How migrants’ social remittances have empowered women in Turkey?

Social remittances are ideas, know-how, norms, values, knowledge, behaviour, practices and skills that migrants bring home with them or that they send home from abroad. These can promote or deter development in home countries, (Levitt, 1998, 2001, and Levitt and Lamba-Nieves, 2011).  Levitt (2001) argues that social remittances are, in fact, more important than financial remittances. She mentions four types of social remittances that are transferred from migrants to their home countries: norms, practices, identities and social capital.

Social remittances can be diffused by migrants as well as by refugees. They are transferred when migrants return or visit their home countries; when non-migrants visit their family and friends in the destination countries; or when a letter (or phone-call, fax, email, video…) is received (Levitt and Lamba-Nieves, 2011).

Social remittances do not only affect family relations, economic and social well-being, gender roles, class and race identity. They also have a substantial impact on political, social, cultural, economic and religious participation. They can challenge people’s ideas, beliefs and views about, among other things, democracy, politics, institutions, health, culture, society, religion, technology, science, business, economics, education, and gender issues.

A new EUI Working Paper (Akkoyunlu, 2013) addresses the effect of migration on women’s empowerment in Turkey, 1960-2011. The number of women in the Turkish parliament is chosen as a gauge of women’s empowerment and is explained by the emigration rate, the relative education of women to men, and by a measure of democracy. A particularly relevant study (Lodigiani and Salomone, 2012), finds that migration to countries with higher political empowerment for women significantly increases the share of women in parliament in the home country: this work is a major inspiration for Akkoyunlu (2013). However, their data cover 1960-2000 and migration data is available only by decade. The data in Akkoyunlu (2013) are annual and cover the post-2000 period, when there was a major shift upwards in terms of the parliamentary participation of women in Turkey.

The results of the study can be summarised thus:

  • A      1% increase in the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary schools      increases women’s parliamentary share by 7%. This is a very large effect. A      1% increase in emigration rate increases, meanwhile, the share of women in      parliament by 0.50%. This is also a significant impact. Thus, emigration      contributes to women’s empowerment in Turkey. In addition, a 1% increase      in the measure of democracy increases women’s parliamentary share by      0.25%, suggesting that democratization encourages the empowerment of      women.
  • The      destination-specific effect of emigration on women empowerment is very important:      Turkish emigration to the West encourages women’s empowerment in Turkey.      The effect is striking. A one percentage point increase in migration to      the EU and OECD countries increases the share of women in the Turkish      parliament by 7 percentage points in the long-run, almost the same magnitude      as the education variable. Turkish migration to the West conveys, to      non-migrants in Turkey,      values, norms, and practices that contribute to women’s empowerment as      much as does the education of women. In contrast, emigration to Arab      countries had comparatively less impact on women’s empowerment; likewise      emigration to Russia and the CIS countries did not particularly affect women’s      parliamentary share. Emigrants to Arab countries are more likely to      support the religious parties and their ideologies in Turkey. Religious      parties in Turkey, e.g. the Welfare Party, activated millions of women to      circulate the party’s ideology by going door to door. But women did not      have many places in the representative and administrative systems of the      party. In fact, there was only one woman from the Welfare Party in      parliament during the period examined here. This might explain the low      impact of emigrants to Arab countries on women’s parliamentary share in      Turkey.
  • The      results are robust for the inclusion of asylum seekers and refugees in the      emigration data.
  • The      paper suggests that migration, and thus social remittances should be      accepted as an important component in development for both sending and      destination countries.  Migrant      women’s organisations or migrants’ organisations that seek to empower      women in the destination countries should, according to Akkoyunlu, be      supported and encouraged by destination country governments. These      organisations should be linked to organisations in the home countries by      the sending country governments. The author suggests too that more formal      dialogues through conferences, seminars, and workshops should be      established and strengthened between migrants and non-migrant communities      by both sending and destination country governments and NGOs. Then, the      social, political and cultural problems of the sending countries should be      investigated and better understood by destination countries, and the      migrants should be understood as a central element in understanding these      problems. They offer solutions as well as contributing to non-migrant      communities in the home countries through ideas and knowledge, not to      mention through norms and values accumulated in host countries.

Şule Akkoyunlu, Robert Schuman Fellow at the Migration Policy Centre.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of the Migration Policy Centre.


Akkoyunlu, S. (2013). Migration-Induced Women’s Empowerment: The Case of Turkey. EUI Working Paper RSCAS, MPC Series 2013/77.

Levitt, P. (1998). “Social Remittances: Migration Driven Local-Level Forms of Cultural Diffusion”. International Migration Review, 32(4), 926-948.

Levitt, P. (2001). The Transnational Villagers. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Levitt, P. and D. Lamba-Nieves (2011). “Social Remittances Revisited”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37(1): 1-22.

Lodigiani, E. and S. Salomone (2012). Migration-induced Transfers of Norms. The Case of Female Political Empowerment, IRES Discussion Paper 2012-1.