Monday, 27 February 2017

Motility and gendered capital in household decisions about migration

By Dorte Thorsen
The consequences of global politics of migration for poverty reduction can only be understood if we consider the capacity of individuals - and of entire households - to capitalise on migration, argues a new working paper inthe Migrating out of Poverty series. The paper disputes simplistic dichotomies of being mobile and able to migrate or immobile and stuck at home as parameters of how households contend with poverty.

Households that engage in labour migration do not necessarily choose between costly transnational migration with potential for higher incomes and inexpensive internal migration with low financial potential. Individuals may travel to transnational destinations at one or more points in their life time and to national locations offering good employment prospects at other times. Different household members may become migrants in a succession or at the same time.

Livelihood strategies involving migration have consequences that go beyond economic benefits. Research in the Ponorogo District in East Java, Indonesia demonstrates how the politics of migration globally and locally filter into household relations and gradually begin to unsettle inequalities in conjugal relations.

Motility and the politics of migration
An increasing body of literature addresses the effect of migration regimes on migration flows, global employment, temporalities in labour migration, documented and undocumented migration. This working paper presents a timely contrast to the focus in most studies on law-making, the industry that has developed to facilitate or deter migration, and individual migrants’ trajectories. Using Kaufmann, Bergman and Joye’s notion of motility the authors analyse how social structures at different scales intersect and, in turn, shape intra-household decisions about migration.

Motility captures the intricate ways in which spatial and social mobility is shaped by access to migration and to the means that bestow social mobility upon the migrating individual, migrant households, communities or networks. The notion of motility also takes into account differences in the competency to capitalise on access and in the assessment of which options are the most suitable for meeting the aspirations motivating migration.

All components of motility are gendered, so to move beyond stereotypes of the male migrant or more recent concerns about the feminisation of migration, it is crucial to understand how gendered capital influence household decisions about migration.

Gendered capital
The Indonesian case study illustrates the myriad of ways that gendered capital is established and feeds into motility. Local norms and national legislation give men prerogative in decisions and identify them as breadwinners. As a result, men often choose to be the ones going abroad to meet their responsibilities within the family. Yet, gender differentiated access to transnational migration changes over time. Men’s access to migration is circumscribed by age limits imposed by destination countries and the upfront costs of migration, obliging many male migrants to opt for destinations considered less desirable.

Married women are constructed as housekeepers, wives and mothers. Their migration is contingent on their husband’s approval by law, just as it was contingent on their parents’ approval before marriage. This institutionalisation of the subordinate role of women would curtail their access to migration if the global labour market did not privilege the migration of Indonesian women into care work. Thus, women’s access to transnational migration has increased in recent decades because they move within a system of debt financed migration with little upfront payment, if any.

Age also affect women’s access to migration but as a contrast to male migrants it is not tied to restrictions in the global labour market but to reproductive concerns. It is not having children that shrinks their access to migration, though giving birth and nursing infants may do so temporarily, it is the time when grandmothers grow too old and fragile to take care of the children. At this point, internalised ways of thinking about appropriate behaviour for women affect the assessment of suitable options and tacitly shrink their access to migration.

Intra-household decisions about migration
An individual’s motility often has repercussions for the motility of other household members. The spouse of a migrant, for example, may be immobilised to the extent of staying at home to take care of children or elderly parents. Immobility is not the inevitable outcome however; a spouse of a transnational migrant may migrate internally or to another transnational location. Thus one individual’s motility can shrink other household members’ access to migration fully or partially. However, an individual’s motility can also increase the access to migration through financing the journey or facilitating employment and the necessary papers. Enabling undertakings may be across generations, as when parents’ migration facilitate access for a son or a daughter, or across conjugal units, as when young migrants furnish access for a sister- or brother-in-law married into the same household.

Decisions about whose migration to support reflect households’ capacity to capitalise on migration for mutual benefit. Husbands and wives may discuss what will be best for the household and what is possible given the politics of migration, the ability to meet recruitment costs and the needs for different types of labour within the household. While the economics of migration may be assessed explicitly, the long-term effect of a household’s motilities on intra-household dynamics is very subtle.
Female return migrants find it difficult to readjust to the institutionalised and lived subordination prior to migration. Even when they conform publicly to the established positions that privilege men’s prerogative in decision-making, in private they do not accept being completely dependent on the husband again.

