The "trafficking" of persians: Labor, migration, and traffic in Dubayy

Pardis Mahdavi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Around the world today, we are experiencing what scholars call a "feminization of migration," which coincides with a global panic about human trafficking and distorts the messy realities of forced labor, migration, and sex work. In the Middle East, Dubayy has become the center for the migration of many Iranian women moving into the informal economy of sex work. In this essay, I argue that the disjuncture between paradigms of Iranian women's sexualities and actual experiences of and reasons for migration to Dubayy results in complicated challenges to migrant Iranian women's agency as well as to their ideas about agency. The discourse on the innocent, trafficked woman and that on the guilty, predatory woman do not reflect women's actual experiences in Dubayy and serve only to perpetuate already gendered and raced discourses on the movement of women's bodies that is prevalent in international discourses on sex work and trafficking. Many people use the language of trafficking, problematic in its implications that women (especially from the developing world) could only be "duped" into sex work in another country, and this language serves to silence the already silenced migrant sex workers. Qualitative, ethnographic fieldwork with sex workers, migrant women, and those who provide services to them assessed the experiences of migrant women and sex workers, labeled as "trafficked" by the international community. The essay seeks to describe the experiences of these migrant women in the Middle East and how their narratives have been constructed and often misinterpreted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-546
Number of pages14
JournalComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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