Gendered Implications of Transnational Capital for the Development of Ukrainian Migrant Families

Alissa Tolstokorova

Ph.D., Associate Professor, Head of research experts group, International organization “School for Equal Opportunities”, Kiev, Ukraine.


Remittancesconstitute an efficient strategy for fighting situations of adversity, inherentrisks, and instability, and may serve as insurance to improve or countercrisis situations. Although they became a sort of “migration mantra” in the discourse on migration, generally acknowledged as a gendered process, the remittances and gender nexus is still under-researched. Meanwhile, it was admitted on the UN level that gender is a key factor when considering the likelihood of remittances being sent and received (IFAD & FAO, 2008) and a key variable affecting the migration project, the type of consumption, investment, and the type of remittances (UN-INSTRAW&IFAD, 2008).Hence, it is true that in search of a framework through which the complexities of global migration may be understood at its best, the connection between gender and remittances emerges as a key factor in this global phenomenon that demands further examination (UN-INSTRAW, 2007).
Hypothesis, theoretical framework, and goal of the research. A priori, based on analysis of media reports from destination countries, I assumed that there will be no mass return migration to Ukraine given that it is easier for migrants to survive the challenges of the global financial crisis (GFC) in recipient societies (Tolstokorova, 2009).Respectively, there are no grounds to expect a decrease in remittances flows. Expert assessments, despite being controversial, partly confirmed this expectation. Thus, in October 2008,it was projected that as a result of the crisis, a large share of undocumented migrants would come back home (Novynar News, 2008). In November that year, their numbers were assumed to reach 3 million throughout 2009 (Mykolyuk, 2008). Yetalready in December 2008,this great numbers of expected returnees was questioned (Kovalenko&Laschenko, 2008), and in spring 2009,it was announced that such a number would be unlikely (Faryna, 2009; Rozenko, 2009; Yatsenyuk, 2009).The assessments of the expected total of returnees made public in 2009 diminished twice, being estimated as 1,5 million people (State Committee on Statistics of Ukraine, 2009). Considering the latter possibility, I assumed that remittances would remain resilient. My assumption was drawing from the observationthatremittances have a tendency to respond positively to political and humanitarian crises in migrant-sending societies (Savage & Harvey, 2007).The experience of past crises has demonstrated that remittance flows may be counter cyclical with the GDP in recipient societies (IMF, 2006). That is, in the periods of a financial crunch, migrants tend to increase their financial support to families left behind at home so as to compensate for the salient consequences of economic downturn for their transnational households. This is particularly true in reference to developing and transitional societies, where social security systems are weak or even non-existent (ILO, 2010). Furthermore, considering that remittance-receiving societies are usually more vulnerable to the adverse effects of economic meltdowns than source nations, migrants working there have better opportunities to cushion the negative impact of a crisis. Motivated by the sense of altruism as a backbone of the migrant’s “moral economy”1, they start to propel remittances flows to support the households in their countries of origin, thus acting against the economic cycle and increasing the value of remittances during the recession (UN-INSTRAW, IFAD, 2008, p. 20). It was concluded that in such cases, remittances act as an “automatic stabilizer to smooth out fluctuations in the business cycle” (IMF, 2006). Meanwhile, it was observed that the specificity of the current crisis, which originated in developed economies, is that it is migrant workers abroad who are hit the hardest and are among the first to endure its effects (ILO, 2009). In this context, remittances were expected to play a pro-cyclical role (ILO, 2010, p. 69). These observations led to the prognoses that remittances would continue rising, although more modestly, during the GFC (Fix et al, 2009). At the same time, it was also envisaged that the decreasing employment rates among migrants due to the downturn would entail a reduction in remittances (Holmes, 2008).In particular, a World Bank study suggested that migrant transfers to developing economies would decline from $305 billion in 2008 to about $290 billion in 2009 (Deen, 2009).The available experience, however, evidenced that the reduction of remittances flows was overestimated, given that money transfers in 2009 remained resilient and reached $316 billion (Ratha, 2010). Yet, patterns of remitting have changed as long as migrants were reluctant to send money via official channels due to a lack of confidence in the banking systems. In 2010,remittances remained resilient too, especially as compared to private capital flows during GFC, having begun to recover and reaching$325 billion in 2010(Martin, 2011).The data of the “World Migration Report 2011” confirmed this claim, contending that “although there was some decline in remittance sending, perhaps reflecting the rise in unemployment among migrant workers, remittances remained resilient, in many cases, because return migration was not as high as expected” (IOM, 2011, p. 56). In February 2012, the director of the Bank’s Development Prospects Group commented that despite the global economic crisis that has impacted private capital flows, remittance flows to developing countries have remained resilient, posting an estimated growth of 8% in 2011 (Hunter, 2012). At the same time, a recent UNDP prognosis (UNDP, 2012) warned that remittances might drop in 2012, given that the still unresolved debt crisis in Europe does not point to a positive scenario for migrant workers who are currently staying or planning to move to the Eurozone. Countries among the most popular destinations for migrants are entering the years of austerity and cuts in public expenditures, and overall economic growth perspectives in the Eurozone are grim and unlikely to improve in 2012.In Russia, which is a key target country for Ukrainian migration, the latest data from the Russian vulnerability database showed a positive result for 2011, albeit with a decline in unemployment and inflation. Should this trend reverse in 2012, it might also impact those countries currently receiving millions of dollars in remittances from Russia (UNDP, 2012), including Ukraine and others.