It is clear from this research that women’s gendered capital is growing due to the demands in the global labour market and that this growth has granted young women a much more prominent role in enabling other household members, including their spouse, to access transnational migration. The active facilitation of access and the multiple periods of working abroad will inevitably impact on household dynamics in the future in ways that empower Indonesian women and change their social position. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Songs of hope

By Jesper Bjarnesen

The force of music to move, inspire, and comfort is difficult to underestimate but also challenging to describe without abusing old clichés or repeating the slogans of radio stations and record producers everywhere. But the obvious appeal of music did inspire my chapter in Hope and Uncertainty in Contemporary African Migration to some extent. As immigration once more has become a political minefield in so many parts of the world, I wanted to use music as an entry point for exploring the hopes and aspirations of involuntary migrants in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso in southwestern Burkina Faso. I try to show how a particular genre of Ivorian pop music became central to young immigrants for articulating a collective sense of worth in the face of exclusion and hostility.

Displacement in the context of the Ivorian armed conflict
During the decade 2000-2010, Burkina Faso received hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as one million, of its citizens who fled persecution and armed aggression in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire. As an enduring political conflict became increasingly militarised, Burkinabe labour migrants in Côte d’Ivoire found themselves at particular risk, being labelled by nationalist rhetoric as the scapegoats for the growing financial and political crisis. Côte d’Ivoire has been one of the region’s strongest economies for decades and has attracted generations of labour migrants from its poorer neighbours. It is estimated that more than three million Burkinabe citizens still live in Côte d’Ivoire, in spite of the recent armed conflict.

You might expect the return of Burkinabe labour migrants to their country of origin to be a straightforward trajectory – the natural and expected end of a cyclical movement – but during the armed conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, the overwhelming numbers of involuntary returns did pose challenges to local communities and authorities in Burkina Faso. In both urban and rural settings, the mass arrivals of returnees put pressure on housing and livelihood, in the virtual absence of state support. These situations created tensions, which brought out the ambivalence with which non-migrants perceived of the new arrivals.

Involuntary migrants in Bobo-Dioulasso
This ambivalence was particularly palpable in relation to young adult returnees. Born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire, these children of Burkinabe labour migrants had usually grown up with little or no appreciation of their parents’ origins, and they arrived in Burkina Faso speaking French with an Ivorian accent, and with rudimentary knowledge of the local languages, at best. The perceived “Ivorian” behaviour, dress, and language of young adult returnees became the target of much gossip and critique. On the hand, those who had not (yet) undertaken the journey to Côte d’Ivoire themselves saw in the returnees the alluring image of the regional metropole of Abidjan. On the other hand, young adult returnees were perceived as matter-out-of-place; neither genuinely Ivorian nor truly Burkinabe. The newcomers were criticised for being show-offish and arrogant, and for having forgotten about their roots in Burkina Faso.

Faced with the hostility of their neighbours, young adult migrants quickly found a sense of community with other migrants and many of them came to internalise the images of them projected by non-migrants – of representing the urban youth culture of Côte d’Ivoire and being more outspoken and cosmopolitan than local youths. This subcultural style became known as “Diaspo”, referring to the young migrants’ origins in the Burkinabe diaspora in Côte d’Ivoire. One important aspect of being Diaspo was your preference for Ivorian music and this is how Zouglou music gained a new prominence in places like Bobo-Dioulasso.

Generation Zouglou
Of all the different genres of Ivorian popular music, it is quite surprising that Zouglou became the style through which the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso expressed their newfound sense of community and reflected on their hopes, dreams, and predicaments. Zouglou was originally a light form of satirical entertainment, invented by university students in Abidjan in the early 1990s. Within a few years, Zouglou expanded into several different subgenres, with groups such as Magic System marketing a more danceable version to a global audience, and artists like Siréet Yodé developing a style directed more towards Ivorian listeners. Although even the narrower versions were marketed through music videos as dance music, Zouglou kept its image as representing a more reflective genre on the Ivorian music scene, with songs treating the everyday concerns of social and political life in Côte d’Ivoire, and in the financial capital of Abidjan in particular.

