Tuesday, 17 April 2018

We study migration but we want people working in development to listen

Conversation initiated by project coordinator Dorte Thorsen, University of Sussex

Grasping the impact of changing migration flows and earning prospects of migrants on the family members who remain at home is important for development planning, youth-oriented initiatives, targeted programming for the empowerment of women and girls, and migration management. The lead researchers in our comparative study focusing on gender and generation dynamics at the household level outline how they hope the research in Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal and Zimbabwe can inform programming, advocacy and policy. They discuss the fresh insights the study will provide into how gender, age and migration intersect.

Mainstreaming gender into local authorities’ understanding of migration outcomes

Akosua Darkwah: In looking at the impacts of migration for both young men and women who move as well as those who stay behind, this research will provide law and policy makers with a more fine-grained understanding of the impacts of migration on male/female migrants as well as family and community members left behind.

Vupenyu Dzingirai: In Zimbabwe law makers remain ambivalent about what migration can do or bring. Sometimes they regard migration as harmful to societies, and at other times they regard it as a tainted benefit that requires control. In my view, communicating to these authorities, plainly and through popular formats, that the empowering and disempowering practices of migration to those women who stay behind and those who are at destinations outside Zimbabwe may go a long way to preparing them to make better decisions about migration and its outcomes. Hopefully, this will result in a relaxation of regulation of mobility of people and goods across borders.

Benoît Tine: In Senegal, there is no real migration policy* even though migration peaked at the end of the 2000s in a context of scarce employment, impoverishment and the decline of agriculture in rural areas. Local authorities tend to see migration as the domain of men, and it is a fact that male migrants are often the majority but other categories of migrants have become part of the scene. Women migrate, as do adolescents and even younger children. In Casamance, we also have the effect of the conflict which has provoked a change in social roles with a physical or symbolic absence of men. A better understanding of migration in its gendered dimension will certainly broaden the field of vision and lead decision-makers to take this gender reality into account in their policies.

Adamnesh Bogale: Ethiopian authorities are highly aware of the risks associated with migration being gendered but I think it is germane to raise their awareness of how the roles, expectations and obligations of the two sexes determine the processes of migration. They also need to have a more nuanced understanding of the outcomes of migration, for example of how remittances are used and who makes decisions about them.

Akosua Darkwah: In Ghana, we will focus on the Brong Ahafo Region, which is well known for a long tradition of young male migration to Libya.  Given the current situation in Libya, migration to this country is precarious and yet the aspiration to go there persists. This project allows us to explore what migration in contemporary times means for communities in Brong Ahafo given the turmoil in their long-standing country of choice.

Development planning, social protection and programming

Akosua Darkwah: Actors working in the development industry can draw on the knowledge about migration and household dynamics in a number of ways.  First and foremost, it can inform their programming in terms of social protection for household members who may not necessarily be benefitting from the migration of family members.  Secondly, for those who are benefitting from migration, development workers can work in collaboration with both the stayers benefitting from migration and the migrants providing the benefits to offer development projects in the communities of origin.  Increasingly, scholars are looking at the ways in which the diaspora plays a role in development projects.  Our comparative project can add to that knowledge by documenting the links between members of the diaspora and specific family members in the communities of origin. Such knowledge can be useful for development workers as they seek sources of development funds.  This is particularly true in the context of Ghana which has been declared lower middle income and thus lost some external funding sources.

Vupenyu Dzingirai: On the issue of social protection current thinking is that people, and particularly the older generation, remaining at home are left more exposed by migration. They remain without labour or people to look after them, resulting in poverty. This project jolts us into thinking about why such mobility emerges in the first place and how this is fundamentally linked to ensuring social protection across generations. I think that this project can help us appreciate, in Zimbabwe at least, that the migration we see across frontiers is in fact linked to social protection in an environment where the state has abdicated its welfare function.

Benoît Tine: Yes, this is a pertinent point. Ever since the Structural Adjustment Plans of the 1980s, people have increasingly been left to their own devices. This project will highlight the alternatives people have sought in the absence of the state and it will be a pretext to discuss migratory strategies on a local or even a national scale. It will provide the necessary data to discuss social protection, the needs of areas that are important hubs of migration and the impact of the temporality of migration and distance on the household.

Vupenyu Dzingirai: Exactly. Temporality matters. Migrants who stay connected to their communities know what current needs are and what is required to be done. Such migration provides a lens into what requires further care in contexts of state neglect.

Adamnesh Bogale: Social protection issues include child protection, improvement of livelihood, productive safety net, etc. Current social policies do not respond adequately to vulnerabilities of migrants. In Ethiopia, attention has mostly been paid to the situation of international migrants, especially in connection with smuggling, trafficking and the worst forms of abuse. This has been at the expense of providing social protection for internal migrants who also suffer marginalization and violence.

Akosua Darkwah: Yes, it brings up the point that on the surface communities with high rates of migration might seem to need more social protection. Not all stayers are burdened to the same level by migration. Migrants who end up in decent paying jobs are often more able to assist family members than those who do not. Similarly, return migrants who returned because of the inability to eke out a living in destination countries return to families who are accommodating of them.  These families may need more social protection than others. I think this project will provide a more nuanced understanding of the extent to which all types of migrant households should be treated in the same way and as having the same needs.

*A National Migration Policy was developed in the autumn 2017 and was launched in March 2018, however it is not readily available. Interventions in accordance with the policy have not yet been implemented. We hope to engage with policy-makers and programmers to share insights from this research.

The research project is coordinated by Dorte Thorsen, Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium, University of Sussex. 