Additionally, previous crises have demonstrated that the impact of economic upheavals are rarely ever gender-neutral, with women bearing the brunt of adjustment (UNIFEM, 2009). Migrant women are often being hit hardest by the crisis (Oxfam, 2009).Regarding the gendered effect of the crises on the labour markets and employment possibilities, there were prognoses that the financial crisis would be harder for women, and that more women than men worldwide would lose their jobs. This assumption, however, was overridden by the opinion that a specificity of the current recession is that its impact is likely to be more evenly shared by women and men, markedly different to that in the recessions of the early 1990s and early 1980s, because male unemployment rates catch up to women’s (Smith, 2009). The research made on the onset of the current downturn,euphemistically called the Lehman Crisis, showed that the caveats of possible decline in remittances and large-scale return migration proved largely ungrounded (Oxfam, 2010a). Regions with highly feminized migration flows were particularly resilient. In some countries, the migrants’total even augmented itself, the increase being mainly female as a result ofthe demand in the domestic work and service economy remaining strong (Oxfam, 2010a). At the same time, the decline of remittances was mainly due to dropouts in male migration, with salient consequences to remittance-dependant households (Oxfam, 2010b). Reduced remittances have put more pressure on women as principle managers in the families and those responsible for food on the table and children’s wellbeing. Therefore, the available scenarios of the possibleremitting strategies of migrants in response to a deep economic downturn showcase a magnitude of controversies,calling fortheir verification by alternative methodological approaches to migratory practices. This explains thegoal of thispaper,whichis to findevidencedemonstratingwhethertheabovementioned observations are applicable to the Ukrainiancontextin the conditions offinancialcrunch, drawing on qualitative gender-sensitive methodologyandtakinggender «as an analytical concept, ratherthanjustwomen and subjects» (Bastia& Busse, 2011).
Methodology of the study: The specificity of the modern standpoint on gender research is that it aims to create an alternative methodology and epistemology in the framework of social and economic sciences with the emphasis on the importance of the personality as a subject of knowledge and on social mechanisms that empower his/her access to social practice (Braidotti,2002, p. 44). It allows for a “more fluid and dynamic approach to the individual within the migration process” (Phizacklea, 2003, p. 29), which is particularly helpful in moving away from more mechanical econometric accounts on the financial dimension of migration which have often pervaded the literature. Therefore, the methodology for a gender-sensitive research on the financial aspects of labour migration should include, together with a quantitative study, also qualitative and interpretative, i.e. “soft”, methods of research. They enable a “migrant-centered approach” to the process of economic mobility,inaccessible to traditional econometric methods of study, by presenting narratives that capture the insights, considerations, attitudes, and motivations of its key actors. By doing so, they enable the identification of gender-specific incentives for remitting, strategies and patterns of money transfers, and the impact of earnings made abroad on financial democracy and power relations in the family. Considering the current situation of controversy over statistical data on the remitting behavior of Ukrainian migrants during the financial meltdown, the above potential of qualitative methods of research might be instrumental as a unique, and probably the only, way to access individual experiences and assessments of migrants as key actors in remitting.
The Current paper is grounded on the data of a multi-staged field research consisting of non-participant observation, two focus group discussions, and semi-formalinterviews with 41 Ukrainian migrants and members of transnational families (29 females and 12 males).
The interviews were drawn on a semi-structured questionnaire with open-ended questions, covering information on gender patterns of accumulation, sending, receiving, management, and the use of remittances; self-assessment of the socio-economic effect of remittances on the well-being of transnational households and their benefits in the intra-generational and gender perspectives; the effect of remittances on power relations in the families of labour migrants; and the impact of the economic crises on the remitting patterns. The interviews were taken under the condition that the real identities of the responders would not be disclosed in order to maintain their privacy.
Role of remittances for the wellbeing of Ukrainian transnational households
Despite generally recognizing that remittances play a pivotal role for the promotion of well-being in transnational households, in Ukraine, with its tremendous migration fluxes, statistics on migrants’ remittances are fragmentary and data from different sources is difficult to reconcile (Atamanov et al, 2009), while the quality and coverage of the existing data on remittances overall is hardly adequate (IOM, 2008a, p. 23). The IOM Report on Ukraine admitted that there is no analysis yet on the multiplier effect of remittances or on the impact of return migration on the local economies in Ukraine (IOM, 2009).