What made Zouglou an unlikely preference for the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso was the way in which the Ivorian elite gradually reappropriated Zouglou music in Côte d’Ivoire. By the end of the 1990s, Ivorian politics became increasingly centred on the issue of immigration and the authorities exploited local grievances over the access to cultivable land to incite xenophobic violence, blaming the so-called “strangers” for the country’s declining economy. Burkinabe labour migrants, the largest group of foreign citizens in Côte d’Ivoire, were particularly targeted. Zouglou artists generally refrained from taking part in the xenophobic rhetoric of the regime but instead chose to forward appeals for reconciliation and solidarity to both sides in the increasingly divided political landscape, or to stay away from politics and address other themes in their lyrics. This non-committing attitude towards the rising tensions, incidentally, served the ruling elite well, as President Gbagbo and his inner circle began promoting Zouglou music on local TV and radio stations to downplay the atrocities they were committing and the violence they were inciting.

Zouglou and Hope
Despite its affiliation with the very regime that caused their displacement from Côte d’Ivoire, the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso valued Zouglou music more than any other genre of Ivorian music. Zouglou made you think, they would say, and instil the strength and confidence that set the Diaspos apart from local youths. Zouglou inspired a sense of hopefulness in the face of adversity, in part from its lyrics and in part from the act of listening to the music with others, commemorating their shared origins in Côte d’Ivoire and affirming their sense of community in Burkina Faso.As Hirokazu Miyazaki has suggested, hope can be understood as a method for inspiring social action. To the Diaspos, Zouglou became a vehicle for this kind of inspiration.

This blog draws on Jesper’s chapter, ”Zouglou Music and Youth in Urban Burkina Faso. Displacement and the Social Performance of Hope”. Jesper is based at The Nordic Africa Institute.

Monday, 13 February 2017

How unpopular policies are made: Lessons from Bangladesh, Singapore, and South Africa

By Thea de Gruchy
In December, in a post titled #Decrim: A call for evidence-based policymaking, I referred to work which I had done with Ingrid Palmary investigating the making of South Africa’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act. This project formed part of a larger project, funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium , which included three case studies.
The first was on the processes and decision making which led to the creation, passing, and implementation of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act. The second case study was conducted by The Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit  at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, and is an analysis of the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy, which was approved by the Bangladeshi government in 2015. And the third was undertaken by the Asia Research Institute  at the National University of Singapore, and investigated the mandatory weekly day off policy for migrant domestic workers  introduced by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower  in 2012.
The three case studies are obviously all quite different. They explore different contexts; different kinds of policy; and different political structures. However, what Ingrid and I were able to do in this working paper, which has just been published, is explore the similarities and differences that could go some way in helping us to better understand policy making in post-colonial settings.
To be clear, a lot has been written about policymaking and policy processes. However, most of this has centred on understanding policy making in European and North American contexts – for example 84 % of studies using the Advocacy Coalition Framework to analyse policy making between 1987 and 2013 were conducted in Europe and North America.
But aside from trying to address this gap in the literature, the work highlighted three important things to bear in mind when trying to advocate for policy change in these contexts.
The first is that when trying to make interventions in the policy making process, being able to either harness or successfully address ideas and panics about morality, and women, is powerful. For example, the anti-trafficking movement in South Africa was helped enormously by its ability to use pre-existing normative ideas, which many South Africans have, about sex work and the inability of women, particularly poor women of colour, to make decisions about their own lives and, particularly, sex lives. Whilst I certainly don’t agree with these ideas or this tactic, it is important to acknowledge that this is a reason that many, what I would call, socially conservative causes are able to gain traction.
Secondly, building coalitions and relationships with those involved in policy making is important. Social and political capital go a long way when trying to convince policy makers of your cause. Policy makers often have their own personal agendas – this was clear in both the case studies focused on domestic work. Policy makers were, by-and-large, also employers of domestic workers and, therefore, more sympathetic to maintaining the status quo than incurring additional personal cost through implementing policy which gave more rights to domestic workers. Building coalitions and relationships with other organisations and individuals, both locally and internationally, who agreed and sympathised with the efforts of civil society in Singapore and Bangladesh was incredibly important in the fight for the two policies.

