for different jobs, especially cleaning different houses. This way the women feel freer and more independent. They choose their employers and negotiate their working hours and pay, even though they often come into conflict. In fact, they are given the heavy cleaning while the employers do the lighter work. The employers then complain because they find that the employees are not careful or thorough enough; they are only interested in making money and not in keeping the house clean: this was the result of a survey of Albanian women in Athens [Athanasopoulou, 2008]. The conflict in the Greek survey is clear: the Albanian women see themselves as professionals who do jobs for which they want to be well paid, while their female employers view them as modern servants who must do everything there is to do without counting their working hours and pay.

3. The research

3.1. The methodology

28The qualitative survey on the presence of immigrant women from Eastern Europe in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area (Fig.1) was carried out through a questionnaire submitted to 129 women from different countries: Ukraine (30), Albania (29), Rumania (26), Poland (24) and Bulgaria (20). It is a reasoned sample, not a casual or stratified one, constructed on the basis of informed meetings with the interviewers of various nationalities. The interviewers have the advantage of possessing in-depth knowledge of the communities the women belong to and those with which they have frequent professional and human contact. This knowledge made it possible to make a reasoned choice of 129 women to interview, who would be the most representative of the communities. The questionnaires were therefore submitted by foreign women who either belong to or are close to the communities. This method was chosen to avoid the negative impact created by the social and cultural distance between possible Italian interviewers and the immigrant women. The interviewers were trained at a series of meetings during which they were taken through the questionnaire point by point and told the reasons for the questions and the positive consequences in terms of knowledge and policy. For their part, the interviewers pointed out possible controversial points of the questionnaire and questions that could be problematic for the respondents. A common solution to the problems was found.

3.2. The results

29The female foreign population represented by the sample examined is an adult population: only 4.76% of the women interviewed are 25 years old or younger, while more than 32% are women over 45 years old. The most widely represented age ranges are the 25-35 year group (28.57% of the sample) and the 35-45 year group (33.33% of the sample). So this is a working age population at the height of their working capacity, a fact that will be confirmed when we analyse the composition of the sample by occupation.

30The foreign women interviewed mainly live without a male presence but not necessarily alone: in fact, only 28.57% of the women interviewed said they are married or live with their spouse, while the rest of the sample is made up of unmarried women (24.60%), separated or divorced women (21.43%), married women who do not live with their spouse (14.29%) and widows (9.52%). The unmarried women are to be found not only among the youngest respondents (less than 25 years) but also among the middle-aged ones. In the case of married women who do not live with their spouses, in most cases the husbands live in the country of origin and, as we will see further on, occasionally depend on their wives’ income. The percentage of widows is fairly significant, demonstrating the rather high mortality rate of Eastern European men, as we mentioned in the first chapter.

31Besides being unaccompanied by their husbands, many foreign women are also in Italy without their children, either because they do not have children (27.78%) or because their children do not live with them (35.71%). Only 34.13% of the women interviewed have children living with them. In most cases, when the children do not live with their mothers it is because they live in the country of origin, in general with their fathers, as children would be a problem for women on their own in Italy who have to work for several hours a day. When the spouse and offspring-related data are viewed together, the prevailing family model that emerges is one in which the woman emigrates on her own and supports her spouse and children through her remittances. The majority of the minor children the women have to support (91.49%) are of school-going age, while 8.51% are less than three years old. The majority of the women’s older children do not go to university (66%) and have a job (78%). However, 22% of adult children are also unemployed.