As was shown elsewhere (Tolstokorova, Ryndyk, 2011), remittances are highly instrumental as a poverty eradication strategy in the families of Ukrainian labour migrants, enabling them to ensure the socio-economic stability and financial security of their households, thus allowing them to escape serious financial constraints which would have been otherwise unavoidable. Earnings sent by family members working abroad make an important contribution to the healthcare security of transnational households and are crucial for securing educational possibilities for migrants’ children, providing the ground for their professional realization in the future. Thus, the share of household expenditures coming from remittances may be tantamount to approximately 20% (IOM, 2009, p. 27). According to analysts’ data, the average monthly income of Ukrainian transnational households might reach up to 2 billion UAH (around $385 million), i.e. about 1/3 of the nominal income of the population (Malynovska, 2004, p. 15).The pull of remittances Ukraine receives from its citizens working abroad, by analysts’ assessments,may amount to between 0.7% to 25% of GDP (GFK, 2008, p. 5). Thus, according to the National Bank of Ukraine, in 2006 alone, Ukraine received $5.6 billion of remittances from its migrant workers (taken from Gajducky, 2007).The IFAD statistic for that year was $8.47 billion (IFAD, 2007, p. 12). Meanwhile, by the estimates of Ukrainian experts, the real sum might reach up to 10-20 billion (taken from Fedorak, 2007), considering that Ukrainians do not trust the national bank system and prefer unofficial means of credit transfer (Harney, 2011, p. 11; Majdanik, 2010: 123), the so-called “banks on wheels” (TSN, 2011). According to a variety of sources, from one-thirdto around a half ofremittancesarebeing transferredthroughthe bank systemandtherestbyhandorvia intermediaries (Ombudsman of Ukraine, 2003; Majdanik, 2010, p. 121),which poses high risks to senders. By contrast, the foreign direct investments Ukraine attracted throughout the 16 years of its state independence did not exceed $24 billion (Kyiv Post, 2007). In the most economically disadvantaged regions, as for instance Ternopil and Chernivcy, this contrast is even more remarkable: the ratio between foreign investments and informal migrant remittances into the national economy is nearly 1:40 (Parkhomenko, Starodub, 2005, p. 20).
Furthermore, it should be considered that in Ukraine, as in many other remittance-receiving societies, banking systems do not extend to rural and remote areas. This constrains their capacity to deliver funds to households in these areas and induces migrants originating from there to resort to informal channels of money transfers, which is also connected with risk. For that matter, the lack of secure and accessible means of money transfer is regarded by migrants as one of top challenges they face while working abroad (Open Ukraine, 2008). It is noteworthy that according to a study by GFR Ukraine, whilst the use of most banking services decreased in the crisis period, the use of money transfers increased in contrast. Whereas in 2007 about 7% of Ukrainian population carried out money transfers, by 2010 this figure has risen twice, to around 15%. By the experts’ opinion, this increase is connected with the growth of family support in the time of crisis (GFK Ukraine, 2011).This is probably why with the onset of the crisis, Ukrainian remittance-receiving households reported greater financial security as compared to other categories of households (Europe without barriers, 2011, p. 16). Thus, 54.4% of them characterized their economic situation as vulnerable but not catastrophic against 62.4% of families with no migrant workers abroad. Additionally, more of them assessed the impact of the crisis on their family well-being as insignificant: 19.6% vs 15.6%, respectively. As shown by research carried out by Caritas Ukraine (Mykolyuk, 2009),this might owe to the resilience of migrants who, with the onset of the crisis, did their best to preserve employment abroad by all possible means. Information in Ukrainian media (Lejbovych, Teslya, 2008; TSN, 2009; Faryna, 2009)also shows that Ukrainian guest workers appear to be holding on to their jobs despite the downturn. However, this sometimes goes with a high cost, for instance, working for free for a while to be able to withstand the competition and preserve the job or to work for a lower remuneration. However, even those who forfeited their jobs did not go back home, but moved on to other places with better employment possibilities, for instance, to Finland. This tendency was noted among Ukrainians working in the Czech Republic (Drach&Najibullah, 2009).
Gender specificities of remittances sending, receiving, management, and use
Migrants remitting behavior hinges on several factors, including but not limited to gender, age, education, marital status, position in the family, and opportunities in the destination country. Meanwhile, gender not only predefines who migrates, when, where, why, and how, but also affects the amount and frequency of remittances transferred back home, as well as how they are spent (IOM, UN-INSTRAW, 2011, p. 1). Research findings show that women often play a leading role in remitting, as both recipients and managers of transfers from abroad, and as their senders, and for that matter are seen as critical actors in the remittance-to-development paradigm(UN-INSTRAW, IFAD, 2008). Although their remitting patterns vary depending on the country of origin, overall women are found to be more reliable as senders and managers of remittances than men, which is attributed to their better understanding of household needs and the ability to respond to them better, combined with traditional involvement in social structures wherein they have greater responsibilities for household chores (IFAD, FAO, 2008, p. 12). At the same time, men are more likely to be found among non-remitters (Connel, Brown, 2004). On the post-Soviet terrain, the experience of Tajikistan showed that the longer migrant men stayed away from their families, the more likely they were to start a second family. When this happened, remittances gradually declined (International Crisis Group, 2009). Studies showed that men generally remit more than women, which is attributed to the traditionally higher incomes of migrant males due to the occupation gap between women and men (UN-INSTRAW, IFAD, 2008, p. 13). Thus, it was found that the income of Ukrainian women working abroad was lower as compared to that of men. Respectively, remittances sent home by young Ukrainian females amounted to 80.9% of the total sum sent by males (Majdanik, 2010, p. 119-120). Nonetheless, in some countries it is women who send home more remittances than men. The research among labour migrants from Georgia showed that women sent more remittances home and were better able to support their families because they spared themselves certain conveniences and luxuries while working for remittances. They did not go out during their days off, they called home only twice a month, and they did not buy anything for themselves in order to save as much as they could to send savings back home (Zurabishvili, Zurabishvili, 2010).