And finally, more work needs to be done to build the trust of policy makers and the public in research, whilst insuring that they maintain a critical perspective and understanding of the limitations of the research with which they are presented. In other words, we need to improve research literacy so that people are better equipped to figure out whether the evidence and (alternative) facts with which they’ve been presented are sound (this is obviously something which many people are advocating for in the age of Trump). And, so that people, who aren’t familiar with how research and universities work, are better placed to understand what peer reviewed research is able to bring to the policy making table.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Becky is dead

by Sine Plambech

At the end of March, in London, MOOP is hosting the Migrating out of Poverty: From Evidence to Policy conference. Sine Plambech has been invited as one of our multimedia presenters. She will screen her film 'Becky's Journey' in the final plenary session. 

Spoiler alert: Reading the following blog (and the title, for that matter) does give away quite a bit of the film, but the blog and the film pieces are well worth your time, no matter what order.

Becky’s life represents the world in microcosm. She isn’t the first of the migrants I’ve worked with to have died and will unlikely be the last. Becky was 28 years old.

                                                        Thousands start afresh in Niger. Photo Unit//

“Rest in Peace, Becky. You will always be in my heart”, it said on a Facebook page a couple of months ago. I often receive Facebook messages and posts, text messages and calls from the female migrants I have interviewed during my research as an anthropologist on migration and trafficking from Nigeria and Thailand to Europe.

Everything from travel plans, questions about the best routes to Europe, selfies with kissy faces and sunglasses, photos of new-born babies, food pictures, to quick messages on whether they can borrow money from me.

Death notices come up from time to time. A brother is dead in the Sahara desert on the way to Europe, a Thai woman was stabbed by a client in a brothel in Denmark, another one killed in a traffic accident in Thailand. A friend of Becky wrote the notice about Becky’s death.

I hadn’t heard from her in a few months. It wasn’t unusual. She had earlier lost her telephone to armed robbers, had countless new numbers, no money for internet, or had been in her village or the Sahara without coverage.

Last time we spoke Becky was about to cross the border from Nigeria to Niger. This was her third attempt to reach Italy through Niger and Libya. I had been waiting to hear from her. Then came this sad R.I.P. I asked her Facebook friend what had happened. I thought she might have died on the way to Europe – in the desert or the sea. But that’s not how she died.

Europe is real

I knew Becky for five years. She died aged 28. The first time I met her, she was laughing when she entered a small hot living room with red painted walls in a house on the outskirts of Benin City, Southern Nigeria. A city from which most of the Nigerian women who sell sex on the streets of Europe begin their journey.

In the living room I was interviewing Faith and her mother. Faith had just been deported from Italy after selling sex on the street for six years. She knew more women who had been deported from Europe and women who, like Becky, dreamed of going there.

After the first meeting with Becky, she and I spent a lot of time together. Becky was a driven zipped lip girl – a woman who, as Becky explained it, doesn’t say anything about anything to anyone, because that is the best way to protect yourself in Nigeria. But she did want to tell, vividly and with rich detail, about her life and her travels towards Europe to a harmless anthropologist.

We ended up making the documentary film Becky’s Journey with a small Nigerian film crew. Because Becky had a dream of becoming someone – to be famous – a dream of being seen and heard. She was fearless and sensitive. She had many and conflicting reasons for dreaming of Europe. Poverty was just one of them. One day Becky emptied the fridge for the chocolate I brought from Denmark for late field note writings. “Yes – I ate it all”, she admitted bluntly. “I love your chocolate. It’s real. Everything in Nigeria is fake. I love the shoes my aunt in Italy sent me too. They are real. That’s why I love Europe. Europe is real”.

Women’s migration from Nigeria

Becky travelled from Edo State in the Southern Nigeria. The number of asylum-seeking Nigerians who arrive in Europe has tripled in the last eight years, and even though the chances of being granted asylum are minimal for Nigerians, the numbers continue to rise.

What is unusual compared to other groups of migrants and refugees is that much more than 50 percent of the Nigerian migrants are women. The Edo State in Nigeria is thus one among a few places primarily in the Global South, from where women in particular travel to the Global North for marriage, the sex industry or to become involved in trafficking. From here women most often travel through so-called ’intimate migrations’ – that is, the migration is linked to contact with a man or men,  sex clients or husbands.

