We’re back to regale with tales of research from the international hinterland. The global economic crisis has been making front-page news for weeks now. And while we’ve heard lots about the bankers and the automakers, the gendered impacts of these shifts, especially internationally, are little reported. This week, we take a look at these impacts in the context of the phenomena of remittances.

Remittance is a big word that describes a simple concept critical to the economic viability of many countries. The term ‘remittance’ refers to the transfer of money from one country to the other by immigrant (or migrant) workers who leave their home country (usually in the Global South) to work in a higher-paid arena (usually in the Global North). Although difficult to exactly measure, remittances now account for the second largest source of external funding for developing countries. The Migration and Remittances Team at the World Bank estimates that flows to developing countries will reach $238 billion in 2008. Interestingly, with the rapid economic development of some developing countries, especially the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the flow of remittances is increasingly between developing countries. Information from the US Census Bureau shows that remittances between developing countries was 17% in 2008.

Why is this important to women? Remittances are a direct product of migration, one of the most highly gendered social processes. According to UNFPA, in 2006 95 million migrants were women, approximately half of all international migrants worldwide. Whether women are being left behind with the children, making decisions on how to spend the money that men (or children or other family members) send from abroad, or whether they leave behind children with extended family members in the hopes that they can create better lives for themselves and their families from a distance, women are at the maelstrom of movement.

UN-INSTRAW has been working on a fantastic project on Gender and Remittances since 2003. So far, they have looked at the patterns of migration and remittances by women between the Dominican Republic and Spain and the US, the Philippines and Italy, Guatemala and the US, Columbia and Morocco and Spain, SADC and Lesotho and South Africa, Albania and Greece, and Senegal and France. Key concerns of these projects are not only the recognition of the shear number of women migrants and the amount of money being sent back, but these monetary flows are then gendered both at the household and community level. In many countries, community development projects have been started with remittance money. INSTRAW, and others using a gender perspective, seeks to ensure that such money benefits both men and women, as well as is inclusive of issues specific to age, sexuality, race, ethnicity and religion.

Why does the gendered nature of remittance patterns matter in the context of the current global economic crisis? Well, according to The Economist, “plunging commodity prices and reduced foreign demand will hurt quite a few African economies; foreign investment, remittances and foreign aid will all shrink.” However, in spite of much doom and gloom in the current financial forecast, there is hope.

Remittances are one of the least volatile sources of foreign exchange in developing countries. They may slow but they never stop. They will continue as long as migration continues. Not only are they sometimes the sole source of income for many families – they are often seed funds for entrepreneurs. Two amazing young women from Mexico recognize the importance and the effect of remittances in their communities and have mobilized women in the community and the diaspora to exploit the full potential of these funds, as well as to ensure that the funds are used in a way that benefits both men and women.

Image Credit.