32On average, the women interviewed left their country of origin 5.6 years ago: the earliest departure was 16 years ago and the most recent 6 months ago. Three-quarters of the women (75.40%) left their home country to move directly to the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area, while 22.22% went to another Italian city and only subsequently moved to the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area. Finally, 1.59% of the women followed a complex migration path: first abroad, then another Italian city and finally the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area, and another 0.79% of the women first went to another foreign country to then arrive in the reference metropolitan area. These data therefore suggest that their arrival in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is not a random factor and that, in most cases, it is a predetermined choice, either the first choice when leaving the country of origin or the second choice when arriving in Italy. They stay in this area for quite a long time: nearly 40% of the women have been living in the metropolitan area for over five years and 6% of these for over ten years. Only 11.11% of the sample arrived less than a year ago, while nearly 49% of the women arrived from one to five years ago. These figures imply a fairly stable settlement and the desire to stay, at least until the much-awaited moment of returning to their country of origin. More than 80% of the women have left their country of origin to seek better fortunes by working elsewhere, while only a little over 10% of them took the decision to follow a spouse who had already gone abroad. Finally, nearly 5% of the sample said they had left their country of origin for educational purposes. The main reasons for having chosen the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area are the availability of job opportunities (for 33.33% of the women interviewed) and the presence of other family members (for 20.63% of the women interviewed); next come the presence of friends (for 12.70%), compatriots (for 8.73%), the presence of compatriots, family members and friends (for 10.32%) and the presence of friends plus the job opportunities (for 9.52%). Only 2.38% of the respondents moved for educational purposes. Nearly 58% of respondents said they intend to return to their country of origin. While this percentage is not a low one, it is far lower than for other national groups. The migration path is therefore a genuine journey that starts and ends in the same place. Nearly 77% of respondents said that they would continue to live in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area before going back to their country of origin. This figure therefore confirms the non-transitory nature of the foreign settlement in the area under consideration, although the foreign women intend to return “home”. The objective of practically all (96.34%) the women who intend to return to their country of origin is to first accumulate sufficient savings, while only 2.44% intend to obtain a degree. 1.22% of these women have mixed objectives that range from a combination of savings and professionalism to a combination of savings and a degree for their children.

33Most of the women interviewed (69.84%) live with one or two other people. In some cases this is the classic family of a couple with a child; in others it is the model of a caregiver looking after an elderly person or an elderly couple, while in yet others women share a flat with female acquaintances and friends. 5.56% of the women live alone, while nearly 24% share a flat with four or more people. In nearly half the cases (42.40%), they share their living space with family members, while 39.20% of women live with the Italian family for which they work. The rest share their flat with compatriots, friends, colleagues or a combination of all these.

3474.65% of the women interviewed who live in a place that does not belong to the family for which they work rent a flat, while 22.54% own a house or flat; the property is not individual but is often family-owned. Rents are in line with the market in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area, ranging from a minimum of 200 euros to a maximum of over 600 euros. In the metropolitan area under consideration, as in other European cities, there is a tendency to rent or sell flats to foreigners on floors within the building that are less popular with Italians, although one cannot really call this actual segregation. 0.79% of the women interviewed say they live in an independent house and 7.14% live on the ground floor or mezzanine floor. More than 50% of respondents live between the first and the third floor (23.81% on the first floor, 23.02% on the second floor and 15.87% on the third floor respectively), while 12.70% live on the fourth floor and a mere 3.17% on the fifth floor. The percentage goes up to 3.97% when we move to the seventh or higher floors. With average occupancy of 1.2 person per flat the area appears to be sufficiently large, as there are 2.67 rooms on average per flat, kitchen and bathroom excluded. Nearly 8% of the women interviewed say they live in places with a single room, 32.54% in two rooms, 42.06% in three-room flats and 10.32% in four-room flats. 3.17% say they live in housing with more than four rooms.

35Housing is occupied for three years on average. Considering that the average length of stay in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is five years, it would appear that there is some amount of residential mobility and hence some amount of housing change. 27.78% of the women interviewed say they have been living in their housing for not more than a year, 17.46% from one to two years, 15.08% from two to three years and 23.81% from three to five years. 13.49% say they have lived in the same house for over five years. Nearly 60% of the women interviewed say they previously lived elsewhere in the metropolitan area under consideration.

36The lack of ownership of a means of transport also points to the financial difficulties of these foreign women. Only 22.22% of the respondents say they own a car, while nearly 4% say they have a motorcycle or moped. 53.13% of the women who have no independent means of transport say they get around by bus. 20.83% of them walk, nearly 12% walk or take the bus, nearly 9% use a bicycle and the rest use a combination (trams, trains, the underground etc).

37Considering the degree classification in their countries of origin, the level of education is quite high: 50% of the women interviewed say they have a high school diploma, and nearly 18% have a degree. Fewer than 2% of respondents say they have a primary school diploma, while nearly 28% have a secondary school diploma. Few of these foreign women are aware of the fact that their educational qualifications are not recognised in Italy. In fact, nearly all of them believe the qualification obtained in their country of origin is equivalent to an Italian qualification. However, there is a strong conviction on their part that their educational qualifications in no way correspond to the work they do: more than 70% of respondents say so. This figure should make the public authorities and social workers reflect on the need to inform migrant women of the real possibilities and potential that Italy offers them.

