Contractually Sterilized: Migrant Mothers and Carceral Politics in the Gulf Coast Cooperation (GCC) Countries

Pardis Mahdavi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Migration to the Gulf Countries of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait has become increasingly feminized in the past two decades. Women make up the majority of migrants to the Gulf, and while they often migrate during their most fertile reproductive years while they labor in the Gulf, they are prohibited by contract from becoming pregnant—leading to a situation of what I call “contractual sterilization.” The purpose of this essay is twofold: first, to look at the impacts of contractual sterilization on migrant women’s experiences as they labor abroad; and second, to look at how becoming a parent (or the possibility of reproducing) while in the host country structures a discourse and series of actions that can lead migrant women into challenging situations of becoming undocumented and illegal, detained, abused, or deported. Drawing on several years of ethnographic research in the UAE and Kuwait between 2004 and 2014, I contrast women’s experiences of parenthood in Kuwait City, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi with conversations and discourses constructed about migrant women’s bodies, reproductive capabilities, and sexualities. Beyond looking at the question of intimate labor, I aim to look at the intimate lives of those engaging in intimate labor and ask what of the personal, affective, and emotional ties of those working in spheres of intimate labor?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-316
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Gulf countries
  • contractual sterilization
  • gendered migration
  • reproduction
  • sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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