The Impact of Male Labor Migration on Women in Botswana

Citation:

Brown, Barbara. 1983. "The Impact of Male Labor Migration on Women in Botswana." African Affairs 82 (328): 367-88.

Author: Barbara Brown

Abstract:

In recent years scholars have become increasingly concerned with the role women  play in society. Researchers  studying women in the Third World have focused particularly on the impact of  development on the social and economic role of women. However, there continue to be large gaps in our understanding of women in the development process. One such gap is the impact of labor migration on women. Labor migration is a common phenomenon today both within the Third World and between it and the industrialized countries. Yet, while numerous scholars have analyzed who migrates and  what causes the migration, there has been little in-depth study of the effect  of this migration on women. Most of the existing literature assumes that migration is a rational response to a  given range of resources and choices and that, as such, the family as a unit, including the women members, benefits from such migration. This view, however,  oversimplifies the situation.  The evidence shows that high male outmigration has led to a modification in the structure of family life and has transformed women's social and economic position to their detriment.

Keywords: labor migration, gender transformation

Annotation:

  • In her article, Brown examines that ways in which male outmigration from Botswana alters gender relations. She argues that as men migrate out of the country, development slows, and the decrease in human capital leaves women with the burden of agricultural reproduction at very little pay. Brown notes that gender is disregarded by many researchers in the field, and she focuses her study on the extent to which gender plays into the process of capital accumulation in Botswana. She concludes that migrancy entails changes in family roles that are detrimental to women.

  • Brown uses South Africa to briefly illustrate the effect that migration has historically had on the country’s economic system, explaining how rural dwellers were forced into wage labor in order to increase human capital. She proceeds to draw a parallel between this and the situation in Botswana, as the economy in Botswana has shifted from subsistence to commercial agriculture as a result of labor migration. In her study, she focuses on the impact of migration on women, specifically. She argues that as a result of male outmigration, women have become more isolated in their marriage and family positions and their social and economic situation has also changed for the worse. 

  • Because of the high levels of outmigration in Botswana, Brown argues, marriage is now delayed until a later age, which means that women oftentimes bear children before marriage and act as single parents. These single mothers face a variety of financial issues, including the fact that they are oftentimes denied child support. This forces women to turn to their immediate family for economic assistance; however, as individualism becomes more highly valued in society, family support becomes less reliable. Research shows that “households headed by single mothers are significantly poorer than male-headed households” (376), largely because women have fewer resources for farming (i.e. access to cattle) than men do. Brown also considers the effect of female outmigration on gender roles. Many unmarried mothers will leave their children with their own parents and search for work elsewhere, allowing her to earn more money.

  • In her conclusion, Brown writes that most of the new economic opportunities in Botswana go to men rather than women, making women dependent on men financially. As Botswana transitioned to a capitalist economy, the society became dependent on migrant labor. This increase in migration changed family ties and economic relationships, even leader to a “feminization of poverty” (387), as women are less easily able to access the resources needed to prosper economically.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Migration, Economies, Poverty, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Households, Livelihoods Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: Botswana

Year: 1983

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