Migration invades every aspect of culture and societyWith the men away, the women are seeing new opportunities and responsibilities.
The people of Nepal have witnessed a number of structural shifts within a comparatively short period of time. This writing is about the relation between the endless accumulation of capital in the transnational space and its impact on the micro-level lifestyle of women left behind. The consensus on norms and values attached within a Nepali patriarchal society about the place of women has fluctuated with the activities carried out by migrants who were rapidly incorporated into the global economy. Here, the global economy is defined as a large geographical zone within which there is a division of labour and the exchange of goods as well as flows of capital and labour. In such a global economy, the division of labour among men and women not only expands the role and responsibilities of women but also gives them high mobility. In other words, the opportunity of access to the market increases both the personal and social development of women left behind.
In this sense, migration as both a phenomenon and instrument helps in the modification or destruction of the existing social structure and institutions that have been around from long ago. During the migration process, the women left behind find themselves being both fortunate and wretched. These women were given opportunities and chances for high mobility inside and outside the household decision making sectors, and they were also in a risk zone either consciously or unconsciously.
Social and cultural capital
Peggy Levitt, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, describes transnational migration as a process where people will live, work, pray and express their political interest in several locations rather than in their own territory, and these people play a dominant role in maintaining strong ties between their homeland and place of work. These migrants not only send money back to their families but also bring back the social and cultural capital acquired in foreign nations. The same things happened to Nepali migrants workers living and working in transnational spaces. These migrants would like to see their families becoming highly developed and modern; and thus play a key role in change the existing nature of society and culture through the transfer of economic, social and cultural capital.
A recent report entitled Labour Migration for Employment: A Status Report for Nepal 2013-14 shows that in 2013, remittance inflows topped $5 billion, or 25 percent of the national gross domestic product. The data not only shows the importance of the increasing trend of economic remittance as a backbone of the national gross domestic product but also sheds light on the underlying hidden factors that bring changes in the economic status and also trustworthiness among family members.
Living in a patriarchal society, migration has provided both opportunities and constraints to women—opportunities in the sense that these women find themselves empowered and take the initiative role in the decision-making process and thus feel autonomous and independent. The transnational migration of men has opened up new spaces for women—spaces of innovation, independence, autonomy and community action and, in some cases, spaces of political action. This is because women find themselves taking on traditionally male responsibilities through the intrusion of cultural capital either through social media or direct contact with migrants in their families.
Thus, migration has helped in boosting the national gross domestic product and family consumption levels along with high mobility of women outside the household sphere. Nevertheless, the rising economic prosperity hasn’t satisfied all the needs of human beings. The separation of husbands and wives not only creates a gap in their physical relationship but also brings a lack of understanding between them. This questions the honesty between husbands and wives and also puts their children's future in the dark.
In Nepal, migration has become a public issue for all ordinary persons living in rural or urban settings as it invades every realm of culture and society. From the shortage of manpower necessary for agricultural production to a lack of moral support for their families, migration has hit the very foundation of familial relations in the context of Nepal's patriarchal society.
The shortage of human resources for both physical and mental work in the long term may starve the nation of the ingredients necessary to attain prosperity. At the same time, the migrants' families, especially the wives, find themselves living in socio-psychological torment. The wives suffer from loneliness and depression due to the long separation from their husbands and seek options to maintain their happiness in life. Unfortunately, these women become culpable due to their free-living style. The life 'in between' has not only helped in the creation and association of a new identity among women but also generated transition in the existing pattern of familial relationships. The increasing trend of divorce, separation, remarriage and suicide deviates from Nepali traditions and practices.
Chaudhary teaches sociology at the Department of Sociology, Prithvi Narayan Campus.