38The occupational profile of the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is typical of non-specialised mature economies. More than two-thirds of the respondents — 68.25% — work in the domestic help sector as babysitters, maids or caregivers. Only 3.17% of respondents say they have independent jobs in the commerce or handicraft sectors; nearly 4% say they are salespersons and 7.14% are housewives. Less than 1% of the women interviewed are industrial workers and just over 7% work as waitresses, cooks or kitchen help in the catering sector. The job scenario that emerges therefore demonstrates a clear predominance of households over businesses in the demand for female foreign workers. This is the sign of an aging society, but also of a wealthy society in which Italian women are no longer willing to play the traditional roles of wives, mothers and daughters and prefer to work in well-paying sectors. The migrant women’s jobs do not correspond, as far as they are concerned, to their professional skills. In fact, nearly 55% of respondents say that non-manual jobs would correspond to their skills: a desk job (for 15.08%), a self-employed or intellectual profession (for 19.84%) or a job in the health sector (for 11.90%) or as a laboratory technician (for 7.94%). Only 6.35% say the job that would suit their skills is that of a worker and 15.87% say they know how to do manual work (shop assistant, waitress or cook). None of the respondents mentions babysitter, maid or caregiver as one of the jobs for which she is qualified. The working situation of the women interviewed has worsened with their arrival in Italy: nearly 24% of them were self-employed professionals and nearly 8% of the women were engaged in entrepreneurial activity at home. Nearly all (96.30%) of the women who work are in salaried employment and 54% of these are fixed-term contracts. Nearly 60% of the women work full-time. Nearly 93% of the women interviewed work in the services sector, in particular personal services. Nearly 7% work in the commerce sector and less than 1% in industry. Nearly 57% of the women interviewed say there are people who depend on their income in their country of origin: children (in 55.22% of cases), parents (in 22.39% of cases), siblings (in 2.99% of cases), the spouse (in 2.99% of cases) or a combination of these relations, the most common being spouse and children (in 5.97% of cases), spouse, children and parents (in 4.48% of cases) and children and parents (in 5.97% of cases).

39The level of social integration of Eastern European women in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is good and could facilitate their overall integration. More than 50% of the women say their friends include compatriots and Italians (38.40%) or compatriots, Italians and other foreigners (13.60%). Only 3.20% say they have only Italian friends, while a substantial number, albeit not a majority (44.80%) only associate with their compatriots. The usual meeting places are very different: home takes precedence, with 23.02% of the women interviewed saying they meet their friends at home, followed by public squares, where 20.63% of respondents meet their friends. Otherwise, respondents say their social life takes place in several locations: besides the home or public squares as mentioned earlier, they meet in bars or at the station or go for walks along the roads of the city.

40Although they keep in close touch with the country of origin, mainly through their remittances, 73.02% of the women interviewed say no family member or friend from their country of origin has ever visited them in Italy. Among the women who say they have had people visiting them — which could be called a flow of tourists — 71% say they receive a visit less than once a year, 21% at least once a year and 9% more than once a year. When they arrive in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area, relatives and friends stay in the women’s own lodgings or with other members of the extended family.

41The Eastern European women express varying needs. 24.8% need to find a place to rent and 33.6% need to find a house to buy, from which one can in any case deduce that the majority of them are either satisfied with their current housing or do not have the financial means to move house. Many of them are dissatisfied with their jobs: 29.03% say they are looking for a job and 56.30% say they want to change jobs. 44.44% would like to start their own business. There are several prerequisites for this: 20% of respondents say the pre-requisite is the availability of funds and 16.67% the availability of funds and training courses, while 30% would like to form part of an existing independent business. As regards their personal needs, the foreign women tend to be somewhat reserved and wish to maintain their dignity: in fact, only 10.32% say they need social assistance and only 20.63% say they need medical assistance. However, 50% of respondents state a need for legal and administrative assistance. The listing of their needs offers a clear picture of actions the public authorities should put in place: (i) follow the Eastern European women in their job path, help them to find or change jobs and provide funds and training courses to help them to start independent businesses, (ii) satisfy their housing needs with public or rent-controlled housing and (iii) help them with administrative procedures, which may often seem lengthy and muddled to people from outside Italy.