The flows of intimate migrations are growing rapidly on a global scale. The research project I am responsible for, Women, Sex and Borders – Seeing Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking from the Global South, looks at this phenomenon through fieldwork in two sites – Edo state in Nigeria and Isaan in the North-eastern Thailand. In these areas, female migration is an everyday condition, a strategy, and an emotional state. Children miss their mothers abroad, old parents are dependent on the money being sent home, and everyone knows someone with a daughter in Europe.

Here, information on new migration laws are received over the phone from the people who already left, read on Facebook or heard through village gossip. In these areas, both families and development depend on the money migrants send. But things are getting harder, as migration control is blocking the usual routes to Europe. Becky is not the first migrant I have worked with, who has died as a result – direct or indirect – of migration and/or border control.

As long as the man pays

Becky didn’t want to go to Europe just because she was poor or wanted ‘real’ goods. She also wanted to be free. She wanted to free herself from her family’s and Nigeria’s shackles. Before she attempted to get to Europe the first time she converted from Islam to Christianity. She was raised in a Muslim family in the inland state of Adamawa, where Boko Haram are now raging. But “Muslim women don’t travel to Europe and do what I want to do”, Becky explained. So she travelled to Southern Nigeria and became a Christian. She wanted to decide for herself whom to date; her family didn’t want to meet her non-Muslim boyfriends. But as she explained, “I want to live like a white woman – I want to decide for myself’.

The first time she tried to reach Europe she used the money that her father had given for school to pay for her counterfeit travel documents. But she was stopped at the airport. Nigerian border control officers are trained by European police officers to detect counterfeit documents and in particular to prevent women who are under suspicion of travelling via a trafficking network. The women are stopped before they get on the plane – and this causes great frustration, costing them a ticket and the chance to reach Europe. They are often placed in counter-trafficking centres in Nigeria, paid for by donations from European countries, in an attempt to make them give up their dream of Europe.

This didn’t stop Becky – for her it meant that she couldn’t get on a plane, but had to choose a longer and even more dangerous and expensive journey through the Sahara desert. Becky knew that she was going to sell sex to make money if she came to Europe. “If you don’t want to sell sex, then stay away from Europe”. She knew someone who sold sex in Italy, and this woman told her: “We make love anywhere – as long as there is a man who will pay for it”.

Becky believed that migration and selling sex was the best option she had to improve her life. “The people I have met, who have sold sex, they have looked beautiful when they came back to Nigeria”. Thus, in 2011 she began her second attempt at migration. A female ‘madam’, who was already in Italy, now paid for the travel costs.

With 36 other migrants she travelled through the Sahara desert to Libya. From Libya they would cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. After 10 days in the desert there was no more food and water. A young man, sitting right next to Becky on the back of the truck, died.

When they finally arrived in Libya, the civil war broke loose, and it was no longer possible to cross the sea. After hiding in Libya for two months she had to go back to Nigeria. On the way back her friend died.

The friend was nine months pregnant with a Libyan man’s baby, a sex client she had met while they were waiting to cross the ocean. She went in labour in the desert, but the placenta was stuck. A fellow travelling woman told them that the placenta could be pushed out, if the woman giving birth bit hard in a spoon. The little group of women and men stood by helplessly and watched as she died.

Now Becky had a dead friend and a new-born baby in her arms. She delivered the baby to its grandmother in Benin City with a message that her daughter would call soon. Since then the film about Becky did well and sometimes it was possible to get money from screenings around the world. We sent the money to Becky. But the small amount of money and two failed attempts did not make her give up her dream of Europe, and towards the end of 2015 she tried again.

Women as smugglers

Becky’s third attempt was also through the desert. Before that she asked me if I knew whether boats were still arriving in Italy from Libya. “Yes, they do”, I said. “But Becky, it’s very dangerous. Don’t travel that way. Have you heard about all the boats that sink in the Mediterranean?”

