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Migrant mothers, left-behind fathers: the negotiation of gender subjectivities in Indonesia and the Philippines

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The distinct feminization of labour migration in Southeast Asia – particularly in the migration of breadwinning mothers as domestic and care workers in gender-segmented global labour markets – has altered care arrangements, gender roles and practices, as well as family relationships within the household significantly. Such changes were experienced by both the migrating women and other left-behind members of the family, particularly ‘substitute’ carers such as left-behind husbands. During the women’s absence from the home, householding strategies have to be reformulated when migrant women-as-mothers rewrite their roles (but often not their identities) through labour migration as productive workers who contribute to the well-being of their children via financial remittances and ‘long-distance mothering’, while left-behind fathers and/or other family members step up to assume some of the tasks vacated by the mother. Using both quantitative and qualitative interview material with returned migrants and left-behind household members in source communities in Indonesia and the Philippines experiencing considerable pressures from labour migration, this article explores how carework is redistributed in the migrant mother’s absence, and the ensuing implications on the gender roles of remaining family members, specifically left-behind fathers. It further examines how affected members of the household negotiate and respond to any changing gender ideologies brought about by the mother’s migration over time.
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Keywords: Left-behind father; Padres dejados atrás; changing gender roles; feminized labour migration; hijxs dejadxs atrás; left-behind children; migración laboral feminizada; red de cuidado; roles de género cambiantes; web of care

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore 2: Department of Geography, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Publication date: January 2, 2018

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