4. Profiles of eastern european women in chieti-pescara metropolitan area

4.1. Albanian women

42Wives. They came to Italy for reasons of family reunification with their husbands. They generally have a secondary or higher secondary school certificate. They work as domestic help. They have two or more children. They live with their husbands and children, usually in fairly small rented accommodation. They do not require much by way of assistance. They would all like to change jobs. They mostly associate with compatriots they meet in their lodgings. They have people dependent on them in their country of origin, generally their parents. Relatives and friends from the country of origin visit them and stay in their houses. The Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is generally the starting and final point of their migration path for the ones who wish to remain in Italy. For the others, the final objective is to return to Albania.

43Daughters. They came to Italy for reasons of family reunification, probably following their mothers who came here to join their fathers. They go to primary, secondary or high school. They do not work because they are not in the working age. They live with their parents, usually in fairly small rented flats. They do not demonstrate the need for assistance. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians and other foreigners whom they meet in public places, on the road, in squares or in bars.

44Young single adults. They came to Italy for their studies, usually at university. They have a higher secondary school certificate. Some work to support themselves while studying while others do not. These are insecure jobs, usually as wait staff, and do not correspond to the degree they are obtaining in Italy. They live with friends in small flats. They have no special need of assistance. They would like to have or change jobs and often wish to be self-employed. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians and other foreigners, whom they meet in public places, the street, the local square or in bars. In general they do not have anyone depending on them in their country of origin and they do not receive visits from compatriots. The Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is generally the final destination of their migration path and in general they have no desire to return to their country of origin.

4.2. Bulgarian women

45Adult women. They are middle-aged women who have come to Italy to work. They have left their husband and children at home or are separated, divorced or widowed. They have left their country of origin to come to Italy but the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area was not the first stop on their migration path. They are uncertain about their future and wish to return home but will do so in the distant future, when they have accumulated future savings. The children depend on them and therefore part of their money is sent home. They share their living quarters and expenses with compatriots. They have a higher education diploma but do menial jobs that do not correspond to their studies. In general these are salaried jobs on a fixed-term contract. They are not aware of the legal value of their educational qualifications in Italy. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians, whom they meet in public places and at home. They need to change their housing and their jobs. They need assistance, particularly medical and legal assistance. They would like to change jobs and would undertake an independent business activity if they had the funds to do so. The Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is the final stop on their migration path. They have few contacts with the people who have remained in their country of origin, who do not come to visit them.

46Wives. They came to Italy together with their husbands to work. They have left their children in their country of origin and constantly send their savings home to them. They generally have a higher secondary school certificate. They work as domestic help or as caregivers for the elderly. They usually live in fairly small rented flats. They have no special need of assistance. They plan to return to their country of origin once they have accumulated sufficient savings. All of them would like to change jobs. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians, whom they meet in public places and in their homes. The Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area is generally the final stop on their migration path, which began in other Italian cities. They do not need either medical or social assistance, but they do need legal and administrative help.

47Adult women living with or married to Italians. These are quite young women, often divorced with children, who have left their country of origin in order to find work and reached the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area after a long migration path in Italy. After meeting an Italian man, they have stopped working and become housewives. They have kept in touch with the people who have remained in Bulgaria and who come to visit them, albeit rarely. They do not have dependent people to support and do not intend to return to their country of origin. They associate with compatriots and Italians whom they meet in public places and at home. They do not need to find a job and have no need of any kind of public assistance. They would like to buy a house.

48Businesswomen. They are young single women who left their country of origin as teenagers to settle in Italy. They have no children or parents to support. Or they are middle-aged, divorced women who have left their children at home: the latter are independent and do not need their help. They intend to return to their country of origin as soon as they have accumulated sufficient savings. They run independent businesses that they set up as a response to migratory flows: for example, they own estate agencies or commercial services working mainly for immigrants. They have achieved enough financial stability to be able to buy themselves a house and a car. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians, in public places and at home. They have no needs and do not appear to require assistance of any kind. These are the kind of women that migration policies should try and attract; however, they could seriously undermine the competitiveness of Italian businesswomen.

