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Female labour migrants in West Africa including Ghana have been widely perceived as followers of male relatives. Since the late 1990s, the increasing movement of young women to cities in the region has drawn attention to this phenomenon and this study discovered females as actors in the migration process. Women have been moving from the rural North to the urban South, especially to Accra, to live in the city’s slums. Their migrations are not associational; these journeys are now independently pursued by women with aspirations to realise their ideals of a better life. Female migrations make up a growing share of migrant labour streams within Ghana. Among the migrants who arrive in Accra every day there is an increasing number of single young women as well as divorced women and neglected as wives from the North of Ghana. Economic explanations do not fully account for such moves, because men and women perform different productive and reproductive roles within the northern households. The varying degrees of gender and intra-household inequality and the women’s anticipation of life changes after migration spur the motivations and aspirations behind the journeys.
This study on single migrant women (SMW) was conducted in two sites. The first site was in four districts in the Northern Region with its capital Tamale. The Dagomba are the predominant ethnic group here. They practise subsistence farming and most of them are Muslims. The second study site was the Old Fadama (OF) market in Accra. By tracking the migrant women from the North to OF, the study connected the spaces of area of origin and area of destination in the migration process. A mixed-methods approach was applied in data collection, combining qualitative methods such as focus group discussion, case study and life history with a survey in the OF market.
While in the past the restrictions on women’s sexuality and autonomy prevented women from migrating alone, now northern households provide an incentive for young women to migrate. The women cited a gain in autonomy and freedom as the most important motivation for their move. In the household of their fathers or future husbands in the North, their autonomy is constrained. However, through their earnings in Accra, the women prepare themselves for an expensive religious marriage ceremony, invest in housing or education and also buy modern goods. Young migrant women from the rural Dagomba communities primarily engage in accumulating goods for their dowry, whereas older women accumulate capital for investment in their children’s education. The older women who have no plans anymore of returning to the North to marry, especially those who are successful in Accra and have achieved the status of ‘market mummies’, seek enjoyment in the present but also use their wealth to secure construction of rooms of their own in the North. The women save money, assemble housewares and send remittances with their own independent income.
In Accra, most young women engage in petty trading. In the OF market in Accra these single migrant women from the North generate livelihoods through the adoption of both market and non-market based strategies by extending and prioritising moral obligations to community members beyond their immediate households, instead of just focusing on maximisation of profits. Communities of old and young market women have built a ‘moral community economy’ through, among others, engaging in reciprocal labour, gift giving, and childcare and food sharing. This contributes positively to household food security and social well-being among the market women and migrant settlers in the OF community. SMW’s livelihood generation is sustained through social relations among women, in which also age, ethnicity and regional background play crucial roles. SMW give support to and receive benefits from the community through moral obligations and ethnic commitment. The analysis of these strategies contributes to the understanding of the intersections of household, livelihood strategies, gender and markets in urban settings.
In Accra, these women not only need to find income earning activities, they also have to reinvent themselves as consumers because of the abundant and varied consumption options in Accra as compared to the North. Through consumption of food, hairdos and leisure activities, they shape their new urban identities. However, through consumption they also try to secure the desired next phase in their life course. Despite earning very modest amounts of money with activities such as hawking or food vending, SMW save for their future and adapt their consumption to enable such savings. They save in money and in kind, buying items to set up their own hearths in the North for the preparation of meals, an iconic married woman’s activity, and to be able to enter a preferred, i.e. religious, marriage. They also spend money on dressing, styling their hairdos and looking good in order to attract suitable marriage candidates. Alternatively, the successful older women in the market place invest in conspicuous consumption to enact their informal position of ‘market mummies’, women who are well established and suitable mentors to more recent arrivals. The women shape their own life courses through consumption. The consumption practices SMW engage in are crucial for understanding the dynamics of single migrant women’s agency.
After migration, SMW are more likely to exert influence on the timing of their marriage and the choice of the partner. In the place of origin there are transformations of the gendered subjectivities women experience after having produced livelihoods away from home. The investigation of the reintegration experience of SMW who return to their place of origin revealed the everyday experience of returned migrant women within their households in rural northern Ghana. The study found the household to be an ‘arena of everyday life’; the word arena indicates dynamics and even struggle. These are visible in the provision for daily needs, and also in the income generating activities the women try to initiate to exercise their agency in generating livelihood. In this household arena, we recognized the gender dynamics around decision-making on livelihood generation as key to understanding the reintegration experience of returned migrant women. The analysis drew on feminist geographers’ insights of gender as process situated in a specific place. Critical attention was paid to how gender and household are co-constituted, to shed light on the multiple and contradictory ways in which gender, livelihood, and household are constructed.
Applying the lens of gender as situated process enabled capturing the significance of everyday micro transformations, resulting in a framework that wove together the domains of gender, household and livelihood. Contingent formations of intra-household dynamics revealed variations in the ways subjection and activation are enacted. The boundaries of women’s triple shifts (household work, farming, income generation) are not fixed but are constantly negotiated. On an everyday basis women have to juggle multiple subjectivities, such as being wives, daughters-in-law, mothers and petty commodity producers and traders. They do the work their husbands and senior women require them to do in order to secure their marriage, which is considered a lifelong security in this specific context, but they try to set limits to this work.
The general conclusion this study highlights is that the young women in the North successfully negotiate to realize their aspirations to migrate and, upon return, both subject themselves to the domestic and patriarchal order and contest it by using the means and skills they acquired to improve their bargaining position. This causes cracks in the prevailing order, which suggest the malleability of the patriarchal system. The observed processes underpin the relevance of conceptualising migration as an intrinsic factor in broader processes of development and social transformation.
|Qualification||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Award date||23 Nov 2015|
|Place of Publication||Wageningen|
|Publication status||Published - 2015|
- rural rural migration
- rural urban migration
- rural areas
- urban areas
- gender relations
- family structure
- west africa