Building a house or just for a coffee? Gendering

Building a house or just for a coffee? Gendering remittances in Albania Russell King . Willy Brandt Professor of Migration Studies, Malmö University...

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MIM Research Seminar 2:

23 February 2012

Building a house or just for a coffee? Gendering remittances in Albania Russell King Willy Brandt Professor of Migration Studies, Malmö University

Outline of seminar • Context: the migration-remittances-development debate. • Bringing gender in to the study of remittances. • Concepts and approaches: remittances as transnational gendered social practice; corridors and dyads. • The Albanian setting: sites and methods. • Remittance mechanics. • Types of remittance households: main dyads. • Patriarchy and gender in remittance sending. • Remittance uses: questionnaire data and an emic typology. • Women receiving remittances: burden or empowerment? • Conclusion. 1

Funding and key outputs Funded by UN-INSTRAW and UNDP as part of their programme of research into Gendering Remittances, 2007-09. Russell King PI, Julie Vullnetari RA Key outputs: •King, R. and Vullnetari, J. (2009) The intersections of gender and generation in Albanian migration, remittances and transnational care, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 91(1):19-38. •King, R. and Vullnetari, J. (2010) Gender and remittances in Albania: or why ‘Are women better remitters than men?’ is not the right question. Sussex Centre for Migration Research, Working Paper 58. •Vullnetari, J. and King, R. (2011) Gendering remittances in Albania: a human and social development perspective, Gender and Development 19(1): 39-51. •Vullnetari, J. and King, R. (2011) Remittances, Gender and Development: Albania’s Society and Economy in Transition. London: I.B. Tauris. •King, R., Castaldo, A. and Vullnetari, J. (2011) Gendered relations and filial duties along the Greek-Albanian remittance corridor, Economic Geography 87(4): 393-419. 2

Context: the Migration-RemittancesDevelopment Debate • ‘Remittances are beautiful’ – seen by (neoliberal) economists, the World Bank and many governments as an effective stimulus to development. • Sustaining rural households in poor countries, helping to lift them out of poverty. • Major source of income for national economy, often outstripping ODA and FDI and other ‘invisible exports’ such as tourism. • Have the potential to stimulate local and regional development through investment, esp. in intensification/ expansion of agriculture, small industries and commercial activities. • Can be channelled to community development initiatives (esp. collective remittances sent via hometown associations) to build roads, schools, etc. • But, danger that remittances spent ‘unproductively’ – esp. on lavish houses and social events, which have little impact on sustainable development. • Remittances are a fragile and temporary dependency, destined eventually to fall, and dependent on strength of host-country economy. 3

Bringing gender into the study of remittances Although there is an established literature now on gender and migration, and also on gender and development, there is very little gendered analysis of remittances, despite remittances being the key link between migration and development




Development 4

Gender and remittances: received wisdom Despite female migrants’ lower incomes, it is generally assumed that women by and large send back home a greater share of their earnings in remittances than men and also tend to be better savers. In addition to being the largest receivers of remittances, women – when in control of remittances – are believed to channel overseas financial transfers into better health, nutrition and education for the entire family, thereby supporting the development of stronger and more productive communities. (Nyberg Sørensen 2005)


Gender and remittances: what the literature says • Evidence appears contradictory, even for the same country (eg. Mexico, Philippines). • Implication (cf. Lucas and Stark 1985) that women follow ‘altruistic’ principles when remitting, and men ‘self-interest’. • Quantitative surveys seem to favour males, qualitative research favour females, as ‘better’ remitters. • Results may vary according to where research carried out: at ‘sending’ or ‘receiving’ end of remittances. • What measure is taken: total amount, share of income, regularity of sending, responsiveness to needs etc. 6

Framework for analysis Asking whether women are ‘better’ remitters than men, or ‘better’ receivers or users of remittances, are not the right questions, especially in a highly patriarchal context, where women may not be ‘allowed’ to send or take decisions on remittances. So the relevant questions become: • Who sends remittances?