“Yes, of course I know”, Becky replied, “I watch everyday on CNN. But I’m not afraid. If I die, I don’t care. If I get the opportunity to cross the sea, I will do it. I won’t stop before I reach Italy. I’ll do it for me and my family. But I hope that my madam can take me on a plane to Italy”. Becky’s madam wanted €60,000 to get Becky to Italy by sea. But then something happened – Becky negotiated the amount down to €30,000. In return, she would travel around Edo state and find five other women to bring along. Becky became an agent and a smuggler herself.

Typically, the images we see of trafficking or smuggling are dominated by tragedy, exploitation and death – and all are perpetuated by men. We see images of the trafficker – a man in handcuffs – and what arises are thoughts of the criminal, deviant man from the Global South.

Women, on the other hand, are portrayed as victims who are transported passively, and – as I have earlier written – often drown. But women are not just passive in this process. They may not be the captains of any ship, but research shows that women also take part in this and other parts of the ‘migration industry’. Women recruit, negotiate prices, instalment plans, collect wire transfers, clean the temporary housing where migrants sleep before they can be smuggled, cook the food, and some are drivers.

Research on human trafficking and smuggling shows that there are three typical ways into the world of smuggling: 1) via social networks or “the entrepreneurship of coincidence”; 2) the person seeks out or is at the place where the demand for smuggling exists; 3) the smuggling act is part of the woman’s own migratory journey – as it was for Becky.

One of the last photos she sent me was a selfie of her with four other woman – all of them all dressed up with make-up. These were the women who were going with her to Europe, and they were drinking beer at a bar on plastic chairs in Benin City to celebrate that they would begin their journey to Europe the next day. A farewell party.

Becky against the world

Becky’s life is a portrait of political and economic reality. A kind of microcosm of the world situation. Her life provides important insights into the many conditions that determine the routes of migrants, of small, lived and dreaming human life that is complicated and made impossible by conditions that are out of control.

Becky’s trajectories were entangled with everything from Islam (which she converted from); Boko Haram (who up until now have killed six of her family members); the fall of Gaddafi in Libya (which thwarted her second attempt to reach Europe); the EU’s migration controls (which forced her to indebt herself to get to Italy); and corruption in Nigeria (a rich country where wealth is not distributed fairly).

Becky asked me: “What do I say Sine when I get to Italy, if the police take me? Do I say that I’m a victim of trafficking or that I escaped Boko Haram?” The line between migrant and refugee is not always clear. Many are both at the same time.

Her third attempt to reach Europe did not succeed – she had to turn around, and was stopped in Niger. On the way back she got pregnant. The baby died in her womb, and she died, because the doctor’s attempts to get the baby out in a worn down clinic failed. Becky died of something as common as pregnancy. Just like her friend in the desert.


Use #MOOPconf to discuss or comment with @MigrationRPC and @SinePlambech

Dr Sine Plambech is a post-doc anthropologist at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) and a former research fellow at Columbia University in New York. Her research interests include Nigerian sex workers in Europe and their deportation, as well as the sex work and marriage migration of Thai women. She combines her academic work with directing documentaries, most recently Becky’s Journey. This has so far resulted in four award winning documentaries on the topics of international migration, sex work and human trafficking. Follow her on Twitter @sineplambech.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Women on the move in Ghana: Gender, social change, and migration

By Dorte Thorsen

Thinking on gender and migration is often underpinned by assumptions that aren’t supported by empirical facts. Remote, rural communities are NOT always sites of stagnant traditions and social inertia! Young women’s migration is NOT always an escape from marriage!

A new working paper in the Migrating out of Poverty series analyses qualitative data from a study of intra-household dynamics and youth aspirations. It demonstrates that economic and environmental explanations of internal migration from northern to southern Ghana are insufficient on their own. Migration is prompted by, and prompts, deep seated social and cultural change - which this paper explores.

In a setting where women’s migration was frowned upon until recently, it is peculiar that young unmarried women have become the majority of southbound migrants. It begs the question of what has changed in rural communities to make this change possible.

Unpacking social change

Conceptually the paper situates itself with debates about culture, globalisation and modernity to untangle what social change involves. Imaginatively the authors combine Clifford’s work on culture and modernity to question what triggers change and Pieterse’s work on globalisation and culture to distinguish between different forms of change.

