Academic journal article Migration Letters

Ukrainian Migrant Women's Social Remittances: Contents and Effects on Families Left Behind

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Ukrainian Migrant Women's Social Remittances: Contents and Effects on Families Left Behind

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article examines different forms of Ukrainian migrant women's social remittances, articulating some results of two ethnographic studies: one focused on the migration of Ukrainian women to Italy, and the other on the social impact of emigration in Ukraine. First, the paper illustrates the patterns of monetary remittance management, which will be defined as a specific form of social remittance, since they are practices shaped by systems of norms challenged by migration. In the second part, the article moves on to discuss other types of social remittances transferred by migrant women to their families left behind: the right of self-care and self-realisation; the recognition of alternative and more women-friendly life-course patterns; consumption styles and ideas on economic education. Therefore, I will explore the contents of social remittances, but also the gender and intergenerational conflicts that characterise these flows of cultural resources.

Keywords: Social remittances, migrant women, gender, Ukraine.

Introduction

The present article examines different kinds of Ukrainian migrant women's social remittances. This work can be situated within the field of remittance studies, which in recent years has shifted from a mainly economic approach to a new framework, thus becoming more concerned with the cultural/immaterial aspects of this phenomenon (Levitt, 1998; Levitt, LambaNieves, 2010). Moreover, my analysis of the social implications of monetary remittances draws from some researches on the social meanings of money (Zelizer, 1993, 1997) and on the different patterns of management, allocation and sharing of financial resources within households (Hunt, 1978; Gambardella, 1998; Pahl, 1988, 1995, 2004). Even if these studies examine various groups of people located in different places and historical contexts, I believe that some of their interpretative categories can be fruitfully applied to the case of Ukrainian migrant women's social remittances. Therefore, during my discussion I will try to navigate safely between Scylla and Charybdis, namely the risk of gender essentialism and that of cultural essentialism (Narayan, 2000).

This work presents some results of two fieldwork studies on the topic: one regarding the flow of Ukrainian migrant women to Italy (Vianello, 2009, 2011), the other on the social impact of emigration in three Eastern European countries, among which Ukraine (Sacchetto, 2011). Both studies were based on in-depth interviews with migrants, returnees and children left behind and on several informative interviews1.

According to Levitt (1998) social remittances are ideas, behaviours, identities, systems of practice and social capital that flow from receiving to sending societies. Nevertheless, social remittances should not be viewed as a cultural colonization, because they are developed - and not passively learned - by migrants through their work experiences, their life events and the interaction with different cultures.

I will first examine Ukrainian migrant women's practices of remitting money. I will start from the assumption that these practices, too, can be considered as a form of social remittance, since the systems of resources allocation within the family are based on ideologies of gender and age appropriateness that are challenged by the migratory experience. Secondly, I will analyse other forms of social remittances that are transferred by migrant women both in implicit and explicit ways: the idea that women have a right for self-care and self-realisation; the recognition of alternative and more women-friendly life-course patterns; consumption styles and ideas on economic education. They fall within the category of social remittances identified by Levitt (1998) as "normative structures", namely ideas, values and beliefs on e.g. interpersonal behaviour, notions of intra-family responsibility and aspirations for social mobility.

Patterns of monetary remittances management

Remittances are a way to remain present in the country of origin (Sayad, 1999). …

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