Develop Men? Gender Effects of the Migration and Development Mantra

Gender relations


by Doris Anna Hilber

The undestanding of gender in the Migration-Developement Nexus
Case Study
Gender lines in Diasporic Philanthropy
Concluding Remarks


In recent decades international migration has intensified both in the South-North as well as South-South direction and has led to the formation of complex circuits of flows of people, information and finance. International migration has enormous implications for growth and welfare in both countries of origin and destination as well as for individual lives. Data on migrant remittances suggest that financial flows in many countries have become higher than global official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment (FDI)1.  Other forms of contributions to the home countries are recently gaining attention, such as diasporic philanthropy. This is a form of transmittal which goes beyond personal relationship (family and friends) to more encompassing contributions to the home communities or countries, often called community or collective remittances. The contributions can involve material just as much as immaterial benefits such as microfinance-projects or transfers of expertise.

The discussion around migrant remittances and diasporic philanthropy and their impact on the development of the sending country have constructed the ‘Migration-Development-Nexus’ (MDN) as a discursive field. In the High level Dialogue on Migration and Development in 2006 of the United Nations and the intergovernmental Global Forum on Migration and Development in July 2007 this nexus received soaring attention and the MDN has become a new site for reasoning and action about transnational engagement as a new form of migrants’ agency, in line with the new development strategy which accords great significance to actors in civil society. (Schwenken and Ziai, 2007)

The Migration-Development Nexus tries to forge a positive view on how migration is influenced by development – and how migration impacts development. (Ammassari, 2001: 6) The established linkages assume that, “while development-oriented actions can help tackling the root causes of migratory flows, migration can, in turn, contribute positively to development, including economic growth, social empowerment and technological progress” (Migration and Development, 2006). Governments and international organizations therefore regard migration as an engine for the development in the sending countries and highlight the positive effects of migration on the economy of the home country, promoting ‘development through migration’. (Schwenken and Ziai, 2007: 1-2) Migrants are then no longer portrayed as victims, no longer dependents from the goodwill of the receiving society, but become perceived as ‘heroes’ and agents for the development of their country of origin. Diasporas – as an ‘aggregate’ of migrants – are seen as a potential for their nations’ development through a range of contributions, including: financial investment, political advocacy, and philanthropic giving.

My study depicts the MDN as a discursive field which pictures development as having only one dimension: an economic one. According to this discourse, humanitarian objectives do not enhance the development of the sending country; the social dimension of development is not considered – if not as functional to economic development. In the MDN investments of the diaspora through remittances are in the centre of attention, and the State is assigned a minimum involvement2.

In the Migration-Development Nexus diasporic philanthropy is represented as an underappreciated but emerging opportunity to convert private wealth to developmental capital which can be used in the country of origin and is presented as a “migrant-led initiative” (Silva, 2006: 19). Even though ‘diasporic philanthropy’ only constitutes a small share in relation to individual remittances, it is believed to have the greatest impact and potential to create equity. Successful projects of diasporic giving initiated the application in other places and on other groups which provokes inconsistencies – a common result when blueprints are applied without consideration of context and individual interests.

The understanding of gender in the Migration-Development Nexus (MDN)

Case Study

In this article’s context it is imperative to recognize the importance of a non-transnational but internal ‘hometown association-culture’ in Ghana – a type of social organisation which has deep roots in Ghana’s various ethnic groups. “The extension of hometown associations and networks to overseas Ghanaian migrant communities since the 1970s and 80s has been therefore a perfectly natural step, alongside the equally strong family ties maintained by Ghanaians when they travel to work and reside outside their home communities” (Crook, 2007: 7).

An official number indicates the number of Ghanaian migrants recorded in The Netherlands is around 18,000, whereby a large number is undocumented, so that the real number of migrants could be estimated as double: As Mazzucato indicates, in 2000 there were 40,000 Ghanaians in The Netherlands registering for the presidential elections in Ghana. (Mazzucato, 2005: FN 7) The ethnic group of Akan people constitutes the majority of Ghanaian immigrants. A vast majority of Ghanaian migrants in the Netherlands lives actually in Amsterdam, with a high concentration in Amsterdam South-East. (Anarfi et al. 2003: 22; Mazzucato, 2005: 3-4)

Most Ghanaians remit money, goods or services, whereby a lot do this on an individual basis, some set up an organisation or become involved in one. As my research findings show, if Ghanaians involve in organised collective remittances, they do this parallel to remitting to their immediate family. A report on migrant networks in the Netherlands revealed the presence of about 4000 migrant organisations in The Netherlands, a growing trend. Orozco (2005b: 30-3) finds that a quarter of the Ghanaians migrants engage in HTA – which in turn were all found to carry out activities in the home country. (van Beurden, 2006: 10)

The ‘Migration and Development’ programme of the AfroEuroFoundation

I concentrated my empirical work on two Ghanaian migrant organizations in the Netherlands. The first association, the AfroEuroFoundation was investigated through the use of interviews. The project ‘Migration and Development’ set up by AfroEuroFoundation aims to facilitate the transfer of knowledge of migrant community members with a background in business and to set up a microfinance support scheme for the informal sector in Kumasi and Kibi as pilot targets. In the eventual training of the community members of how to transfer their business knowledge in Ghana, 40 participants took part. 20 percent of these were women. 13 people have been interviewed, including the persons who set up the programme. Of the interviewees, four were female.

