Thursday, 30 July 2015

Four novelties at the crossroads of migration and gender studies

By Dorte Thorsen

from the Migrating out of Poverty international conference

Gendered Dimensions of Migration: Material and social outcomes of South-South migration

30 June - 2 July 2015
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
The conference was an opportunity to understand how gender roles and expectations influence the factors leading to migration, male and female migrants’ different experiences of migration and its impact on migrants, their families and home communities. Key insights from research shed light on how migration affects economic wellbeing and relationships, not only between women and men but also between parents and their sons and daughters.

Together we shared findings from 20 carefully selected and diverse research projects, exploring how notions of gender and age appropriate activities and behaviour shape migration. It was a lively discussion, with presentations, films and exhibitions. A policy roundtable enables researchers and civil society representatives to engage with their counterparts in international policy making organisations. It was a rare chance for dialogue on an under-explored issue. Our conference on the gendered dimensions of migration continues to prompt dialogue and debate.

For me, four main novelties stood out from our discussions:

1. Women migrate in response to changing agricultural and labour markets in order, both, to earn higher returns for their labour and in pursuit of urban employment and lifestyles. This can have positive and negative outcomes.

  • Migrant women from Northeast India who take advantage of their ethnic features to enter beauty, care and hospitality work in Chennai and Bangalore become caught in the aesthetic embodiment of a stereotype that impinges on their social life and well-being.

2. Men and women finance their migration in different ways and this causes differences in their circumstances at the destination.

  • In Singapore, male migrants take out loans to pay fees upfront and are only able to reimburse the money if they gain employment. Female migrants only travel to Singapore if they have an employer willing to cover their travel costs against forfeiting their wages for several months.

3. Taking a historical view of politico-economic hierarchies from a gender perspective highlights that deep-seated inequity is reproduced in contemporary economic relations, for women and men.

  • In Nepal workers released from bonded labour contracts become migrants to cope with the poverty implied in their newly won freedom; in Cameroon young men from the Central African Republic have to adopt the deferential demeanour of yester-years’ slaves to establish social relations with older female guardians. 

4. Social and moral codes surrounding material and non-material forms of remittance maintain established gender relations but the gulf between intentions and expectations frequently creates tensions.

  • To preserve their social status, female Bangladeshi migrant workers carefully avoid challenging their husband’s prerogative to control remittances. In the Philippines, on the other hand, tensions arise between remittance senders and receivers as the migrants sacrifice well-being and lifestyle to remit while the receivers value the gift in relation to middle-class aspirations.

Papers from the conference are currently being revised and will appear in the MOOP working paper series over the next couple of months. We also hope some of this work will lead to a special issue of a journal in the coming year. To find out more about what was discussed please see the conference webpages where there are a range of resources including presentations and multi-media outputs.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Reflections on the Gendered Dimensions of Migration: Material and Social Outcomes of South-South Migration Conference

By Alex Ma

Held in conjunction with the Migrating out of Poverty (MOOP) consortium in July 2015, academics and researchers crammed into ARI’s seminar rooms for the exciting three-day conference Gendered Dimensions of Migration: Material and Social Outcomes of South-South Migration, that drew international attendance from MOOP partners and beyond. With over 20 presentations by academics from the UK, Singapore, South Africa, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Hong Kong, India, Ghana, Kenya, and Australia, the conference proved fruitful in bringing together ideas from diverse, interdisciplinary projects that allowed for peer review, networking, and reflections on the latest work being conducted in the field of migration.
In general, presentations were listed under four main themes: Labour and Mobility Regimes; Images of Gender, Migration, and Development; Gender Dynamics in the Labour Market; and Expectations and Moralities Surrounding Remittances. Though the conference was pitched mainly at an academic crowd, the Gender Dynamics and Remittances themes were also elaborated upon during two policy roundtable sessions attended by representatives from the World Bank, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Asia Development Bank (ADB), and others.