4.3. Polish women

49Married or single adult women. They are adult women who are no longer young, married, with the husband and children living in the country of origin. The children depend on their income, either because they are still small or because despite being adults with a job, they do not have enough money to survive. Work is the sole reason for which they have left Poland and moved to the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area, on average three years ago and in any case not before 2000. All of them intend to return to Poland in the short term, within a year at most, after having accumulated sufficient savings. They live with the Italian families for which they work as domestic help. They describe themselves as tailors and nurses, only occasionally as caregivers for the elderly, and seem to have a somewhat reticent and dignified approach to the difficulty of admitting the menial nature of their jobs. None of them has had a previous job in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area and nearly all of them have always lived with their current family of employers. They do not have a car or a scooter ; they get around by bus or on foot. They have the equivalent of a secondary school certificate and think their job corresponds to their level of education. They have contracts as salaried employees, generally fixed-term or full-time. They only associate with compatriots, whom they meet in public places. In general they do not receive visits from friends or family members from Poland. They would like to live in a rented house or buy a house, change jobs and find a business that would hire them as partners.

50Single adult women. They are divorced, widowed or unmarried women who live on their own. Some of them have children in Poland who depend on their mothers’ income, as their own income is not enough to live well on. On average, they left their country of origin and arrived in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area less than three years ago. The reason that led them to emigrate was the need to find work and they chose the area under consideration because of the job opportunities it offers. They intend to return to Poland in a very short time, in a year at most, a time frame they consider sufficient to accumulate enough savings. They live with the Italian families for which they work as domestics. Like their married compatriots, they find it difficult to identify with their jobs and describe themselves as nurses, cooks and shop assistants, never as the domestic help they actually are. None of them has changed job and only some of them have moved house during their stay in the metropolitan area. They have no means of personal transport ; they get around on foot, by bicycle or using public transport. They have completed middle school studies (with a secondary or higher secondary certificate) and consider their education appropriate to the jobs they hold as salaried employees, almost always on full-time fixed-term contracts, in the personal services sector. They associate exclusively with compatriots whom they meet in public places. They express the need for a new house, to rent or buy, and a new job, which they wish to change or create. Only some of them express the need for medical, social or legal assistance.

4.4. Rumanian women

51Single adult women. They are divorced or separated women for the most part. Only some of them are married and have left their children and, in some cases, their husbands in the country of origin and moved to Italy in search of work. They chose the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area because of the presence of a community of compatriots and because of the availability of job opportunities. For most of them, the area is their final destination. Some of them want to return to their country of origin as soon as they have set aside sufficient savings, while others prefer to remain in Italy. The children and spouse they have left at home depend on their income and in some cases so do their parents. They work as caregivers and domestic help. Some of them live with the families they work for while others share accommodation with compatriots. In general they have permanent, full-time employment contracts. They have a fairly low income, live in rented although not overcrowded apartments and own neither a car nor any other means of transport. They have educational qualifications corresponding to a secondary school or higher secondary certificate. Some of them only associate with compatriots while others also have Italian or other foreign friends. They usually meet these friends in public places. Friends and relatives who have remained in the country of origin do not come to visit them. They do not demonstrate any specific need for social, medical or legal assistance. They do not need to move house or buy one, but they would like to change jobs : in particular they would like to set up their own businesses and would do so if they had the funds, the possibility of attending specific training courses and associates with whom to invest in the business.

52Wives and partners. These are adult women who are married or live with their partners, with or without children. They live in the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area with their families. They have arrived in Italy in the past few years for reasons of family reunification, having followed their husbands or come here in search of work. They chose to move to the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area because of the presence of their family or compatriots. They live in rented houses with their family members, in fairly spacious apartments with independent heating systems. They are housewives or work as domestic help but their jobs are insecure. They have a secondary or higher secondary education that does not correspond to the work they do. They do not have people in the country of origin who depend on their income. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians and other foreigners, whom they usually meet in public places or in places of worship. They have maintained contact with people in their country of origin who occasionally come to visit them and stay with them in their homes. They express the need to find or change jobs ; some wish to buy a house. They appear to have no particular need of assistance.