The Kwahuman Association

The derived insights of the interviews were then tested with a survey on another association, the Kwahuman Association, an ethnical association which is comparable to a Hometown- Association (HTA). It is made up by around 80 Ghanaian migrants from the Kwahu tribe who are residing in Amsterdam. Half of the members are female and half male, although my observation of two meetings found that there were more women present who also seemed to have a higher engagement in the discussions. Kwahuman is a district in Ghana, one of the 13 districts in the Eastern Region. Twelve filled questionnaires were returned to me.

It is to be pointed out that this association in particular as well as HTAs in general are serving in the first place as social organizations, assisting the lives of Ghanaians in the Netherlands by mutual help and the preservation of cultural traditions. Philanthropic activities are commonly not the main purpose of HTAs, although it is an important area of activity for many. The association under investigation has laid down in its constituency the rule to invest into a project in Ghana every two years. As highlighted in the literature on HTAs, projects are usually carried out in the education, health, and infrastructure development of the area of origin which is also the case in the Kwahuman Association.

Gender lines in Diasporic Philanthropy

The MDN simplifies what happens inside a network such complex as migrant associations, which is explored in the following by investigating the category ‘gender’ within diasporic organizations. The argument is that the activities of diasporic organizations are highly gendered – which is an issue that is simply not acknowledged in the MDN, posing a danger to the perpetuation of gender inequalities through additional burdens on women.

The operationalization of the discourse is clear: since it is generally assumed that women send home a greater share of their earning in remittances (even though they typically earn less than men), women are an important source of remittances and need therefore to be enhanced and included in formal channelling and accounting of remittances.

For the Ghanaian case the concern expressed in the literature on remittances is mainly caused by the extension of the family over borders, through which the family becomes two-fold: 1) the nuclear family in the receiving country and 2) the extended family in the home country with a vast range of relatives who expect contributions3.  The importance of these family ties is highlighted by one interviewee: “If you break these ties, you break yourself.” Through compromises and sacrifices women need to negotiate their reproductive responsibilities as well as their gender roles between the two locations – social and economic burdens that may be overwhelming in the stress they place on women.

However, men also need to renegotiate gendered roles found in the Netherlands which differ from those in Ghana, due to the particular location they occupy within transnational spaces, and – to complicate the issue further – due to matrilineal family arrangements in which men are supposed to contribute rather to their matrilineal descent than to their nuclear family in the receiving country. The latter then would be the role model of large parts of the receiving society. Men as well as women deal therefore with conflicting social identities which result in compromises and renegotiation between men and women, resulting for instance in pooled resources.

Whereas the literature on the gendered patterns of remittances has recently extended, there are few accounts of gender in diasporic philanthropy and the intersections of gender and transnational locations. The findings show that both associations are gendered in their action and outcome and the gender roles found within the associations can be attributed to traditional gender roles along productive and reproductive spheres.

Gendered institutions

80 percent of the participants of the programme ‘Migration and Development’ are male. Furthermore, the listing of the people involved into the programme renders the gender division of the organisation itself clear: All the four speakers of the meetings, all seven community leaders involved as well as the technical assistants are male. Within the three positions of the management there is one woman to be found (with an assumable Dutch name), whereas four out of six positions for the secretary and registration are female. (AfroEuroFoundation, 2007: 10) The same observation is made in the Kwahuman Association, where on the executive board of ten elected members only two are women, and they are in positions which are fixed for women, namely the ‘Mother of the Women’ who is supposed to communicate and organise the women of the association and the ‘Miss of the Area’ who is the beauty maid for the association and represents it to the outside.

Despite the predominance of men on the executive board of both organizations, it is important to stress here that women are not to be seen as powerless within the organization. Especially in the Kwahuman Association a vivid interaction of the predominantly female present members at the observed meetings proves the point that women are engaged, but on a different level, as will be explored in the following.