The lead researchers are:
Adamnesh Bogale, School of Social Work/OSSREA, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
Akosua Darkwah, Department of Sociology/CMS, University of Ghana
Benoît Tine, Département de Sociologie de l’Université Assane Seck de Ziguinchor, Senegal
Vupenyu Dzingirai, Centre for Applied Social Sciences / ACMS, University of Zimbabwe

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Gender and generation: understanding the dynamics of migrant households

Conversation initiated by project coordinator Dorte Thorsen, University of Sussex

Last year Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium invited four teams to design a piece of research with us with the purpose of exploring how migration, gender and generation intersect at the household level. Now we are in the beginning of producing empirical evidence in Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal and Zimbabwe. We have designed a project to unpack complex and multi-layered household dynamics within the family who remain back home. In addition to understanding household complexities better, we also aim to discern whether there are marked differences between migration to places that are accessible, low-cost and often linked with low financial return (internal/cross-border migration) and migration to places with higher entry barriers, high costs and expectations of high financial returns (international migration). In this blog the four lead researchers explain what they find particularly interesting and what they think will provide new insight to migration scholarship in their respective countries.

The most exciting aspects of the study

Benoît Tine: Migration is in the news constantly and yet there are so many myths surrounding the departure, the journey and the experience of living in another place that the diversity of experiences, norms, reasonings, barriers and opportunities disappear out of view. This is why the comparative aspect of this study really enthuses me.

Vupenyu Dzingirai: To me, the linking of migration and remittances to reciprocity across gender and generation within households and across generations is a beautiful proposition. In Zimbabwean scholarship we have looked at migration as driven by external factors since the 1970s, ignoring the fact that household dynamics could be at play as well. The idea that migrants migrate and send remittances because they are required to do so by custom is so simple but it had got hidden behind structuralist ideas. I look forward to bring it back in play.

Akosua Darkwah: One of the aspects that I find particularly interesting is the interrogation of the generational/gender attitudes towards migration. Much is made in Ghana of age hierarchies and the importance of respect for elders but we are finding that increasingly young people, and particularly young women from Northern Ghana, are undermining the status quo and choosing to move with or without the permission of the patriarch. In some cases, young women receive approval and financial support from mothers to embark on their journeys. Now we want to examine this trend further and explore siblings’ attitudes towards migration. When fathers are disapproving of the migration intentions of their daughters for example, can that also be said of brothers?  And what is the role of sisters?

Adamnesh Bogale: Yes, likewise I’m really excited about exploring intergenerational relationships in much more detail. This is a new angle on migration in Ethiopia. Until now migration research has mostly concentrated on push and pull factors motivating migration and on the plight of migrants. By understanding the situation of young people and children within their household, and in light of intergenerational dynamics, I hope we get more insights into how young people can be empowered.

Akosua Darkwah: There is also the exponential increase in cell phone usage in Africa. This communication tool has fundamentally reshaped communication within and across the continent. Unlike letter writing or its more contemporary alternative, email, which requires literacy often in one of the major languages of the world, cell phones are more accessible. What cell phones have meant for love and sexual intimacies in transnational social fields has been under-explored and the evidence available so far offers conflicting perspectives on what information and communication technologies have meant for long-distance intimate relationships. This project in different countries across the continent allows for a more nuanced investigation of the ways in which information and communication tools can be at once liberating and oppressive.

The impact of migration on young women and men, as migrants and as stayers

Adamnesh Bogale: In Ethiopia, women are deprived of many opportunities because of social structures that make them inferior to men and define them through the domestic and reproductive roles they gradually assume. For some, migration is a route of escape from restraining norms that reduce young women’s safety and success. In my view, migration has a significant impact on women’s empowerment. For stayers, on the other hand, migration of a family member that is dear to the young person can fuel a sense of loss and grief. Practically, they may also be burdened with additional work or responsibility that before was untaken by the migrant.

Benoît Tine: This sense of loss is not just the experience of stayers. When migrants leave their rural homes in search of a future, they leave behind a whole history, a whole part of themselves. But, of course, it is double-sided. The fact that young and dynamic people with the ability to understand development issues disappear from the rural landscape leaves behind a weakened community.

Vupenyu Dzingirai: Well, I don’t think we can fully appreciate what migration is doing until we understand the current position of women. Similar to the situation Adamnesh described in Ethiopia, women in Zimbabwe do not enjoy the same rights as male siblings. In some instances, daughters are considered a waste because they move away from their family upon marriage, so no investment is made in their education and they are not considered deserving of the right of settlement, only sons are. In my view, it is very clear that migration provides opportunities for young people and women to work and raise resources for multiple purposes, most importantly to make a stake in their lineage; to receive the respect of elders and parents; and thus, to negotiate a social position imbued with stronger rights and status.

Akosua Darkwah: The importance of exploring gender differences cannot be underestimated but I think we need to take an intersectional approach and incorporate a class dimension to this discussion. If we compare young migrants from middle and upper middle-income homes and from low-income homes, the outcome of migration is very different. The former group often migrate to further their education in areas of specialization that may or may not necessarily exist in their home countries. Increasingly, such migrants either become transmigrants or return migrants. The impact of their migration on both themselves and those left behind is fundamentally different, in my opinion, from the situation of low-income migrants. They might be better able to improve their circumstances when migrating than would have been the case if they had stayed at home. However, it is unclear just how much of a positive impact their migrant status makes, especially if we think about the social costs of migration in terms of the social remittances that stayers have to send to migrants.

The research project is coordinated by Dorte Thorsen, Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium, University of Sussex. 

The lead researchers are:
Adamnesh Bogale, School of Social Work / OSSREA, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
Akosua Darkwah, Department of Sociology / CMS, University of Ghana
Benoît Tine, Département de Sociologie de l’Université Assane Seck de Ziguinchor, Senegal
Vupenyu Dzingirai, Centre for Applied Social Sciences / ACMS, University of Zimbabwe