The Implications of Migration for Gender and Care Regimes in the South

Kofman, Eleonore and Raghuram, Parvati (2009). The Implications of Migration for Gender and Care Regimes in the South. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva.



In the past decade there has been considerable interest in issues of funding and provision of care in public and social policy. The almost universal domination of women in caregiving, the growth in number of women in waged labour and the resulting withdrawal of some women from caregiving has led to opening up new fields of paid care work for other women. Women have migrated across the world to take over these tasks, leaving care gaps in their own households and thus fuelling further migration. Yet, the analytical focus of much of the literature on caring activities, concepts and models has largely been limited to the global North with the result that knowledge of migration, gendered labour and care regimes has significant gaps and omissions, especially as they relate to the global South. Migration is taking place not just from the South to the North, but also between contiguous countries in the South, where income levels between countries may not be much higher, and especially to some of the migration poles in middle-income countries, such as Argentina, Jordan, Malaysia and parts of Eastern Europe. Internal migration within countries may also be a significant element of migratory flows. Whatever the reasons and direction of migration, the mobility of women has raised concerns about the resultant rearrangements of care in sending contexts. This paper extends discussions of migration and care to the global South and lays out some questions that need to be addressed to help reflect local realities in discussions of care in the South.

The notion of care does not travel easily across contexts. In much of the literature, there is a distinction between more formalized types of care, such as health and social care, and the more informal versions of domestic care. While the formalization of health care has a long history, social care is much more restricted to particular welfare regimes and models of government. The actual provision of these forms of care is also significantly influenced by histories of care provision, household arrangements, familial entitlements, and responsibilities and variations in community arrangements across the South. Pinning down the actual practices of caregiving and care receiving as well as the different institutional and spatial arrangements of state, public sector, community and households, which influence care provision, is therefore necessary for understanding the social implications of migration for gender and care. These diverse arrangements, which have been theorized through the notion of the care diamond, are multifaceted and dynamic, so that the nature of the relationships between the four points of the care diamond vary regionally and temporally. This paper explores these issues as they relate to the global South.

The increasingly popular concept of the global chains of care is one way of theorizing the links between the global South and the North simultaneously. However, most of the work on this issue does not unravel the different chains generated by migratory movements and their implications for gender and care regimes in the South. This paper highlights the complexity of care chains and the need to take into account familial structures, the diversity of sectors and skill levels, including the migration of skilled workers who are often omitted from these studies, the role of the state and immigration regulations, community involvement and remittances. Furthermore, not only does care involve the interplay of households, communities, markets and states but it also encompasses different qualities and social relations in the giving and receiving of care. These qualities are inherent to the ethics of care. Drawing on the ethics of care literature this paper argues that the intrinsic and emotional qualities of care too need recognition. They should not be seen as inherently feminine qualities but should be extended to the social organization of production and reproduction globally.

In sum, this paper examines the implications of migration for gender relations and care provisioning in the countries of the global South, in particular through the use of the notion of the care diamond and the interplay between its spatial and institutional dimensions. It explores some of the ways in which the care diamond needs specifying and moderating in relation to a Southern context. The paper also assesses the applicability of key concepts such as the global care chain and the ethics of care for migration in Southern countries. Finally, it draws lessons for policy makers with regard to the care-related needs of migrant families and households in different regions. Too often the importance of migration as a buffer securing a cheap care workforce has meant states have not recognized the economic and social importance of care; this paper argues for the need to correct this imbalance.

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