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Migrant Brides in Singapore: Women Strategizing within Family, Market and State
Harvard Journal of Law and Gender (2014)
  • Amanda W Chong, Harvard University

Migrant Brides are women from developing countries who migrate to marry. This article uses the legal case study of Migrant Brides in Singapore to explore broader questions about women’s agency and the Family as a site of power and negotiation. I argue that the background rule systems of immigration, labor and welfare law condition the application of family law on Migrant Brides, resulting in family law having disparate impact on Migrant Brides and Singaporean women. Through in-depth interviews with these women, I map the background rule systems, comprising both formal and informal norms, as the terrain in which Migrant Brides must navigate while in Singapore. I posit that the background rules create vulnerabilities and advantages that are translated into bargaining endowments for Migrant Brides. I demonstrate how the women actively use these endowments in strategizing within the Family, Market and State.

Thus, my article provides a crucial corrective to the popular characterization of “third-world” women as passive victims trapped within coercive legal norms. Instead, Migrant Brides are shown to be active agents working within the background rules to shape the distributional consequences of their marriages. They will not be helped by protectionist legislation that restricts their migration into the country. Rather, an increase in options within the background rules, however small, will increase Migrant Brides’ bargaining power within their marriages, and provide possibilities for their creative and strategic action.

  • Women,
  • Agency,
  • Migration,
  • Family Law,
  • Trafficking,
  • Feminism,
  • Critical Legal Theory,
  • Distributive Analysis
Publication Date
Summer 2014
Publisher Statement

This paper was awarded the Yong K. Kim '95 Memorial Prize by Harvard Law School in May 2012.

Citation Information
Amanda W Chong. "Migrant Brides in Singapore: Women Strategizing within Family, Market and State" Harvard Journal of Law and Gender Vol. 37 (2014)
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