A complaint that was echoed by attendees was the lack of communication and uptake of research findings by policymakers as well as the lack of policymaker attendance to such conferences. The roundtable provided an invaluable interface between the research being carried out and how findings may be put into practice.
The tone of the conference was set by Trond Waage of the University of Tromsø, Norway on the first day during his keynote speech. Presenting his film, ‘Les Mairuuwas’, Trond’s visual ethnography detailed the tumultuous lives of Central African Republic (CAR) refugees trying to forge a life for themselves as water transporters in Ngaoundéré, Cameroon. Though their journeys were often underwritten by struggle and hardship, their migratory journeys were also punctuated by a sense of solidarity and camaraderie.
In many ways Trond’s film echoed the theme of the second keynote speech by Deidre McKay of Keele University, UK. Deidre’s multi-sited, ethnographic work detailing the lives of Filipino domestic workers shared the common theme of aspiration. Though the migrants in the two cases presented are divided by different roots and backstories, they share a common desire for ‘progress’ and a better future. McKay revealed the extent of the role of migration in the development of whole towns and villages. From vanity building projects symbolic of migrant success to the more mundane balikbayan box of gifts and everyday goods sent from overseas migrants, her presentation showed how migration is a profoundly human phenomenon.
An interesting theme that emerged from the policy roundtable discussion was the recurring issue of migration cost. Dilip Ratha of the World Bank spoke about his ‘$100 billion idea’: to eradicate, or dramatically reduce, the cost for workers to migrate. This chimes well with findings within the MOOP consortium that unskilled labourers often finance their migration through debt, which exposes them to a greater potential for exploitation. This resonated with Katharine Jones’ (Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK) mapping of the sprawling networks of profit-making stakeholders in the migration process. Dilip elaborated how migration could contribute to economic development and how its potential could be unlocked by lowering the barriers to entry into international labour markets.

The conference greatly benefitted from the interdisciplinary nature of the papers as well as the accessible way in which they were presented. With inputs from across the social sciences, the conference proved to be an engaging, challenging, and valuable platform through which migration – one of the most powerful forces of contemporary social change – was discussed and understood.
Alex Ma is the 2015 Migrating out of Poverty funded intern at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore. To view the storify summary of the conference please visit:

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Migration and changing intra-household gender roles and power relations

