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Enhancing the decision-making power of migrant women


Although migration provides rural women with income-generating opportunities, prevailing social constraints limit their decision-making power. A study on rural-rural migration in Morocco evaluated the status of women and suggested how their contributions to household decisions could be enhanced.

Migration across much of the dry areas is becoming an important strategy for those escaping climate variability and unemployment – including in rural morocco where agriculture is largely rain fed. For women, migration also provides a chance to earn money for the first time – an opportunity that many are denied in more conservative home towns.

What this means for their status and empowerment remains an open question. Although previous studies have suggested that migration can dilute gender norms, research is generally silent on the issue of household decision-making and whether migrant women are able to exert more control over expenditure and assets.

Exploring decision-making in Morocco

An ICARDA study in the Saiss region of Morocco attempted to shed light on this issue. ICARDA scientists surveyed 400 agricultural laborers - male and female, migrant and non-migrant - in three settlements: the ‘sending’ community of Ain Jemaa, and two ‘destination’ communities, Betit and Sidi Slimane.

In recent years Betit and Sidi Slimane have both benefited from government investments in drip irrigation and wells as part of the ‘Green Morocco Plan,’ an ambitious national agricultural strategy that seeks to maximize market opportunities for Moroccan producers while strengthening climate change adaptation/mitigation.

Consequently, thriving agricultural sectors in both areas are now a significant pull for Moroccans fleeing drought and unemployment in marginal areas - a new form of rural-rural migration that may be replacing more traditional rural-urban movements in some areas.

Analysis of the survey was completed using logistical regression models for categorical dependent variables focused on: the main drivers of migration and how this differs with age, gender and community; and decision-making power, with an emphasis on work, income expenditure, and assets.

The limits of empowerment

A number of key findings stand out. Migrant women were working and contributing to household income - challenging the notion of passive ‘left-behind’ women. However, this redefinition of gender norms had limits.

Although female heads of household controlled expenditure, married respondents – including migrants - reported less control over income expenditure than their husbands, and even when they were the main income earners they were more likely to consult with their spouses than men. Men with a tertiary education appeared to be less willing to share decision-making.

Furthermore, although women generally had greater control over decision-making related to homes than they did over income expenditure, this was not the case for many migrant women who tended to have insecure tenancies in informal settlements with limited or no property rights.

Enhancing decision-making

How can we strengthen the decision-making capacity of women and improve their status? The researchers suggest that tertiary education should be gender-sensitized so that men are made more aware of the importance of engaging wives, sisters and daughters on the control and ownership of immovable assets. This is imperative in situations of widowhood, abandonment and divorce – when a women’s wellbeing, and that of her family, is more likely to depend on whether or not she is able to exercise ownership and control over assets.

The authors also recommend that government programs target secure tenancy and offer saving schemes and asset accumulation that ensure women migrants can assert more control over their homes in destination areas.

This article is based on a working paper written for the Economic Research Forum, entitled: ‘Climate Change, gender, Decision-Making Power, and Migration into the Saiss Region of Morocco.’

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