Remitting patterns are structured along gender lines too. It was found that men save to take money home,while women more often invest in their new local environs and purchase durable items (Grasmuck, Pessar, 1991). As well, men tend to send remittances in larger amounts and not so regularly, while women send more regularly and respond more positively to calls from the country of origin in periods of crisis. Among Ukrainian labour migrants in the older age groups, no gender differences were found in the patterns of remitting, whereas young migrant females were reported to send transfers home less often than males (Majdanik, 2010, p. 119). Although it may owe to the lower incomes of younger women, it may also suggest their long-term perspectives in the hosting societies and the intention to better integrate themselves to be able to secure a residence permit in the future. For that reason, they spend more on their own needs than on the family back home. This opinion is backed up by data evidencing that women, especially of a younger age group, tend to spend more of their earnings on settlement in the country of work than their male coevals (Majdanik, 2010, p. 116). Additionally, among Ukrainian migrants, 62.3% of males sent money home as compared to 58.8% of females, although women predominate in the countries where from savings are brought mainly in hand (Italy) (IDSR, 2010). This suggests declining ties with their homeland among Ukrainian women.
Women are reported to prevailing being both the senders and receivers of remittances (IDB-MIF, 2004a). Worldwide, they make up half of all remittances recipients (IOM, 2008b). However, in Muslim cultures, remittances earned either by women or men are usually sent to male relatives left behind at home, as showcased by research conducted in Central Asia (International Crisis Group, 2010). In families of migrant men, therefore, despite the wives assuming a great deal of responsibility over the household during their husband’s work aboard, they are anyway excluded from financial resources and hence, they are not accorded by the patriarchal society either the power, respect, or social status enjoyed by men. Men, it was found, spent their remittances irresponsibly, whereas women invest them more efficiently. Empirical research showed that women are more prone to invest remittances in productive enterprises such as tailoring, producing handicrafts, commercial agriculture, and raising cattle (UN-INSTRAW, IFAD, 2008). Some fragmentary data available from research conducted on Ukrainian migrant women shows that their remittances serve more familial, rather than investment, functions (Hormel & Southworth, 2006; Harney, 2009). Men left behind are more often among those not entrusted by migrant women with their remittances. It was found that at the initial stage of the migration process, some women remitted money to their husbands, but as a result of the men’s poor management of remittances, they later chose to send money directly to mothers or sisters, but no longer to the men in the family (UN-INSTRAW (2006a; Parreňas, 2005).
Studies have demonstrated that remittances may have gender-specific implications for the familial and parental roles of women and men. Thus, it was observed that remittances are often a way of assuaging a sense of guilt for migrant mothers: when children are in the home country, remittances serve as a way of paying off the responsibility of motherhood and blurring the distance of separation (UN-INSTRAW, IFAD, 2008,p. 17). Generally, men send their earnings predominantly to their parents and wives, tending to send more to the former than to the latter. This situation stems from the fact that when sending to the spouse, they are also sending to the children left behind at home. Women on the other hand have a wider range of people to remit to, such as their parents, children, and siblings, as well as other relatives including spouses or grandparents. One explanation is that most migrant women are single or single mothers and are expected to face certain obligations as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives or a combination thereof (Orozco, 2006, p. 3). However, in order to fully grasp the gendered specificities of sending, it is also important to look at factors such as marital status or age, as there are differences not only between, but also within, genders (IOM, UN-INSTRAW, 2011, p.3). Thus, the parental responsibilities of migrant mothers explain why they tend to send remittances to the person (more often a woman) who takes care of their children (UN-INSTRAW, 2007) to ensure that the money is spent for the benefit of the children and the household (UN-INSTRAW, IFAD, 2008).
Remittances may create new power dynamics, as family members position themselves to compete for resources. On the other hand, the spatial separation of migrants from their families means that issues of resources use and management are taken outside the confines of the household (Pinnawala, 2008). This leads to the separation of an earner from a manager, and creates spatially separated parallel power centers within the transnational family space, with the manager of income as the center of power in the local family/household space and the earner of the income (the female migrant) as the center of power in the new livelihood space. Hence, gender is an important factor in determining the remitting strategies in transnational families and in shaping supportive social networks to bolster the basis of the financial security and well being of the transnational household.
Discussion of fieldwork findings
Gender implications of remittances for Ukrainian transnational households
Our fieldwork confirmed the abovementioned observation about women’s agency in remitting as senders, recipients, and managers. At the same time, the interviews showed that the responsibility for remittance management in recipient households is transferable throughout the lifecycle of the family. For instance, our responder Olena, an adult unmarried daughter of migrant parents, mentioned that when she studied at school, it was her father who received transfers from her mother working aboard, while the decisions regarding the expenditures were made by her jointly with her brother. As soon as Olena graduated from school and started earning her own living, the remittances henceforward were sent to her. She continued to manage them on a par with her brother until heal so had left to work abroad following her father. Another responder, Marta, a senior woman managing remittances sent by her migrant daughter, noted that when she worked in Italy in the early 1990s, she sent her remittances to the family as a whole, not to someone in particular, because at that time, all adult members of the household were unemployed and required financial assistance. In the family of Lyudmilla, it was her mother who received and managed remittances sent from Italy by the father of the family. Yet, after the mother and two brothers joined him abroad, the remittances were managed thenceforward by Lyudmilla.
