by Lindsay Jane Sian Roberts
The vulnerability of delta environments is increasingly recognised, with a multitude of stressors threatening the lives of communities and re-shaping livelihood decisions. As a vulnerable and marginalised group, women experience this the most acutely.
Migration is recognised as one of three sustainable livelihood strategies, alongside livelihood diversification and agricultural intensification. Within the Indian Bengal delta, men are most likely to migrate with women often left behind to look after the household and livelihoods. There is limited research exploring the impacts of out-migration and the adaptive strategies women undertake. To gain further insight into out-migration and add to my analysis of the DECCMA household survey data, I undertook interviews for my Masters dissertation in the villages of Dulki and Sonagar (the dissertation is available here).
Migration impacts depend on circumstances
The impacts of out-migration depend on the reason and type of the migration – for example whether it was involuntary or voluntary, or permanent or seasonal. The extent to which women are affected by out-migration depends on their social support networks at home. For those women with supportive friends, relatives and neighbours, this can counteract the increased loneliness and isolation that results from losing the daily presence of a family member.
Remittances are an important enabler of proactive adaptive strategies
Remittances play an important role in supporting women when a household member migrates. When remittances are received, they can enable women to employ proactive adaptive strategies to reduce risks of climate change. Such strategies can include stopping working outside the home and increasing social interaction. However, not all households receive remittances.
Empowerment and Decision-Making
Women often become the de facto household head during out-migration, and in turn they assume responsibility for decisions that might otherwise be made by their husbands. Findings show that decision making powers are often transferred to the women when men migrate, which had implications for the adaptive strategies they undertake. Participation in self-help groups is an example of a strategy that empowers women to make choices that affect their lives and, in turn the adaptive strategies they undertake.
Overcoming Fieldwork Challenges
Together with my fellow University of Southampton students, I experienced several challenges during fieldwork from weather to undertaking research. These challenges were all overcome with preparation and assistance from the Jadavpur University team. I became close friends with my research assistant translator, who aided my research extensively. She was not only responsive and considerate during interviews, allowing me and the interviewee to engage across two languages, but we had insightful talks about the gender representation within England and India, helping me gain further context for my research. As well as the team, all the delta women were extremely welcoming, inviting and accommodating, which allowed me to conduct 17 interviews during my time in the delta.