Gendered practices of remittances in Bangladesh: a poststructuralist perspective
Bangladesh belongs to the top-ten remittance-receiving countries of the world with a yearly earning of US$15 billion. Comprising around ninety percent of the Bangladeshi overseas labour flow, men leave behind their spouses and children due to the high cost of migration and laws within the destination country. Compared to their men, few women migrate independently, since female migration involves unsettling the patriarchal gender order which sees men as main providers and women as carers of the household and also considers women to be insecure and unprotected abroad. In both the cases of male and female migration, however, stay put men and women come to have an important function in remittance management, but not necessarily in the same way. It is in this context that this working paper explores the relationships between remittances and men and women’s diverse, complex and, in some ways, conflicting identities in Bangladeshi households that depend on overseas earnings.
Building on the post-structuralist theorisation of gender as 'doing' or 'performativity', this paper analyses remittances' influence on the type of work, ideas and norms deemed suitable by males and females within migrant households and the organisation of gendered responsibilities within families. In doing so, the paper undertakes a systematic study of men and women's different roles, responsibility and access to and control over resources recognising the complex nature of intra-household relations. The underlying assumption is that gender is a fluid category which is to be examined beyond the status and power of the sexes.
The paper examines several situations to understand the role of remittance practices in shaping of fragmented, discontinuous and multiple gender roles and subjectivities. These are: a) men's remitting in a nuclear household, b) women's remitting in a nuclear household, c) the remittance practices of unmarried men and women from joint families and, d) the uses of remittances across different types of households.
The study reveals that when men migrate as the main provider of the family, the migrant and his wife become the long-distance provider and de-factor manager respectively. In contrast, female remitters, despite being the main earner, cannot perform as a complete provider, as their husbands retain control over their remittances and also because of the complexities arises as men fail to perform their expected roles. Again, the gender role and position of unmarried female remitters - whose primary allegiance lies with the natal home - are mainly shaped by their economic contribution to the household coffers, whereas unmarried male remitters’ subjectivity is influenced by the patriarchal norms of generational hierarchy. Investment and the use of remittances for girls' marriage and boys' employment at home and abroad have specific gendered implications, as shown in the paper, since it helps to maintain and reproduce the dominant gender ideologies of men as providers and women as carers of their household.