Gendering Migration: Evaluating Empowerment of Single Migrant Women

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Migration is broadly interpreted to mean the movement of people for accessing better life prospects. However, when we deconstruct this phenomenon of ‘movement of people’ to the ‘movement of single women’ this brings forth intricacies of gender equations which further problematises migration outcomes, when women struggle to navigate their space and negotiate with the gendered challenges of a new city. Nevertheless, it is this nature of migration which can be explored to evaluate the empowerment of women. In this context, the article argues that when women choose to migrate as independent individuals for accessing education and employment, they experience empowerment which is manifested in their exercise of choice, autonomy and freedom in a new city.

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This paper empirically evaluates the impact of internal migration on empowerment of women in urban areas. Based on data from a nationally representative household survey, we find that migration exerts its positive impact both through improvements in educational attainment and labor market outcomes in urban settings. Migration contributes positively to empowerment of women by both raising their education levels and lowering the schooling gap between men and women. Migration also allows migrants, both men and women, to access jobs and occupations in high wage regions, particularly for those with tertiary education. Unlike education, gender wage gap persists even after migration.
Despite increased acknowledgement of gender equality as a social good, there are some areas where the practice of women’s autonomy is apparently inconsistent with the normative prescriptions of a new ‘empowered’ form of femininity. Sexuality and personal relationship status are sites where women are positioned within neo-liberal and post-feminist discourse in such a way that their choices are subject to questioning. A model of gender hegemony is useful for understanding how and why choosing to be single may still constitute a ‘problem’ for women, despite the intensification of messages which also address women as autonomous, sexualized subjects. In cultures dominated by an ideology of marriage and family life, single women’s identity work resolves contradictions in the current gender order and in the process reinstates heteronormativity.
The Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC) is engaged in interdisciplinary research in analytical and applied areas of the social sciences, encompassing diverse aspects of development. ISEC works with central, state and local governments as well as international agencies by undertaking systematic studies of resource potential, identifying factors influencing growth and examining measures for reducing poverty. The thrust areas of research include state and local economic policies, issues relating to sociological and demographic transition, environmental issues and fiscal, administrative and political decentralization and governance. It pursues fruitful contacts with other institutions and scholars devoted to social science research through collaborative research programmes, seminars, etc. The Working Paper Series provides an opportunity for ISEC faculty, visiting fellows and PhD scholars to discuss their ideas and research work before publication and to get feedback from their peer group. Papers selected for publication in the series present empirical analyses and generally deal with wider issues of public policy at a sectoral, regional or national level. These working papers undergo review but typically do not present final research results, and constitute works in progress.
Much internal migration in India, including the states of Rajasthan and Orissa, is distress-led. Previously issues pertaining to gender were overlooked, because migration tended to be viewed as chiefly a male movement, with women either residual in the process, or dependent followers. Contemporary migration is taking place in a world marked by a deeper belief in the importance of equality of opportunity across socio-political divides. This article stresses the need to analyse migration through the differential experiences of women and of men in the context of a highly gendered world.
The matrilineal castes of northern Kerala consider dowry demeaning and resort to it only in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. In local discourse, dowry is transacted when women are considered ‘old’ by the standards of the marriage market, where over-age is a condition reached usually on account of what is considered a deficit of a normative conception of femininity. Dowry is practised openly only by poor and socially vulnerable households, as the relatively affluent could mask dowry with hidden compensations. This article explores the ways in which gender mediates matchmaking and generates a residual category of women for whom dowry is openly negotiated. Open negotiation on the margins of the marriage market expose the terms of exchange in ‘respectable’ society, where matchmaking strategies reveal the emphasis placed on conjugality and on caste in the social construction of women's interests and identity. Up to the mid-twentieth century, matrilineal women derived their identity from their natal families. The political economy of marriage in Kerala brought a new emphasis to bear on conjugality and on caste, which generated new restrictions on women and produced a rationale for dowry.
When policymakers and practitioners decide that 'empowerment'-usually of women or the poor-is a development goal what do they mean? And how do they determine the extent to which it has been achieved? Despite empowerment having become a widely used term in this context there is no accepted method for measuring and tracking changes. Presumably if we want to see people empowered we consider them to be currently dis-empowered i.e. disadvantaged by the way power relations presently shape their choices, opportunities and well-being. If this is what we mean then we would benefit from being better informed about the debates which have shaped and refined the concept of power and its operation. Therefore in this paper, after briefly reviewing how the empowerment of women has been discussed within development studies, I look at how the concept of power was debated and refined during the second half of the twentieth century and discuss how power relations might be described and evaluated in a particular context. I then propose a conceptual framework within which empowerment might be assessed. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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