Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Impact of Male Migration on Domestic Budgeting: Egyptian Women Striving for an Islamic Budgeting Pattern

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Impact of Male Migration on Domestic Budgeting: Egyptian Women Striving for an Islamic Budgeting Pattern

Article excerpt

During the last two decades, more than two million Egyptian workers have migrated to the Arab oil-producing countries in search of better-paying jobs.1 Contrary to expectations the flow of migration has continued despite drop in oil prices. Moreover, the expulsion of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Yemeni workers from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia since the Gulf War has opened new opportunities for Egyptian migrant workers, whose government had joined the allied forces. Migrants continue to be overwhelmingly male,2 the majority of whom are married and leave their families behind in Egypt (Fergany, 1987:3; Hoodfar, 1994). Consequently, at least in urban centres such as Cairo nuclear households predominate, migration has temporarily placed a considerable number of women in the position of household head. The impact of migration has been the subject of numerous studies at the macro level, dealing with such issues as labour supply, wages, national income, and investment (Amin and Awny, 1985; Amjad, 1989; Eelens et al.,1992; El Sayed Said 1990). Although the impact of this phenomenon on women, children, family relations, and Egyptian society has been the subject of much speculation, scholarly attention has focused on rural and not urban families.3

Research in the Middle East and Asia has indicated that the power and status of women increase when their husbands migrate in search of jobs (Abadan-Unat, 1986; Hammam, 1981; Keely and Saket, 1984; Keyder and Aksu-Koc, 1988; Khattab and El Daeif, 1982; Morsy, 1985). However it is uncertain whether or to what extent these changes are permanent. The question is particularly pertinent to the Egyptian case, where migration is most often a short term strategy for generating cash and improving the migrants' immediate material conditions (Fergany, 1987:18; Hoodfar,1996b). However, due to the absence of detailed and longitudinal studies of family relations before and after migration, and because of the diverse situations of different communities as well as the numerous variables affecting women's power and status, the assessment of overall change in this respect has remained difficult.

In an attempt to circumvent some of these problems, this study examines the impact of migration on budgeting arrangements, which my female research participants viewed as the most important indicator of their position within their households and vis-a-vis their husbands.4 In urban settings, access to cash enables women to make routine purchases such as food, clothing, educational supplies, and medicine: to buy more expensive items such as furniture; and occasionally to rent a new flat, or on rare occasions, to acquire land. Such responsibilities also indicate women's mobility, since in Muslim households a husband has the theoretical right to prevent his wife from leaving the house unless she has explicitly reserved this right in her marriage contract.5

Now that there is a much better understanding and awareness of macro-micro linkages in the question of development and eradication of poverty and powerlessness (Bernstein et al., 1990; Dwyer and Bruce, 1988; Sen, 1989; Zabawa, 1987), micro studies and particularly household studies have assumed a more central role in the macro development model. Rigorous research in the last decade and a half has established that households are not egalitarian units where all members have equal access to resources (Folbre, 1986; Gonzalez de la Rocha, 1994; Netting et al., 1984: Singerman and Hoodfar, 1996; Young et al., 1981). As a result of these findings, interest in budgeting arrangements is no longer limited to feminists but spills over into the domain of social policy makers (Dwyer and Bruce, 1988; Elson, 1990: Folbre, 1986; Pahl, 1989; Whitehead, 1990). Understanding micro processes at the household level is vital for alleviating poverty in developing nations, where limited resources must be directed to the most vulnerable members of society, usually women and children (Dwyer and Bruce, 1988; Folbre,1986; Pahl,1989: Wilson,1987). …

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