By Collins Yeboah

In Ghana, both young men and women migrate internationally and internally. Young, single men who migrate internationally dream of a better life, for example as construction workers in Libya or as professional football players in Europe, but early research on Ghanaian women migrants going abroad focused on those who migrated to work as commercial sex workers in neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire. Analysis of internal migration focused on migration from Northern to Southern Ghana due to the relative impoverishment of the north vis-à-vis the south of the country. Such migration initially involved young men who moved down to work on cocoa farms or as tenant farmers and more recently as scrap metal dealers. Since the economic downturn of the 1980s however, young, single women have begun to migrate internally, usually from the poorer northern part of the country to the south, and have been the subject of much scholarly interest. 
The Centre for Migration Studies, under the auspices of the Migrating out of Poverty Research programme, is currently undertaking a study, “Migration, Intra-Household Dynamics and Youth Aspirations in Ghana” which examines the ways in which migration can move people out of poverty. As I reflect on this, I remember my encounter with Asana in a commercial vehicle in my recent trip to Tamale in the north of Ghana, which epitomises the experiences of female migrants from the North to the South. 
Asana sits next to me in a bus from Tamale in the Northern Region of Ghana going to Accra, in the southern part of the country. She had spent several minutes on the phone. At a rest stop, Asana explained to me why she had had such a long telephone conversation.  Her husband, Fuseini has used the money she had left for the children’s school fees to buy seeds for the farm instead, something they did not agree on. She laments that her husband is only a subsistence farmer and the proceeds of the farm cannot fully provide for their needs and those of their three children (Abiba, 17, Musah, 15 and Moustapha, 11). With the help of a friend she migrated to Accra a year and a half ago to find work that would enable her to support the family. Since her migration she has consistently sent GHS 200 (approximately US $61) to her husband each month for the upkeep of the family which has improved their standard of living. As Asana is supporting the family financially, her husband Fuseini sees to the household chores and raises the children, tasks which, according to the society’s gender norms, would traditionally have been done exclusively by Asana. 
The conversation with Asana suggests that migration can change household gender roles. In Ghana, labour migration is socially constructed in accordance with idealised notions of gendered work and responsibilities. Men are often seen as “potential earners” and as household breadwinners, thus they are often favoured to migrate, while women are expected to stay behind to take care of the household. However, this structuring of gender roles is in the process of changing as evidenced by Asana’s migration to Accra in search of ways to enhance the wellbeing and survival of the household. 
Traditionally, women in Northern Ghana do not own lands but instead “borrow” them and are therefore excluded from agrarian decision-making. Studies indicate that a land crisis is leading to “deagrarianisation” or a societal moving away from agricultural production, and an increase in women’s non-farming activities, specifically in the processing of shea butter and groundnut oil as well as rice husking. Such non-farm activities do not provide enough income for the women yet they are expected to contribute towards the household’s food needs. As a result some of them migrate to the south in order to diversify their livelihoods. These migrant women provide financial support to their household through remittances.  It further brings to bear that household survival requires the contribution of each of its members irrespective of gender. Asana providing financial support for the family while Fuseini does the household chores and takes care of their children demonstrates the ways gender roles can change as a result of migration.
Asana’s story also illustrates how migrant remittances can have significant influence on power relations within household. Studies have shown that the sending of remittances may improve the position of women in their families and thereby enhance their participation in household decision-making. Despite receiving generally lower wages than men, research indicates that migrant women generally remit sums equal to those sent by their male counterparts. This can increase migrant women’s influence on household decisions while reducing their husbands' control over household resources.
Asana tells me that before her migration “I dared not ask what he used the money we got from the sales of the crops for. He used to tell me it was none of my business. I couldn’t even ask for the children’s school fees”. However she continues, “Now, I provide the money so I make decisions about what the money should be used on. You know something”, she explained “he wouldn’t have used the money to buy seeds if I were still there. I have told him to look for money to pay the fees else I won’t send him money again. I have done that before”, she concluded.    
This is a demonstration of how Asana has used migration as a means to increase her negotiation power within the household. She now has control over what the remittances she sends should be used for. Until her migration to Accra, such decisions were solely determined by her husband.
Migration has increasingly become a significant driver of transformation within the family and household and a significant livelihood strategy adopted by many to move out of poverty. However, there are relatively few studies on how the migration process affects intra-household power relations and gender roles. Thus the Centre for Migration Studies project “Migration, Intra-household Dynamics and Youth Aspirations in Ghana” will result in an in-depth understanding of the dynamics that surround internal migration and household relations. More so, as a society with gendered roles and rights, it will examine how migration is changing these roles and provide insights on how gender roles and ideologies are contested, reinforced or renegotiated within Ghanaian society.
Collins Yeboah is the Communications Officer for the West Africa hub of the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium, based at the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana.

Informal Settlements in Ghana

by Mariama Awumbila and Priya Deshingkar

On Saturday 20 June 2015, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly bulldozed Old Fadama, the largest informal settlement in Accra. Roughly 50,000 people, mostly migrants from Ghana’s northern regions, as well as others from the West Africa sub region, are said to have lost their properties during the demolition exercise, and many became homeless overnight. This is the not the first time that slum clearances and forced evictions have taken place in Ghana and Old Fadama residents have faced numerous eviction threats since 2002. 

