Sewing or Sex? Labor Migration in Thailand


Over the last several decades, Thailand has emerged as a newly industrialized country (NIC). Sociocultural norms combined with rapid industrialization put young rural Thai women in a unique position by demanding labor migration to fill export-service industry jobs. Young women who opt for internal migration to urban areas generally have two options: work in light industry factory jobs or enter the commercial sex trade. Many seize this opportunity to migrate from rural villages to urban centers as a way to fulfill filial obligations. The move is also alluring, however, as the urban life presents the chance to earn money, gain autonomy from families and villages, and become up-to-date or than samay. Thailand's culture of beauty, along with the move to capitalism—and hence materialism)—demand that young women be than samay, if they are to be accepted.

This case study addresses a number of international relations issues, including women's development, the global economy, the impact of global north policies on the global south, globalization, migration, and the effect of development policies. This case is designed to be included in introductory courses in international relations and comparative politics, as well as courses with topics in women's development, international political economy, and gender and global politics.

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