Gender roles within the associations

Within the organisation, the division of labour takes place along traditional gender roles: Whereas the interviewees all stated not to see any difference in the participation of women and men, or any different forms of contributions, at one of the attended meetings it could be observed that the women were responsible for the catering – which is to be seen in the light of situated knowledge of internalized gender roles. The insights from the survey into the Kwahuman Association indicates pervasive gender stereotypes insofar as typical tasks carried out by women were indicated with ‘Cooking’ and ‘Catering’ – from women as well as men. Sex roles are also identified when it comes about the engagement in the programme:

“Women participate less in programmes like this, so that there is a poor gender balance. […] African women like to restrict themselves to domestic things.” (male interviewee)

In the Kwahuman association, this division along essentialized sex roles are clear-cut, since the ‘Mother of the Women’ arranges the duties such as cooking and shopping for parties with the ladies, whereas the ‘Men’s’ leader’ organizes the men for typical male tasks such as carrying of heavy stuff for events. These findings are supported by literature on the gendered nature of HTAs in general. (Goldring, 2001: 59)

Women are therefore confined to take over reproductive responsibilities:

“Men have been always hunters and women are domestic carers. When it comes to caring about a programme, caring about a community, I wouldn’t give it to a man, I would give it to a woman. When you give a woman a seed, she will sow and then go and reap. When you give a man a seed he will sow small and the rest he will go and take it to other women to eat and he forgets about his children. Would a woman do that? I don’t think a woman would just leave her family.” (male interviewee)

Diasporic Philanthropy as a male dominated scene

These observations endorse diasporic philanthropy as a male dominated scene which has also consequences on the result of the activities: According to Buchy (2005) “gender blind organisations deliver gender-biased services” which she asserts in her essay of that same title. It has to be asked what this means for the philanthropy pursued by the networks at hand.

In this regard, the target of the project has to be investigated: The target of market women in the AfroEuroFoundation is favoured by most of the participants, since they think that women in Ghana invest their profits into the family whereas a man “even having his own wife, will still think of taking other girlfriends” (female interviewee) and the training of women would also have a greater impact on society as “the woman will teach her child, her brother, her boyfriend how to do it” (male interviewee).

Due to this target group, all participants favoured the involvement of women as trainers, since they can relate better with women and “[w]omen have a very soft way of transmitting. They become better teachers in everything” (male interviewee). But despite wishful thinking, 8o percent of the participants of the programme are male.

Gendered solidarity: women help women, men help their ethnic counterparts

It is then found that the engagement in the network does depend on a certain collective identity or construction of loyalty and solidarity which operates along different lines: Whereas women identify along gender lines, men identify along their ethnic or national identity, indicating a gendered ethnicity.

“I feel more Ghanaian, but over there in Ghana, when you go there, I go to my geographical area. Over here, we are all Ghanaians so we are doing things in common. But of course, Sunday I meet my church people and then we meet with the Okyeman group. […] In general I feel more Ghanaian, but when you come down, the family and friends are coming from the same area.” (male interviewee)

As the interviews revealed, women are also engaging outside of the two associations for the capacity building of women and children in the Netherlands. This supports the hypothesis that women identify themselves better with other women. This would be also supported by the evidence that more women than expected are participating in a business oriented programme, which could be related to the fact that the programme is actually targeting women. According to one female interviewee the focus should be on “the most deprived women, market women, illiterate women, Muslim women who are sitting home and don’t know how to get out and do something.” In additional emphasis on this finding, the ‘Mother of the Women’ of the Kwahuman Association plans to leave the executive board to invest more time into her own organisation, a foundation for children in which the children of the migrants are taught Ghanaian culture.

In contrast, men engaged in the AfroEuroFoundation indicated to group in their ‘concrete’ collective identities more in associations based on ethnicity, which leads to the presumption that the gendered identity of men is rather articulated by ethnicity or nationality, i.e. with the country in a broader sense. Philanthropy in the Kwahuman Associations is mainly initiated by a male dominated executive board and so subsequently shows the expected characteristics.

The location of engagement

In this regards another point has to be made: Whereas men engage more transnationally, women not only solidarize along gender lines, but also concentrate in the first place on the facilitation of the internal community, i.e. the migrant community in The Netherlands. This explains the fact that more women engage in activities in The Netherlands than in philanthropic activities. This is also supported by the results of the survey on the Kwahuman Association, in which all the women indicated that they think it is more important to engage for the betterment of the people and their situation in the Netherlands, whereas most men indicated that they consider it more important to engage for the people in Ghana.

Philanthropy then intersects with gender in as much as men engage in transnational networks for the good of their home country, whereas women engage at the other pole of transnationalism – in the receiving society. If philanthropy is restricted to the former it has therefore a strictly male notion, but if diasporic philanthropy is extended to every location within the transnational network, women pursue diasporic philanthropy by engaging for the good of the migrants in the receiving society.