Many slum clearances are done in the name of the greater public good. This most recent destruction of Old Fadama was ostensibly to improve storm water drainage and prevent floods in the city. The need to do this was highlighted by the 3rd of June floods and fire in the city which claimed over 150 lives. The argument was that unauthorised construction, partly due to the activities of the residents at Old Fadama, was hindering the flow of water and in particular had stalled the execution of the Korle Lagoon Restoration Project, which aims to improve the ecological functioning of the Korle lagoon and so to improve Accra’s drainage, flooding and sanitation problems. City authorities felt that the demolition was necessary to help prevent future flooding and destruction around the Odaw river. The authorities are planning to construct drains that will allow water to flow into the Odawna drains and Korle Lagoon and then finally into the sea.
However it is not clear whether any scientific studies were conducted to establish the causality between activities at Old Fadama and flooding in Accra, and doubts have been expressed in the press about the effectiveness of slum clearance in addressing the root cause of flooding. Critics have called for a demolition “with a human face”.
Those who favour the evictions have an unwavering conviction that their approach is correct. Such approaches are embedded in the overall negative policy stance related to the migration of the poor. According to the 2013 World Population Policies Report, 84% of less developed country governments want to reduce rural to urban migration, up from 73% in the previous round. Africa and Asia have some of the highest percentages of governments with policies designed to reduce the flow of rural-urban migration: 85% in Africa and 84% in Asia. There has been a hardening of negative attitudes in many parts of the world and it is not clear what the empirical basis for this is.
There are a number of concerns about poor migrants and informal settlements - most inadequately supported by evidence - including the overburdening of urban services, the spread of disease, worsening crime and exacerbating vulnerability of cities to environmental disasters. There is little recognition of the economic contribution of the residents of informal settlements to the city in the form of cheap labour, specialised services and products.
A 2014 study on rural-urban migration to urban informal settlements or slums in Accra conducted by the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana under the Migrating Out of Poverty research programme showed that most of the residents in Old Fadama are young migrants who are economically very active. More than 80% find work within a few days of arrival, mainly in the informal sector, doing jobs such as recycling electronic waste; food vending, street hawking, head load portering (kayeyei), petty trading, and hairdressing. All the respondents in that study reported a wider range and better paid employment options compared to their places of origin. More than 77% remitted money home and this money went directly to poor and disadvantaged rural households. For some, these remittances are the only source of income. When asked how their lives had changed as a result of migration to the informal settlement, nearly half said their overall situation had “improved a lot”, 38% said it had “somewhat improved” and the rest said that it had deteriorated or remained the same. 
According to Amnesty International, Ghana’s laws and constitution do not provide the residents of informal settlements with adequate protection against forced evictions. They are, for all intents and purposes, illegal settlers and the metropolitan authorities can file a case against them in court as was seen in 2002 when the Accra Metropolitan Authority filed an eviction notice against the residents of Old Fadama.
It is well known that forced evictions do not provide long term solutions; in fact the only long term impact they seem to have is to worsen the risks of already poor and vulnerable people. Very often there are inadequate resettlement plans for residents, as happened in this case, and even when offered, the alternatives do not replace what has been lost because the sites are located at a distance from civic amenities and established business and social networks.
Old Fadama residents have faced a constant threat of eviction and have tried to unite against it. In 2006 and then again in 2009, two organisations, the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GHAFUP) and People’s Dialogue on Human Settlements organised a community enumeration of the residents to Old Fadama with Shack Dwellers International. This was seen as an important first step to show the civic authorities how many people lived here and what they do. It was hoped that such information would transform the attitudes of government towards informal settlements and prevent evictions. But unfortunately this has not happened.
By razing Old Fadama to the ground, countless poor, rural families will have lost an important source of support. It is therefore important that  informal settlements are recognised not only as a places of despair and misery, requiring social protection, but also as hives of economic activity providing services to urban areas and remittances to rural households dependent on them.
There is thus an urgent need to shape policy attitudes towards informal settlements away from forced evictions towards participatory relocations or rehabilitation.
Mariama Awumbila leads the Migrating out of Poverty West Africa team at the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana. Priya Deshingkar is the Research Director of the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.