At the same time, some female informants intimated that they entrusted remittances mainly to female family members, since males as remittances users were found to be unreliable. This is because men tend to spend remittances on themselves, while women invest them into the subsistence of a joint household, as testified by Olga’s story:
Responder: “You know, it was so frustrating! While working there, I was saving every single penny to send home to the children. Sometimes my roommates invited me to go out, just to relax and enjoy life after hard work. Oh, no! I could not afford it! I had to save money for the children, for their well-being. But when I came home to visit, you can’t even fancy how frustrated I was! It turned out that my son was going to his classes at the University only by taxi! And in the evening, instead of studying — friends, beer, hanging around… It turned out that he wasted all the money I sent him and even made lots of debts. Then one day he came to me saying: ”Mom, I need money to repay my debts. If you don’t give me money, I am in real trouble.” So, I had no choice but to give him all the money I brought home to save him from troubles. Luckily, my daughter is of a different order. She spent the remittances very productively. She bought furniture and some electric appliances for the kitchen, also a washing machine, so it was quite a different story then with my son. I understood that I had to entrust my money only to her.(Interview with Olga, a migrant in Russia working as a cleaner, who earlier worked as a senior engineer for municipal services).
It is noteworthy that despite the position of remittances receivers, combined with the reputation of their productive managers and investors, most female remittance managers did not accommodate their relation to the remittances as a promoting factor for their power status in the family. While responding to the question about the impact of remittances on their decision-making agency in the household, many womenunderscoredtheirrelevance of financial leadership in the family for kinship relations, as was noted by Marta:
Interviewer: Do you think that you have a stronger power statusin the family due to your position of a receiverand manager of remittances?
Responder: You see, my kids are good. Very good. …They help me a lot. So, I wouldn’t say so. Now that the girl is getting older, she helps me when I ask her about it. Yes, they are very good and they treat me well. So, I don’t think it depends on money. (Interview with Marta, retired, works part-time, mother to a widowed migrant woman in Italy).
Another responder said that she enjoyed a decision-making position in the household only temporarily while she was managing the remittances sent to her by the parents of the child she took care of. Yet, once the remitters were back home, they took over the decision-making position in the family:
Responder: Of course, when the child’s parents are away from home, it is me who is a boss here. But as soon as they are back — it’s them, his Mom and Dad. It is his Mom who is number one again, she is the boss. I have power only when she is away. Once she is back, it’s over (Interview with Nina, retired, works part-time, mother to two migrant couples, working in Cyprus and Italy).
Only one woman clearly confirmed her decision-making power in the family due to the position of being a remittances manager:
Responder: Of course it matters! Yes, certainly. I do have more power. No doubt. Because I have the power to control the child’s expenditures. I have more power in the family, because it is me who decides how to spend this money (Interview with Ganna, retired, works part-time, mother to a divorced migrant man working in Czech Republic).
The interviews showed that for all the women left behind, the role of remittance mangers entailed the necessity to assume the responsibilities of being child-minders to the migrants’ dependents. Therefore, in the first place, it entailed additional family responsibilities, however, these surplus obligations were not rewarded by financial or material affluence. Thus, all the women unanimously admitted that although remittances enabled their financial empowerment by improving the economic security of their households, still they alone were insufficient to maintain a decent level of well-being in their families. Even despite migrant parents taking responsibility for the most costly expenditures for children, as for example, clothing, footwear, and other expensive commodities, and although nearly all the female responders pooled remittances (sometimes received from more than one relative) with retirement allowances and earnings from part-time jobs, none of them assessed their level of well-being to be above satisfactory.
At the same time, our participatory observations showed that unlike the females who remain behind in the family, men left behind at home often failed to successfully perform the functions of remittance managers. They tended to spend transfers from abroad on alcohol, hanging out or anti-social behavior, invest them in risky businesses, etc. Thus, as was intimated in the informal conversations held with civil servants working with family and minors, municipal courts in the small towns of the Western border regions of Ukraine often have to deal with trials initiated by migrant women against their ex-husbands who failed to perform their paternal duties, despite having regularly received money for their children from their migrant wives. Furthermore, as a result of their financial independence and economic agency, migrant women are frequently manipulated by their (ex-)husbands left behind at home. For example, men black mail their (ex-)wives, requiring them to pay penalties for the abandonment of paternal care duties for their children, which are mandatory if mothers want to take their children abroad to countries of work. The rationality behind these collisions is not so much the emotional attachment of fathers to their children, but rather their mercantile intentions to secure “gender dividends” from their wives by making them a “favour” to bear the full financial responsibility for their joint offspring. These instances testify that in transnational families, the gender effect of the “moral hazard” of remittances for family relationships consists info stering an irresponsible attitude of the left-behind men to their spousal and paternal obligations, entailing the mercantilization of kinship bonds. This confirms a conclusion of my earlier research (Tolstokorova, 2010 a) that although remittances enable migrant women to acquire more financial freedom and self-reliance, they entail neither more fiscal democracy, nor more gender equity in transnational families. The work aboard only increases women’s double burden, but does not lead to more financial independence insofar as by assuming the roles of breadwinners they become more bound by their financial obligations to their children, while their husbands use the financial empowerment of their wives as an opportunity to decrease their own contribution into the family budget and to manipulate their spouses. Hence, paradoxically, although women work hard for remittances, remittances do not necessarily work for women. Therefore, the “gender saldo” of migration for women might often be negative and their “gender dividends” of investments into transnationalism might be nil, while their husbands left behind at home may receive good “gender gains” (Bastia, Busse, 2011: 30) without any investments into the family’s well-being.
