Kinship Obligations, Gender and the Life Course

Kaveri Harriss and Alison Shaw, “Kinship Obligations, Gender and the Life Course: Re-Writing Migration from Pakistan to Britain” in Pakistani Diasporas: Culture, Conflict and Change (2009), Oxford University Press: Karachi.

Male Labour Migration

From men’s narratives it would be easy to imagine it would be easy to imagine migration as a harmonious collective decision, as indeed the household migration theories of the early 1980s assumed… Significantly, too, these decisions were often made without regard to the views of the women of the ghar and wider family – particularly wives, but mothers and other female relatives – who would also have to endure the emotional turmoil of separation and subject their households to upheaval due to the absence of the migrant. (p. 111)

Generally speaking, we don’t think much about the emotions behind a migrant forefather’s migrations – and one reason for this is because it is hardly discussed. In reality, there is much that is suppressed. Imagine simply – for many migrants, there never was a chance for them to see their parents again after leaving their homes. Off-hand, I can recall at least three stories in which mothers of migrants suffered emotional and psychological trauma after their sons left. The fact that migration stories are often one-way (told by the migrant from his perspective) there is a lot that remains unsaid. Additionally, I believe there is a gender expectation for men not to talk about separation and emotions. All the migrant males I spoke to never talked about how they felt leaving, and even when subtly probed, they never revealed their sadness. In comparison, women  interviewees tend to be more open in their feelings of being uprooted and resettled.

With regards to chain migration and the changing idea of biraderi,

Men’s opportunities for migration were thus shaped by their gendered roles as producers, and by their access to migration networks. Male networks, mostly consisting of male kin or friends from the home village or town, formed the bedrock of early migration and settlement, providing the information and contacts needed for travel, accommodation, employment and starting up business… Within male networks, the ideology of biraderi that motivated flows of mutual aid and reciprocity between ‘brothers’ enabled chain migration to develop, giving rise to the patterns of local kinship that characterise most Pakistani settlements in Britain today… Indeed, the important of fictive kin has prompted a semantic shift in the notion of the biraderi in the context of migration to Britain. British Pakistanis sometims talk of biraderi to refer to those people who come from their home place, regardless of their clan, caste group or notions of blood. (p. 112)

And the reason why few women migrated from Pakistan,

The ideology of purdah or female seclusion means that Pakistani women have been less involved in labour migration than women from other parts of South Asia, such as Kerala and Sri Lanka (Ballard 2004; Mooney 2006). Female labour migration is constrained by Pakistani women’s limited public roles in education and outside employment, and a relative lack of access to migration networks. (p. 113)

Family Reunion

After being sufficiently ‘set’, pioneer male labour migrants generally marry or call over their wives and children. This represents a shift in orientation towards Britain as a place of temporary residence, where they would work and earn money for their families back home, to one in which they are sufficiently rooted to settle. (p. 114)

 

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