UNFPA: Ms. Purnima Mane – Importance of Women Migrants’ Remittances



Highlighting Importance of Women Migrants’ Remittances

Statement by Ms. Purnima Mane, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme), at Expert Meeting on Maximizing the Development Impact of Remittances, in Geneva

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I wish to thank Mr. Supachai Panichpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, for the invitation to participate in this important and timely expert meeting. It is indeed an honour for me to be part of this distinguished panel.

I bring greetings to you from UNFPA’s new Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

I would like to focus my remarks on a topic which is of particular importance to UNFPA – women and remittances. In 2006, UNFPA dedicated its flagship publication, the annual State of World Population report to Women and International Migration. It was entitled: A Passage to Hope. In it we pointed out that despite migrant women’s contributions to poverty reduction and struggling economies, it is only recently that the international community has begun to grasp the significance of what migrant women have to offer.

In my remarks today, I will speak about the proportion and contribution of women migrants, the impact of their remittances, the effects of the financial crisis, and the need to protect the rights of women migrants and take other measures to maximize the development impact of the remittances they send.

At 49.2 per cent, female migrants constitute half of the international migrant population. In some regions of the world, they outnumber their male counterparts. We see this in Europe, Northern America and Oceania, but also in individual countries in other regions.

As per data from the United Nations Population Division, female migrants outnumber men slightly in developed countries where they constitute 51 percent of international migrants between 20 and 64 years of age. In developing countries, women account for 43 per cent of the international migrants in that age group.

Indeed, women are not just passive players who accompany or join migrating husbands or other family members. Migrant women are in many cases the only contributor to family imcome. Many women increasingly migrate on their own in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families. And they contribute to improvements in the quality of life in both countries of origin and destination.

Every year, migrant women send large sums of money in the form of remittances to feed families, clothe and educate children, support older persons, provide health care and generally improve living standards for families left behind.

In host countries, many migrant women are employed in households of working families, taking care of their children, the elderly and the household. Others contribute technical and professional expertise as teachers, nurses, scientists, technicians and business owners.

Despite the growing number of women migrants and the importance of the remittances they send to families left in countries of origin, there has been little analysis of the relationship between gender and remittances. Remittances are typically not disaggregated by the sex of remitters and receivers. As a result, not much is known about gender differences in the sending patterns, the use and impact of remittances, or the contribution of migrant women to local development in countries of origin.

However, despite the lack of data, some studies do provide a glimpse into the realities behind the gender aspect of remittances. Studies suggest that the sex of the sender affects three factors: namely the volume, the frequency and the sustainability of resources over time.

While globally, women remit approximately the same amount as men, research suggests that women tend to send a higher proportion of their income regularly and consistently, even though they generally earn less than men. Also, remittances sent by women are more able to respond to emergency situations. However, by sending smaller sums more often, women tend to spend more on transfer fees. Therefore, reducing transfer fees and making different transfer options accessible would benefit women migrants and maximize the positive impact of remittances on their families and communities and development.

It should also be pointed out that remittances sent via informal channels are not counted in the official statistics. According to the World Bank, remittances sent informally could add at least 50 per cent to the globally recorded flows. Therefore, our sense is that women remit more than the statistics show.

A 2008 UN study on gender, remittances and local rural development examined Filipino migration to Italy. The study concluded that the remittances had increased and diversified the employment opportunities available and improved the economic empowerment of women.

Research shows that remittances sent by women would have an even greater impact on families and communities if women did not face wage, employment, credit and property discrimination, and if they were not excluded from decision-making within their families.

There are also gender differences in the utilization of remittances: women tend to use remittances for daily needs, health care and education while men tend to spend remittance income on consumer items such as cars and televisions, and some for investments such as property or livestock.

Studies also show that migrant women benefit from cultural exchange and being exposed to different ideas, skills, attitudes and knowledge. These exchanges boost socio-economic development and can advance gender equality and women’s empowerment through opportunities for greater independence and self-confidence.

Women who send remittances have the status, autonomy, freedom and self-esteem that come with employment. In addition, some women who receive remittances take on new roles as they assume responsibility for managing the additional income and making financial decisions in the household.

However, we must keep in mind that while migration and the sending of remittances by women migrants can aid development and reduce poverty, typically, the poorest families cannot afford to send migrants abroad. They do not receive remittances.

Now let me turn to the impact of the financial crisis. UNFPA recently prepared a Global Migration Group Fact Sheet on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on Female Migration. We found that while women typically send a larger percentage of their earnings home to their families, it remains to be seen how resilient these remittances will remain during the economic crisis.

As the crisis continues, female migrants are likely to find it increasingly hard to obtain regular employment abroad. If they do find jobs, it is likely that the jobs will pay less and will have decreased benefits. This may impact the amount of remittances they will be able to send home which, in turn, will impact the quality of life for families who count on remittances to provide the food, health care and education they need.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that cooperation and collaboration between sending and receiving States should ensure flexible and coherent policies that promote the orderly flow of migration and protect the rights of migrants. Female migrants should be viewed not only as workers but also as human beings with rights. They should be protected from trafficking, discrimination and abuse.

To maximize the development benefits of remittances from women migrants, we need sex disaggregated data and gender-sensitive research on the sending, use and impact of remittances. We need to reduce the costs associated with migration, and improve the financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills of migrants and their families.

We need to reduce transaction fees of remittances, and provide financial products and investment opportunities tailored to the needs of migrants and their families. We also need a sound investment climate and regulatory framework.

And, finally, we must integrate the gender dimension into the management of all aspects of migration. Gender matters – for migration and for remittances.

I thank you and look forward to our discussions.

Ms. Purnima Mane , UNFPA Deputy Executive Director (Programme


ABOUT Ms. Mane:

Ms. Mane has devoted her career to advocating for population and development issues and sexual and reproductive health. Prior to joining UNFPA, Ms. Mane served in several international positions, including Director of Policy, Evidence and Partnership at UNAIDS; Chief Fund Portfolio Director and Director, Asia at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Vice-President and Director of International Programmes at the Population Council. She worked for over a decade on public health and gender-related issues in India.

Ms. Mane serves as UN Assistant Secretary-General. She holds a doctorate degree from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India. She has co-authored and edited a number of books and is a founding editor of the journal Culture, Health and Sexuality.





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