As was discussed earlier (Tolstokorova, 2009 b),one responder noted:
Responder: “Here, in small towns in the South of Ukraine, around 40% of men live on the remittances of their migrant wives and take care of the household. In the West of Ukraine, their share is even higher, probably over 50%, and since my sister lives in Moldova, I know that there such men make up no less than 70% of the total male population” (Interview with Varvara, retired, a mother of a man working in Russia).
This, however, is not specific to Ukraine, but echoes the findings of empirical studies in other parts of the worlds how casing that some husbands quit working and lived entirely off remittances in transnational households, while other family members continued working but stopped contributing to the household budget, spending their earnings on themselves (UN-INSTRAW, 2006 b).
This is why UN-INSTRAW raises the alarm about the predominance of “matrifocal households” among migrant families, whereby women bear the main responsibilities for all aspects of the remitting process, generating a family model in which men’s involvement becomes less important, entailing the decline and marginalization of their family roles, but increasing the family burdens of women (UN-INSTRAW, 2006 b). My research confirmed this observation, evidencing that transnationalism leads to an expansion of women’s roles in the household both for movers and stayerswithout tangible changes intheir status and power position. In doing so, it reinforces gender inequality. Therefore, the general conclusion is that migrant women’s financial empowerment in the countries of work does not necessarily translate into gender empowerment at home and may even lead to financial disempowerment if their husbands remain absolved of their responsibilities for the family’s welfare.
Impact of the financial downturn on remittance flows
Among the senders of remittances in this study, no one reported losing employment as a result of the crisis and respectively terminating the sending of remittances back home. One responder said that in early 2009,she went back home to Ukraine from Italy and was considering whether she had to stay home or return to Rome to resume working there. Her hesitancy was not related to challenges related to her employment in Italy, but rather to the overall worsening of the situation, such as the growing prices in Italy, fewer opportunities to find part-time employment to supplement the principle source of income, etc. However, after a while, she realized that there were no opportunities for her in Ukraine and eventually decided to go back to Italy.
At the same time, many responders intimated that the downturn affected people around them, but not themselves. This testifies to the observation that Ukrainians do not compete on the labour market with native laborers, but successfully compete with migrants of other origins (Mykolyuk, 2009). This follows from an interview with a former extra-class athlete who gave his interview while visiting his family in Ukraine for his 60th birthday. He has been working abroad for over 10 years, first in Russia and then in Portugal. In his interview, he underscored that with the enveloping crises, some people at his Portuguese enterprise were dismissed from their jobs. These were mainly managerial personnel whose departure did not affect the production process:
Responder: At my place it was quite a big deal. Many people were kicked off, but not amongst us foreign workers who do all the hard and nasty work in this sweatshop. It was mainly “white-collar” natives, we call them “Porthoses”, who have advisory, consultative, or administrative positions. They were hired when the financial situation was favorable, but once the crises started, there was no need for them anymore. Say, our computer guy was dismissed. A good guy, we missed him. Then one of two deputy managers was kicked off too. They did not want two of them anymore, so only one preserved his job. Then they joined two units into one and dismissed the surplus administrative personnel. But among guest workers like us, nobody was affected (Interview with Victor, a handyman worker at an enterprise in Portugal).
Another man working in the construction sector in Portugal related that in his team of workers, six people were dismissed as soon as the crisis started. Due to that, those who preserved their jobs had their workload nearly doubled. They were glad to have it because their wages increased too, although disproportional as to the increase of the workload, to around €50-60 per week.
Another responder, a male working in Russia, noted that there was turmoil caused by a wave of dismissals amongst people working in the so-called “budget sector”, i.e. personnel of public institutions and enterprises financed by the state:
Responder: I was not affected by the crisis. Not at all. It was because I worked for myself, not for the state. My income did not depend on public funding. From my observation, the crises had salient implications for those employed in the budget sector, who received salaries from the state: teachers, doctors, librarians, etc. When the crisis started, some of them were dismissed from their jobs due to budget constraints. But we in the private sector were not affected. On the contrary, we benefited by the crisis, because many jobs were freed (Interview with Dmitry, a university lecturer and a musician working as a handyman worker in Moscow).
