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.
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