Why Were the Women Left Behind? Chinese and Indian Migration in the Indian Ocean Region: A Historical Perspective

  • Kalpana Hiralal


This chapter examines the reasons for male-centred migration of both Chinese and Indian immigrants to South Africa at the turn of the century. A closer examination of their histories reveals that they share many similarities: both Chinese and Indian migrations were an integral part of the Indian Ocean region, it was male centred, early immigrants were “sojourners” and women were “left behind” and arrived years later to join their spouses. This chapter asks the questions, “Why did men arrive first”, “Why did the women not come?”, “Why were the women left behind?” This chapter argues that the reasons for “women left behind” and the male -centred nature of migration must be viewed in the context of socio-economic, political and cultural factors that both impeded and restricted women’s decision to migrate. Traditional arguments have often focused on patriarchy as a social and cultural impediment for women’s migration. It was far more complex. Whilst cultural and patriarchal factors played an important role, there were other factors: “sojourner mentality” of male immigrants, high cost of living, institutional barriers, personal circumstances and the socio-economic value of overseas migration (remittances) collectively inhibited and facilitated the mobility of women immigrants to Africa. This chapter moves the migration narratives to the other side of the Indian Ocean region, thereby making the lives of left behind women a significant area of analysis.


Indian Ocean Region Sojourner Mentality Indian Immigrant Women Early Immigrants Chinese Immigrants 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kalpana Hiralal
    • 1
  1. 1.Historical StudiesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

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