53Young girls. Young girls who have left their country of origin to find a job in Italy. They have moved to the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area because there are good work opportunities and because they have friends. That metropolitan area is the final destination of their migration path and they do not intend to return to their country of origin. They live with friends or with the Italian family for which they work. They do not own a car or other means of transport and get around on foot or using public transport. Their educational qualifications vary, ranging from secondary education to a university degree, but do not correspond to their jobs as domestic help or caregivers. They have permanent, full-time salaried employment. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians, whom they meet in public places or at home. They would like to change jobs and would set up their own businesses if they had the money to do so and business partners. They do not express any need for assistance.

4.5. Ukrainian women

54Single adult women. These women are separated, divorced, widowed or unmarried and have moved to Italy in search of job, often leaving their children at home. Some are married women who have left their husbands and children in their country of origin to move to Italy to work. They have arrived in Italy at different stages but not in any case before 2000. In general, the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area was the first place they came to in Italy and they have remained there. The main reasons for their choice of this area were the presence of a community of compatriots, friends or family members. The metropolitan area is also considered the final destination, either for life or before returning home, a desire expressed mainly by women who are close to retirement age or have left their children in their country of origin. Most of these women live with the families for which they work as caregivers to the elderly or domestic help. Some of them live with family members or friends, generally in inexpensive rented accommodation in the more rundown parts of the metropolitan area. Hardly any of them owns a car or scooter and nearly all of them get around on foot or by bus. Their level of education is high, ranging from a higher secondary certificate to a university degree. They are aware that their educational qualifications are not recognised by Italian law. They do menial work : caring for the elderly, household help, babysitting. In general they have fixed-term, full-time employment. Nearly all of them have dependent family members in their country of origin : children, parents or a spouse. In Italy they associate with compatriots as well as Italians, whom they meet in public places, in open-air locations, at home or in church. Almost none of them have family members or friends who visit in the course of the year. All these women express the need for legal and administrative assistance. Many of them say they would like to start a business if they had funds and business partners. Some (not the majority) say they wish to change job.

55Wives. There are only a few married women living in the metropolitan area with their husbands and children. They came to Italy at different times, but not before 1998, for work. They chose the Chieti-Pescara metropolitan area because of the presence of a community of compatriots and friends. All of them view the area as the final destination of their migration and hardly any of them intends to return to her country of origin. They live with their family in houses they own or rent. The quality of their housing is not particularly low, whether in terms of location within the city or the floor within the apartment complex. They have a middle-to-high level of education— higher secondary school certificate to university degree — and are aware their qualifications are not recognised in Italy. They do menial work as caregivers for the elderly and domestic help. They are salaried employees with either fixed-term or permanent contracts, generally part-time. In some cases their income also goes to support their parents who have remained in the country of origin. They associate with compatriots as well as Italians, whom they meet in public places and at home. They all say they need legal and administrative assistance but none of them requires social or medical help. Some would set themselves up in business if they had the funds and business partners. Many of them would like to change job.


56This essay has outlined the characteristics of Eastern European women in a region of Central-Adriatic Italy. Most of these women travel alone, often fleeing problematic family situations, and often leave their children in their country of origin. They have a fairly high level of education but their qualifications are not recognised in Italy, where they take up menial jobs as domestic help. Many of them intend to remain in Italy, although most of them intend to return to their country of origin, especially after having saved enough money. The survey did not reveal the presence of transnational migration as such, although the women maintain contact with their community of origin. In the metropolitan area analysed, they tend to recreate national communities while showing willingness to associate with people of other nationalities as well as Italians. The host society is quite welcoming, or not hostile at any rate, and encourages them to stay.

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1 Although this paper is the result of a joint collaboration of the two authors, Montanari coordinated the research and wrote the chapter 1 while Stanicia wrote the rest.

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Armando Montanari et Barbara Staniscia, « Female Migration in a Changing World »Espace populations sociétés, 2009/2 | 2009, 227-241.

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Armando Montanari et Barbara Staniscia, « Female Migration in a Changing World »Espace populations sociétés [En ligne], 2009/2 | 2009, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2011, consulté le 24 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Armando Montanari

Sapienza Università di Roma
Dipartimento di studi europei e Interculturali
Piazzale Aldo Moro, 5
00185 Roma T

Barbara Staniscia

Sapienza Università di Roma
Dipartimento di studi europei e Interculturali
Piazzale Aldo Moro, 5
00185 Roma T

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