Remittance is perhaps not the first concept that comes to mind when thinking about things that promote gender equality. However, remittances impact the lives of millions around the world and help to break down gender roles.
Remittances are important because they can help lift people out of poverty by enabling migrants to send financial resources to their households or communities in other countries. The majority of remittances received are spent on education, health and food security. For many of the world’s poorest, migration often represents the only investment that supposedly offers reliable economic safety in return. Most of the global remittances (76%), flow to low and middle-income countries and for 28 of them remittances make up at least 10% of the GDP. In 2019, the remittances flow around the world reached a record high of $554 billion. Here, remittances are not only important both for the senders who migrate for work, and for the receiving family members, households and/or communities but have also been increasingly recognised as positively impacting gender equality.
Women make up approximately half of the global immigration population (the senders) and approximately 74% of them are working in the service sector. Migration can have positive impacts for women because it increases their autonomy, independence, and decision-making powers, strengthens their intra-household bargaining power, provides them with the role of the provider (traditionally ascribed to masculinity), and increases inclusion in the labour market. On the other side, women also play a crucial role as recipients and managers of remittances. This is because men mainly send remittances to their wives and women tend to send remittances to the person taking care of their children who is often another woman. Women do this to ensure that the money gets spent on their children and the household. Women managing remittances is arguably a very positive trend because in many countries women recipients spend up to twice as much as their men counterparts on education and usually spend more on healthcare and food for their households.
Although remittances can demonstrate really positive changes for individuals, serious inequalities persist within the migration economy, which poses a threat to women. Women migrant workers usually have lower wages than their men counterparts and work in different sectors often confined to low-skilled jobs. Whilst their wages are lower they usually pay more in transfer fees but remit the same or a greater amount than men migrants, effectively spending a greater proportion of their wages. Women who migrate also tend to feel a greater sense of responsibility for their families back home and therefore accept very difficult working and living conditions in order to be able to provide for them.
Women are specifically threatened when shocks such as economic crashes, natural disasters and epidemics hit. This is because remittances decrease, leading to recipients not having the means to spend as much as before. Households therefore often cut their spending on education because the person studying can work instead. This mostly negatively impacts girls as they are more likely to be pulled out of school than boys. This is deeply concerning because girls are already disadvantaged when it comes to education, especially in poorer countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has of course put its mark on remittances flow and has had a significant impact on migrant women. They often have insecure contracts, no paid leave and options to work from home. During the pandemic, this has meant that the migrant women have sent fewer remittances which in turn has increased the vulnerability of households that depend on such income. As aforementioned, less cash flow leads to less spending on crucial investments such as girls’ education.
In sum, while remittances are highly important for women and gender equality, especially in low and middle-income communities, the conditions of migrant women need to be improved, ways to remit made easier, and gender prioritised.