The social tension generated by the crisis in her hosting country was confirmed by Larissa, a woman who had been working with senior citizens in Moscow throughout 2008-2010.She was relatively affected by the financial crunch, since she had to change her employment pattern to respond to the changing situation on the informal labour market of domestic services. However, she did not face a critical situation which could induce her to go back home. Due to that,her remittances remained resilient.
Responder: When they started talking about crisis, there were fears among the guest workers that our employers might face financial challenges and some of us might lose our jobs. It is true that some people were kicked off, say from Central Asia. I had some hard times too, but I was lucky and it ended up well for me. I was taking care of an old women whose son was my employer. When hard times came, my employer, who was in his sixties, was asked to retireand respectively lost part of his income, having preserved only his retirement allowance. He told me that since he did not work anymore, he could stay with his mother three times a week, and I’d have to stay four other days. I explained to him that in that case, my income would be insufficient to pay for my accommodation and I will have to leave them and go back home. He was not happy about it, because he did not want me to go. Eventually, he found me one more employer so that I could work in two families for the whole week and thus preserve my income level (Interview with Natalya, 57, a doctor, working as a caregiver in Moscow).
Interestingly, seven responders commenced their economic voyages abroad in late 2008–early 2009 when the crisis reached its apex, however, they did not associate the decision to go abroad for earnings with economic hardships stemming from the financial crunch. Rather, both women and men explained it by the transition to a new stage in their family or individual life cycle. For instance, their incentives hinged on such issues as their approaching retirement age and the need to provide for oneself in old age; graduation of the migrants’ children from high school and the necessity to pay university fees; the desire to financially assist the family of adult children expecting a baby; divorce and the necessity to pay alimonies to the ex-spouse and children; graduation from the university and a lack of professional experience necessary to start a career at the labour market in Ukraine, etc. This is how one responder explained her decision to go to work in the care sector in Germany in 2008:
Responder: “I went to Russia when I was in my early 50-s to earn for life after retirement, because my expected retirement allowance at that time was but $40 -50 per month. What could one afford with this money? It was nothing, yet for a woman in her senior years, it is hard to find a part-time job to have extra income. You are not welcome anywhere, even if you have high qualifications and are still full of energy. Additionally, I had a long-cherished dream to have my apartment renovated, to have a so-called “Euro-repairment”, wherefore I had neither time nor money while working full-time. I wanted to have decent life after retirement. This is why when my colleague offered me this opportunity to take her job in Germany for the time she stayed home visiting, I did not hesitate and agreed at once.”(Interview with Alexandra, a retired college lecturer, employed in Germany as a caregiver at a private nursing home for the elderly and working part time as a translator, tailor, cleaner, etc).
The instances of job elimination due to the crisis which happened in the migrants’ closest surrounding were attributed by them not to the objective absence of possibilities on the labor market, but to the lack of flexibility and adaptability skills of the persons affected, being treated as a prerequisite for survival in the conditions of the permanent labour market volatility:
Responder: Yes, some people left after the crises had started. I think it is not surprising, because they were not ready to work hard, to adjust themselves to possible exigencies, to be patient and resist challenges. They came in search of easy money and adventures. So, once problems arose, they surrendered. You see, when there is a will, there is a way, but when there is no true will, it is hard to find ways (Interview with Alexey, a skilled technician, worked for two years at construction sites in Moscow).
Interviews with members of Ukrainian transnational families confirmed the above observation, evidencing little or no effect of the GFC on migrant households in Ukraine. Of all the responders, only two mentioned having some short-term break-ups in the remitting pattern. In one case, it was due to the deteriorated employment situation of remitters (a migrant couple working in Cyprus), and in the other case, it was caused by the suspense in wage payments to a migrant worker(a divorced man working in Portugal).
Interviewer: Did the global financial crisis, whereof they speak so much nowadays, make any impact on the regularity or amount of remittances to your family?
Responder: Yes, it did, because for some time there were no jobs for them there… So, they could not send money… And it depends on the availability of jobs and what kind of job they have (Interview with Ganna, retired, works part-time, mother of a migrant couple working in Cyprus).
Yet, in this case, the adverse effect of the GFC may be attributed to the undocumented status of migrants and, therefore, their overall precarious employment situation, not only during the crisis. Due to that, even before the crisis, the pattern of remitting in this family had not been regular, depending on the availability of job placements for remitters.
Responder: No, it did not… Well, maybe just slightly, only at the onset of the crisis. For some time, salaries were suspended, so my son could not send money because he did not receive his salary. But he had to pay for his rent and needed some money for his daily expenditures. So, he did not send money then. But it was not for long. (Interview with Dina, retired, works part-time, mother of a divorced migrant son working in Portugal).
All the other informants in this study reported no tangible impact of the GFC on money transfers from aboard and, therefore, on family well being, given that remittances had been as resilient as before. This may signify that the situation of household members working abroad during the crisis did not change dramatically, as in the families ofOlena and Lyudmilla:
Responder (1): No, or probably even if so, then just a little bit. You see, my Mom has worked there for quite some time so she is quite adjusted there and her salary neither increased nor decreased (Interview with Olena, an adult daughter of parents working in Italy and a sister to a migrant man who emigrated to the US).