• • • •

Who receives remittances? Who decides how they are used? Who actually administers their use? What effects do remittances have on gender relations? 7

Concepts and approaches; corridors and dyads

• •

• •

We see remittances not purely as financial transfers but as a transnational gendered social practice. We therefore broaden the definition to include ‘social remittances’ (Levitt 1998): ‘the transfer of norms, behaviours, social practices, and identities to migrants’ home societies.’ One of these can be the norms, behaviours and practices relating to gender. Notion of migration and remittance corridors – semi-closed systems of circulation of migrants and remittances (monetary, in-kind, social, collective etc.). Remittance dyads – person-to-person remittance pairs which allow exploration of the micro-dynamics of transfers, with special reference to gender, generation, and kinship. Distinguish between main dyads and secondary dyads. Focus on an emic typology of remittances: how do migrants and their household and family members see and define 8 different types of transfer?

The Albanian setting • • • • •

Emigration started 1990; now 1.4 million Albanians abroad; top destination in Greece (600,000). Flight from poverty and political chaos; male-led, with women following later, after regularisation and permits for family reunification; now substantial second generation. Remittances to Albania rose from $275 million in 1993 to $1.3 billion in 2007, since when slight decline to $1.1 bn. in 2009. Remittances equivalent to 10-22% of GDP over various years; in 2007 equivalent $412 per head of population; and $916 per migrant; 7 out of 10 migrants send remittances. General view is that remittances have had major impact on lifting households out of poverty, and in shoring up the national balance of payments. Some evidence of small business development financed by remittances. 9

Sites and methods 2007-2008

Remittance-recipient hhs, migrants & returnees  350 face-to-face questionnaires with remittance-receiving hhs in villages  25 (17F and 8M) in-depth interviews with selected respondents as above & few returnees in villages  20 (14M, 3F and 3M/F couples) indepth interviews with migrants in Thessaloniki  key informants & focus groups

3 villages in Korçë district AL & Thessaloniki GR 10

Remittance mechanics Amounts (Euros)









< 1000






























3-6 months



Paid courier



> 6000






Bank transfer






Debit card









Vullnetari and King 2011) 11

Remittance uncertainties “Remittances vary by month and by season. … he hasn’t sent anything recently because he has been unemployed for 3-4 months over the winter. During the summer he sends around €500-600, up to €1000 every month or two months. Because he also has his own expenses where he lives… he has to pay rent, buy food, this and that… So, around October or November we start feeling the pinch…” Donika, 37, living in village with 4 children “He sends about €200 [$280] or €300 [$420], sometimes €100 [$140], according to what we need… as sometimes we are left without money here. So I tell him: please send us some. Ok, he says, but I need to pay my rent, my documents here first, whatever expenses… then I will send you, don’t worry, he tells me. He sends the money sometimes once a month, sometimes once in two or three months”. Alide, 61, mother of a migrant son living in the village12

Types of remittance households  Remittance-receiving households  female-headed hhs o de facto o temporarily o widow

 male-headed hhs o multi-generational o elderly couple o husband

 child-headed hhs

 Remittance-sending households  nuclear family  nuclear family + migrant’s parents  young single men


Remittance dyads: main profiles from our data  Migrant men as remitters  Long-term migrant wife & children

 Seasonal migrant wife & children  Migrant wife, children & his parents  Single migrant son parents  Migrant son & his wife his parents

 Migrant women remitters: ‘just for a coffee’ & ‘gifts’  Migrant daughter & her husband her parents  Single migrant daughter

her parents

(particularly in-kind remittances: medicines, clothes, washing machine, fridge, TV, furniture)


