Caribbean Transnationalism As A Gendered Process

By Christine G. T. Ho
1.Locate gender within capitalist relations of
production by examining the role of
Caribbean women as workers and
2. Relationship of family and political
economy, Caribbean family units are
constantly being reshaped by changing
needs of global capitalism
3. Human costs entailed in transnationalism
4. Relation of transnationalism to global
Expand life choices
 Shortage of Schools
 Declining living standards
 The
Caribbean governments support
this migration because it acts as a
safety valve for surplus labor
Postcolonial Caribbean Government
emphasizes capital rather than human
resources in development plans
Emigration is also an expression of the
relationship between transnationalism and
global capitalism in the region
Consequences of “downsizing”
› Rising unemployment
 Casualization
› Before – fixed salaries, relative job
security, fringe benefits
› Now – temporary workers, loss of
benefits, eroded salaries
However, the impact of Global
Capitalism not only varies from class
to class but differs according to
Caribbean Elite
Working Class
Migrate as entire families
Settle permanently
Migrate independently
Practice circular migration
Pave way for eventual
migration of others
Caribbean family structure
› Matrifocal – “mother-centered” patterns of
relationships within the household, whether
or not a husband /father is present
 Mother-child bond cherished
above all others
 Viewed as the most enduring
 Children as “Old Age Insurance”
for elderly women
Not to be confused with Matriarchy
– female headed households
Caribbean cultural ideal: child care is a collective
› Usually falls to groups of females, some are
fictive kin
› Is common for children to be moved between
households and live with kin that are not their
biological parents
 Whoever is in the best position to accept
responsibility for a child does so
Based on the “normative” nuclear household
 Monogamous marriage
 Egalitarian conjugal relations
 Assumed to be universal
› Brittle conjugal relationship
› Low frequency of early legal marriage
› High illegitimacy rates
› Matrifocality
› Child dispersal
Nuclear family is not needed for child
rearing or financial support of women
and children – capitalist construction
 Projects Eurocentric ideals on Caribbean
 Obscures complex linkages between the
family and the wider political economy
 Most
studies attribute their unorthodox
structure to poverty
Too simple and disregards the shared cultural
imperatives in the middle and upper class
› Reserves legal marriage to status equals and non-legal
unions for partners in lower classes
› Lower class men usually do not marry right away because
they lack the financial resources and do not share the
same ideas about sexual relations and legal marriage
› Upper & middle class men marry women of equal status
while simultaneously having “outside” sexual relations with
women of lower class status
Polygamous relations are practiced across cultures
and result in illegitimate children from all social
classes of men
A Christian moral code is placed on the lower class
Matrifocality allows for women to
be supported by their children
under the capitalistic economic system.
 Caribbean kinship sanctions “segregated”
gender roles, where men and women lead
almost separate lives.
 Leads to a lack of support by men as they
are not expected to support emotionally or
help physically with the domestic sphere.
 Women have a double work load and rely
on support from other women and kin.
As long as an ideology of gender
inequality persists, gender relations will
remain unequal
 Patriarchy can only be destroyed by a
psychocultural revolution
Gender Paradox
› Low earning power in men –
not expected to be sole bread winner
› By denying women male financial support and
protection, the capitalist system also demands
economic independence and responsibility for their
› Yet their wages, usually in the informal economy, are
not enough to make ends meet, so women must
appeal to men to make ends meet
Women strive to be economically independent
but are still dependent on their men
Caribbean men are usually not
paid a family wage
Women have not been excluded from the work
› More than 88% of Caribbean women have no
more than primary school education and
therefore not competitive in the job market
Women maintain double workload with low
income jobs and domestic work which has
been devalued by capitalism
Women have resorted to having many
relationships with men (lovers, children,
husbands) to have people to help them in
order to survive
Puerto Rico – Higher rate of unemployment
for men forced women into the work force
into low wage and menial work
Dominican Republic – due to failing sugar
industries, the country shifted to export
manufacturing. Women have been major
contributors of household income though they
work under poorly paid and difficult conditions
Cuba – promoted gender equality by offering social
services and through the Family code of 1975 which
states that couples are to share in domestic and
financial responsibilities. However, even though
guaranteed equal pay for equal work, there is
occupational segregation
Paid employment for women has both
positive and negative consequences.
 At times it produces greater economic
independence, but at others it creates a
double work burden.
 The economic independence of women
may be a necessary but not sufficient
condition for gender equality either locally
or globally.
 Because of global capitalism Caribbean
women have used kinship groups to assist
in migration and in an effort to reach a
higher class position.
Caribbean family units are constantly being
reconfigured to suit the changing needs of
global capitalism as it continually destroys
forms of its own existence
 Because they lack child care support in the
destination country, the working class
women who migrates from the Caribbean
leave children behind with kin
 Greatest toll of Caribbean transnationalism
is marriage breakdown (90%)

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