Responder (2): No, I cannot say that I felt any changes. Both Mom and Dad work where they had worked before. Although it was quite an issue there. My mom said that many of our people, and even Italians themselves, lost their jobs. So, there were few well-paid jobs left and many people had problems with employment . But my parents managed to preserve their jobs somehow. They are well adjusted there and they were not affected. (Interview with Lyudmilla, a recent university graduate, a daughter of migrant parents and a sister to two migrant brothers, all of whom work in Italy).
Hence, to be able to respond to the volatility of the labour market during the global recession, Ukrainian migrants developed multidimensional coping strategiesenabling them to remain competitive in the conditions of the current economic downturn. At the same time, their experience showed that the stance of “a dramatic impact of the economic crisis on migration and migrants”, particularly on women, although indeed true, is somewhat exaggerated. Current research confirmed the conclusion applicable to other FSU countries too, particularly that “a theoretical worst-case scenario is clear but unlikely” (International Crisis Group, 2010, p. 14). It showed that due to their perseverance and endurance, Ukrainian transmigrants managed to turn the above stance into a “migration myth” which does not mirror the migratory reality of the GFC, whose adverse effect they successfully to managed to mitigate. As followed from the interview with members of transnational households, due to that, remittance-receiving households in Ukraine did not experience particular financial hardships even during the turmoil of the financial crisis.
The results of the current study allow one to concur with the opinion that Ukrainians perceive remittances as an “entrepreneurial” or “innovative” tool well fit with neo-liberal market ideology (Harney, 2011: 11). They also confirmed an earlier observation (Tolstokorova, 2010 b) that Ukrainian migrant workers are well aware of the emerging challenges exerted by the global economic downturn and manage to develop gendered strategies of mobility to respond to them. This explains why remittances remained resilient and members of transnational families living in Ukraine were more financially secure than non-migrant families during the financial crisis. It was mainly due to the remitters’ individual survival skills of being “sophisticated economic optimizers” that they managed to preserve their employment abroad and did not allow the resilience of financial transfers to tangibly decrease. The study generally showed that althoughUkrainians do not compete with natives on the labour market, in times of labour market crisis,they manage to compensate the shortage of labour with a higher adaptability than natives or migrants from other countries are able to do.
However, this conclusion could be predefined by some of the objective limitations of our studythat might limit the theoretical value of obtained findings, but at the same time encourage a further search for new ways of information gathering and generating. Our key concern was that the subject matter of the project, i.e. the financial dimension of the transnational family space, especially if seen through a gender lens, is a specific field of study involving very delicate, vulnerable aspects of the life of migrant households. It is connected with the issues of privacy, confidentiality, and the complicated interpersonal relationships in the family which are not always consciously conceptualized by informants, and for that matter, are not readily intimated to outsiders. It was brightly illustrated by the deeply hesitant tone of a female informant who responded to a question about the impact of remittances on power relationships in the family in the following way:
Responder: You see, I had never thought of it before. Yet, now that you’ve asked me…. I tried to give it a thought. And you see… I am not sure what to answer. Probably no…. I don’t think that… Well, at least not much… No, I don’t know… Although, probably yes. Well, probably just a little bit. As a matter of fact, I am not sure.(Interview with Olena, an adult daughter of parents working in Italy and a sister to a migrant man employed in the US).
Similar observations were made in the course of a nation-wide sociological poll carried out in Ukraine in 2008 (NasellenyaUkrainy, 2010: 110). In that study, among younger interviewees, every fifth person from a younger age group (18,3%) avoided speaking on this issue while in the older age group, nearly a quarter of responders (25,5%) did not answer the questions regarding the average monthly income abroad.
Hence, to obtain more specific findings for this study,the research might encompass innovative methods of gathering information, for instance, via communication by ICQ or SKYPE programs, or particular internet blogs and web-pages, which might provide responders greater freedom for expressing opinions and sharing their experience, while at the same time enabling them to preserve confidentiality.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that gender equality policies and gender mainstreaming as such are essential tools to understand labour market processes and to develop effective responses in both good and bad economic conditions (Smith, 2009, p. 3). But the prerequisites for mainstreaming gender into migration policy and management are political will and the unified efforts of all the stakeholders involved. These efforts, however, might be futile without a broader organizational change, placing gender in the focus of societal transformations and aiming beyond merely adding female-specific projects at the margins. Nowadays, gender must be acknowledged as a cross-cutting issue relevant to all areas of governance and policy-making. At the same time, the current political context should realistically be considered in policy designs pertaining to employment. Specifically, in the conditions of profound political and economic chaos in Ukraine exacerbated by the global financial crisis, when all sectors of society are pierced with corruption and state institutions are being transformed into a sort of business or corporation promoting the interests of big capital, there no grounds for illusions about the possibility for governmental support for the implementation of these tasks. Therefore, the focus should be on self-reliance and the personal initiatives of individuals and groups, mainly on the grassroots level, aimed at fostering social justice in the family, community, and society at large.
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1 The concept of “moral economy” introduced by Thompson (1971) is used here to denote “the phenomenon of the nature of the moral obligation of immigrants towards their family and the country of origin with regard to remittance practice (Tharmalingam&Sarvendra, 2011).

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