Patriarchy in remittance sending • Women are not ‘allowed’ to migrate on their own. Two exceptions: − some Roma women who move across the border to do seasonal work in Greece − students attending a foreign university (usually, however, they come from urban backgrounds). • When women migrate, it is with (or to join) their husbands, and their earnings form part of his remittances to his parents, at least according to the traditional Albanian pattern: “You know how it is where I come from… once you marry you become part of your husband’s family… you cannot help your own family [of origin]… The money I earn is for my family here and my husband’s family at home. We put the money in the same account and then he sends some home whenever they ask for it”. 15

Gendering Albanian remittances • Because of the hegemonic nature of Albanian patriarchy, affecting all spheres of society, including emigrant communities, women play a minor role in remittance sending, although they are receivers of remittances. • Hence, asking whether women are ‘better’ remitters than men is not the right question. • However, they are not entirely excluded from sending remittances. In certain circumstances, they are ‘allowed’ to send to their own parents, but usually this is a secondary dyad (the main remittance dyad from a sending perspective is to the husband’s parents, and from the recipient’s point of view is from the parents’ emigrant sons). • Moreover, such female-sent remittances are not called remittances but ‘little presents’, ‘just for a coffee’, etc. They are small sums of money or material remittances (clothes, shoes, food, medicines, etc.), given out of love and respect. • Some evidence of ‘secret’ remittances: daughter to mother, or migrant wife to sister. 16

Females sending remittances: two examples •

Irena (37), Thessaloniki, talking about her parents in the village: “I don’t send them money like a pension [i.e. regularly], but whenever some relative goes there, I would send €100 or €200 as a dhoro [Greek: ‘gift’]… once a month, every two months, as and when we found relatives who travelled… Besides money we buy them clothes; we take food to them when we visit…” Alket (47), Thessaloniki, describes the balanced pattern of visits and ‘remittance presents’ to both sets of parents (even though there is a residue of patriarchy in this quote): “As for my wife’s family, when we go to visit, my wife gives a present [again the Greek word dhoro is used] to my in-laws… It goes without saying: how can you not when you are together man and wife in the same family? Should we take something to my father and not to her father? I am talking about ‘decent’ families [e rregullt]. If you are a man with a moustache [burrë me mustaqe, i.e. a patriarch], an Albanian man like that, then I don’t know. But today women play a big role in the family… they even have more rights than men…” 17

Patriarchs and moustaches


Remittances uses Percentage of respondents (N=350) using remittances for: 1. Current household expenditure 2. Life-stage events 3. Housing – new and improvements 4. Household goods 5. Medical expenses 6. Investment in farming 7. Contributions to social security for pensions 8. Education of young family members 9. Debt repayment unrelated to migration 10. Migration-related debts

95 82 55 55 54 34 31 23 15 12 19

Remittance uses: tractors, roofs and weddings


Remittances: an emic typology • ‘Survival’ or ‘drip-feeding’ remittances, often referred to by their recipients as ‘wages’ or ‘pensions’: more or less regular amounts of money sent for everyday living costs and household expenses. • ‘Emergency’ remittances: for one-off unanticipated or major life-course events – medical bills (surgery, hospital care), weddings, funerals. • Debt repayment: migration or non-migration related (credit at shops, repayment of loans, smugglers’ fees etc.). • Gifts or small money ‘presents’, ‘just for a coffee’ (these are mainly secondary-dyad transfers); not actually called remittances. • Savings and investment transfers (again, not called remittances), usually made via banks or male person-to-person transfers (son→ father, brother→ brother), geared towards major projects (home, farm, business). • Note complete absence of ‘collective remittances’. 21

Remittance uses and decision-making: intra-household complexity Asije (47): In our family it is my father-in-law or myself who receives these remittances [from her husband]… Then it is my husband and my father-in-law who decide what they will be spent on... Ilda (18): There are three generations in our family and we all have different ideas. I want books for school for instance, or I need this item of clothing which I must absolutely have. Whereas mother says that we need this and that for the house. Whereas granddad says that we need this and that for the apple orchard. And so a certain disagreement arises amongst all of us… Granny (72): Everyone has their own ideas. Ilda: We all try to meet our own needs, although it is the eldest in the family, for instance, who administers things in our household, and who knows where this or that money should go, so that all are satisfied in the end. Asije: So in the end, it is the head of the household that gives the final verdict. 22