The public-private divide in philanthropy

The intersection of gender and philanthropy is congruent with the boundaries between the public and the private: Whereas transnational engagement is performed in the public sphere – where it often functions as rehabilitation of the loss of status through economic downward mobility in the receiving country – the female engagement in capacity building organizations in the Netherlands does take place in the private sphere, in which the nature of the reproductive, the caring work of women is located. The public-private divide is at the core of gender biases as it conceptualizes the public as constituted by the self as rational male being in the productive sphere which generates culture and the private as the sphere of the ‘other’, i.e. women who perpetuate nature in the reproductive sphere. (Roy, 2001: 115)

The women’s engagement in the ‘private’ location is crucial for the migrant networks in the receiving society and serves as a cushion for a male public engagement. Women’s transnational engagement is insofar ‘invisible’ as it persists in the private sphere, remaining ‘familial’. The low recognition of the caring activities of women becomes even more significant through the distinction by the MDN, ascribing weight to transnational activities which serve the economic development of the sending country, which addresses mainly male migrants, as this study shows, and leaves women’s engagement disregarded.

By pushing for more transnational engagement, the MDN then puts women in a situation where they have to make up the leeway. Their gender roles prescribe them care responsibilities in forms of remittances for a twofold transnational family and in form of care for the community in the receiving society – therefore on three different locations. Besides adding to migrants’ burdens in general, the MDN discourse on philanthropy adds additional expectations on women in particular.

A sequence in a meeting attended with the AfroEuroFoundation illustrates this connection: The only woman present interrogated the genderedness of the undertaking and her provocative question addressed towards a male fellow hit the nerve of the problem:

“If your wife would want to come to this meeting, would you stay at home and take care of the kids?” (female interviewee)

On a more general note, once the discourse transcends on the ground, it could increase the expectations on the receiving end, by increasing the already existing family obligations. As one of the female interviewees pointed out for the situation in Ghana:

“The problem we have sometimes with petty trader in the market is how to deal with business and family. This relates to the extended family that we have in Ghana. Family member may come all the way from their village, and ask: ‘Please try to give me the money.’ What do you do? To sympathise with the person you have to give the money. But if this continues it is going to collapse the business.” (female interviewee)

If this problem is already persisting at the community level, the expectations on migrants at the receiving end might increase enormously due to the location which they take on within transnational networks – a location that is associated with wealth and quick success in the minds of the left behinds. If the MDN succeeds to turn private affairs to public ones, migrants become bereft of their agency and get indulged in continuous obligation – rendering the dexterity of the discourse apparent.

Concluding remarks

Women’s practice of philanthropy can and should be interpreted in broader terms, as community engagement, in line with their gendered roles in the reproductive sphere – which are typically undervalued. The intersection of gender and location is reflecting the multiple burdens of women – to supply the wants of the family members left behind, the (nuclear) family in the receiving country and to contribute to transnational communities.

I therefore postulate a wider definition of diasporic philanthropy in the MDN which also includes women’s “invisible” engagement. But since the MDN does not take into account different social locations and interests of migrants which lead to the formation of particular migrant networks, it is far from doing justice to the diverse gender patterns of diasporic philanthropy. Women are included in the MDN to the extent that they are found to pursue valid remitting practices – which reveal the simplistic understanding of gender in the MDN. An enhancement of diasporic giving as envisioned within the MDN does then mainly target male migrants – and has therefore incalculable consequences in perpetuating traditional gender roles.

Thus I argue for caution to include diasporic philanthropy as part of the discourse on the MDN, since the efficiency of networks follows its own rules and diasporic organizations are not responsible for functions which rightfully belong to states. Characteristics of migrant networks such as part-time and voluntary work demonstrate that ‘development co-operations’ sought with migrants overtax the migrants’ capacities – as they already face a variety of risks, especially in the migration process, or as irregular migrants. Orozco subsumes these concerns: “Donors, governments and non-profit organizations must not attempt to change the behaviour of these associations by pushing them into development activities. The associations are an expression of meaningful contacts with the country of origin […]” (Orozco, 2003: 43-4).



1 Accounted remittances are monies sent through bank channels and money-transfer agencies such as Western Union. Informal transfers are not accounted for and probably triple the worth of flows to developing countries. (Wong, 2006: 355) The World Bank estimates that in 2006 worldwide remittances reached US$275 billion, with US$206 billion flowing to developing countries. (Johnson, 2007: 3)

2 The absence of any note on the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers (no matter if regular or irregular) and their Families in the MDN is telling, migration management in form of control is still at the forefront instead of a human development framework.

3 It is acknowledged here that the African notion of family does differ from the Western understanding of a nuclear family. The spatial limitations do not allow deepening this issue and it is referred to Oyewumi (2000).

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Doris Hilber studierte Entwicklungspolitik mit den Schwerpunkten Gender und Migration. Sie arbeitet derzeit beim Anti-Trafficking Focal Point der International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Rom.