Insiders as Outsiders: European Women in Binational Marriages

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Julia Woesthoff, History Dept., DePaul University, Chicago


    As legal migration into Europe becomes ever more difficult, the growth of marriages between third-country nationals and Europeans—conferring residency and/or citizenship rights to the non-Europeans—has drawn increasing attention. Since the 1980s, when the number of asylum seekers in Europe skyrocketed, states have redoubled their efforts to root out so-called “sham-marriages.” In response, the European Union passed a Council resolution in December 1997 to combat “marriages of convenience,” which the EU considered “a means of circumventing the rules on entry and residence of non-western nationals.” While marriages between European men and non-European women have been tacitly accepted in practice, relationships between European women and non-European men (especially those from Muslim countries) have been disproportionately affected by the EU resolution and individual state efforts, speaking to the ways ethnicity and gender have fundamentally informed the perception of these relationships. Often branded as members from the margins of society, women in these binational relationships are at best, considered horribly naïve and, at worst, considered mercenary, routinely portrayed as financially destitute and/or drug-addicted and therefore willing, for a fee, to marry foreign men in need of residency permits. While research on family migration and binational marriage in postwar Europe is growing, the focus of that work has mostly been on the situation of third-country spouses and family members. What has heretofore received little attention is the situation of the European women in binational relationships and the way their rights as European nationals have been affected by their choice of spouse. Using Germany as one example, while also reflecting on the broader European perspective, this paper explores how European women—nominally members of the in-group—who are married to foreigners, have become legal, cultural and social outsiders. Drawing on published sources, such as news reports and advice manuals as well as unpublished sources, such as memoranda, and official correspondence, this paper reflects on the racist and sexist ways that the sham marriage debate has focused on maintaining particular norms of Europeanness—rather than protecting all of its citizens.