Entrepreneurial remittances: two examples • Besmir (24), Thessaloniki, describes how he transfers material remittances home to the family farm: “When I go home I take pesticides for the apple trees, pumps and pipes for the watering system... My father calls me and tells me we need this and that... I go to an agricultural suppliers and they package it all up and I take it to Albania. [If I cannot go myself] I pay €20 or 30 to the taxi-driver [to deliver it]...” • Zana (41), Pojan, describes how her migrant son brought entrepreneurial remittances back from Greece: “He brings parts for the tractor, for the combine-harvest machine, when needed. He bought the combine-harvester over there [in Greece] where it was cheaper, and drove it here himself... driving for three days from Thessaloniki.” 22

Will they change? They don’t change [referring to people in the village]… I went to Albania last summer with my husband. He left for Greece before me and I stayed a few more days. During those days I would go to Korçë because I was keeping an eye on the flat we have there and I would go to visit my brotherin-law. When a neighbour saw me in the village street she would say: are you going to Korçë? Are you going there alone? she would ask […]. Here [in Thessaloniki] I go about everywhere, wherever I want… My sister who is also here in Thessaloniki lives as far away from where I live as the distance between the village and Korçë. I take the children and go there every Saturday and Sunday. My husband is at work, I call him and tell him: your lunch is ready, now I am off to visit my sister. OK, he says, no problem. He never says: how will you get there on your own? Whereas there [in the village] the neighbours are ‘concerned’ if I go to Korçë alone… In the end [to stop the gossip] I was obliged to be accompanied by someone else. Irena, 37, living in Thessaloniki with her husband and 2 sons 23

Women receiving remittances: burden or empowerment? Evidence on this is mixed. Husband→ wife remittances improve quality of life (more money, better food, household appliances etc.), but also increase burden of administration of household economy. Flutur (47), Pojan, gives her account of this ambiguous situation. Her husband is a migrant in Greece; she cannot join him because she has the responsibility of looking after her in-laws. “Yes, he is the one who directs [i.e. is nominally in charge]... But when my husband is over there [in Greece], I am the one sorting things out... I manage the economy... He is involved, but over the phone... My responsibilities are increased, I have to take care of everything myself – the land, the house, the children – all the weight is on me.” 24

Gender relations and male domesticity Quote below is from Alket (47), Thessaloniki, a ‘mature’ male migrant, whose age interposes him between two generations – older ‘leftbehind’ parents/grandparents and younger migrants and nonmigrants. He starts off by paraphrasing the discourse of the older generation in the village, and then describes the realities of his own life in Greece: “The father says to his son: ‘Listen here my son, I have raised you and I know you well, but since you went to Greece, I don’t know, but you seem to take your wife’s side all the time, you listen to her more’. They [the older villagers] just stare at us... they don’t grasp what we are saying to them, when we explain the life and conditions in Greece... My wife comes home [from work] at six in the evening. Who will cook and clean for me? Who will look after the kids? But they [the villagers] don’t understand.” 25

Gender→ Migration→ Remittances→ Gender Patriarchy shapes Albanian migration: • Men were the initial migrants, and they decide who should migrate. • Independent female migration practically unknown. • Females only allowed to migrate with husbands or for family reunion. How do migration and remittances re-shape gender relations? • Some limited access to remittance-sending when ‘allowed’ by husbands, but only as ‘secondary’ remitters, and to ‘her’ parents/sisters, not to males. • Women are remittance-receivers, if married or widowed: but is this empowerment or burden? • ‘Male domesticity’ when living abroad (less so when back ‘home’). 26