They look at surface elements of change such as food habits, fashion, art forms etc. and deep seated elements relating to norms and values. The analysis departs from Pieterse’s preoccupation with hybrid identities produced in migration to capitalise on Clifford’s deliberations on how outside influences trigger change in local places.

By pegging the analysis on this distinction between different types of change, and being inquisitive about the social changes reinforcing, or being reinforced by, economic and environmental factors, the paper sheds light on changing gender dynamics in northern Ghana.

Social change leading to migration

In northern Ghana men are increasingly unable to provide for their families. This is key to understanding changes in the social fabric of rural communities. That men in northern Ghana have difficulty in meeting their culturally mandated responsibilities is not a new phenomenon. It underpins the economic and environmental explanations of men’s migration.

However, these explanations fall short of explaining why more and more women and not men move in response to the grinding poverty.

Women are making up for men’s dwindling provisions by engaging in a wider range of farm and off-farm activities to help feed their families. Helped by the development of infrastructure and the greater availability of goods, women have expanded petty trade. The mobility that goes with acquiring goods and accessing markets has opened the door for a gradual acceptance of greater mobility among women.

Young women’s migration is tied into older women’s responsibilities and access to resources. Given the relations of production and reproduction in northern Ghana, young women have little access to resources and little control over their own labour: they work for their mothers. This dynamic supports migration in different ways. Mothers sponsor the migration of daughters (biological or social) to receive remittances which help cover household expenses. Daughters may migrate under their own steam to relieve themselves of unpaid work and gain control over their income.

Marriage and migration

Marriage has not disappeared from the migration equation. Senior men are increasingly unable to meet responsibilities related to marriage. As a result, young men are required to find the money for bride wealth (payments to the girl’s family). Because senior men are struggling these payments have grown. In the past the groom and the girl’s family provided the bride with a trousseau of things needed to run a household but this expense has increasingly been shifted over to young women before marriage or in the early days of their marriage.

The need to pay for continued education, to purchase the things they desire, and to enter marriage in a way that establishes their position in the marital household motivates young people to migrate. It motivates young women more than young men because they have the least access to resources. Senior men’s inability to provide these things has gradually eroded patriarchal authority in northern Ghana leading to a continuation of the flow of young female migrants towards the south.

Social change wrought by migration

Migration creates surface level changes as rural youths adopt new ways of being in the South. It is often thought that return migrants’ urban dress and hairstyles and their new eating habits entice rural youths to migrate. However, in northern Ghana surface level changes are dismissed by young and old alike. Migration, this paper argues, is fostered squarely by deep seated social change in rural communities.

Migration also creates deep seated changes. The ways in which migrants conduct themselves at the destination in relation to intimate relationships, having children, and marrying has provoked changes in the practices, norms and values surrounding marriage. Young migrants do not always adhere to the rules of endogamy but enter inter-faith and inter-ethnic relationships which are frowned upon in northern Ghana. They also break with the former sequence of marrying first, then co-habiting, and then having children and often end up relying on kin to perform the marriage rituals after having started a family.

Within rural households migration sparks changes in norms and values relating to decision-making and the division of work. Tasks in the household and on the farm are usually done in accordance with local notions of age- and gender-appropriateness. But the allocation of work becomes more flexible when no-one of the right age or gender is around. Nowadays boys do some of the work in the house that used to be considered girls’ work. Men and women, boys and girls all chip in doing farm work. This flexibility is not entirely new but it has become much more visible, if not normalised, due to the numbers of young women migrating.

By drawing attention to the different dynamics creating social change in northern communities the paper demonstrates that the relationship between migration and social change is not unidirectional. The power of senior men is gradually eroding and they can do little to preserve the norms that used to give them prerogative and power within the family and in the local community. Grinding poverty in northern Ghana contributes to broader social changes in multiple locations. This impacts on gender relations within households and across generations in ways that empower women by affording them room to make decisions and increasing their independent incomes. However, the changes may also make young women more vulnerable because parents and other senior relatives cannot, or will not, intervene in marital conflicts if they have not endorsed the marriage or the marriage rituals have not been completed.


Dorte Thorsen is Theme Leader on gender dynamics in the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium in the School of Global Studies. She is also Associate Tutor in Anthropology.