November 5, 2010
voices on international law, policy, practice
The International Organization for Migration has released a report examining the gender dimensions of remittances. Drawing on several studies of gender differences in patterns of sending and receiving remittances, the report suggests strategies for helping women on both ends of the remittance chain to ensure that they and their families can maximize the benefits of these money flows. As the report recognizes, remittances are the second largest source of external funding for developing nations, and thus an important tool in poverty reduction and local development; understanding the gender dimensions of these flows is vital to achieving these goals.
The report lays out several interesting findings. While female and male migrants send approximately the same amount of remittances, women tend to send a higher proportion of their income and over longer periods of time. Women also send money more regularly, which means that they may be more significantly harmed by high transfer fees.
While male migrants largely send remittances to their spouse, female migrants send money to the person, often also female, who cares for their children. Women also tend to take more responsibility for money transfers to extended family members. Because of this sense of familial responsibility and due to traditional gender roles, female migrants may face particular pressure to remit much of their earnings. As a result, they may accept very challenging living and working conditions.
The constraint of gender roles from home may be compounded by a lack of legal status in the destination country. Women without lawful means of migration may have to rely on smugglers simply to enter that country. They may then be forced to spend much of their earnings repaying debt. Once they arrive, female migrants are often restricted to low-skilled jobs in domestic work, agriculture, hotel and catering, and sex work. Women in these fields face significant challenges, including low pay and withheld wages, which makes them even more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation — particularly if they are under pressure to remit. Women in these sectors also face barriers to formal remittance channels both because of a lack of lawful status and because they may be isolated in their workplace and accommodation. These challenges faced by female migrants are not new to readers of this blog, but it is important to note that they affect not only the human rights of these migrants but also the development goals of their home countries.
In the home country, women are often recipients of remittances. In some countries, women are empowered to manage these funds, while in others, male relatives control the use of remittances. In the latter case, women and children become more vulnerable to poverty and sexual abuse from their family and from the broader community. From a policy perspective, it is important to ensure that women are direct recipients of remittances in order to increase economic empowerment. Moreover, programs should focus on making investment options more accessible to female remittance recipients, who may have limited access to credit and financial literacy.