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Those left behind: Impacts of migration on Guatemalan women




Christine Hughes


In the spring of each year, as the farming communities in the highlands of Guatemala welcome the arrival of life-giving rains, many also experience the departure al norte of migrants bound for temporary agricultural work in Canada. Since 2003, mostly male Guatemalans have filled over 15,000 positions in Canada’s labour-hungry agricultural industry. This labour migration has garnered increasing attention, but critical and supportive commentaries alike have largely overlooked the experiences of actors who are integral to these migration processes: the women that migrant men leave behind.

Periodical title

FOCALPoint: Canada's Spotlight on the Americas


Three trends emerged in women’s experiences in their husbands’ absence. First, new or intensified roles and responsibilities were added to women’s already full days. These included assuming some of the departed men’s farm work or managing day-labourers, handling finances and making purchases that usually would fall under men’s purview, on top of single-handedly caring for their children.

The second issue that arose was continued or increased control and surveillance of women by migrant men and in-laws that curbed their independence and authority over household affairs. For instance, during telephone communication migrant men would often instruct women on such matters as how to handle remittance monies, and women would inform men on household-related actions they had taken. Some women’s in-laws would manage remittances or direct them on certain decisions. Representatives at the municipal women’s office suggested matter-of-factly but critically that these actions are aimed at preventing women from usurping too much of men’s power over household affairs during the migration period.

The third trend in the research, restrictions on women’s mobility, relates to increased control over their lives. Some women said they hardly left the house while their partners were away, citing not only increased childcare responsibilities, but also the community’s tendency to gossip and question women’s faithfulness. One woman said, “people here don’t think about the fact that they [the men] are suffering there, but rather about what they [the women] are doing here.

This is not to say that migration disrupted gender ideologies to any significant extent, however. Rather, it tended to reinforce forms of male privilege.

File Attachments


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis

Geographical focuses

Canada, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Other provinces, Federal, Guatemala, Nova Scotia, and National relevance

Spheres of activity

Anthropology, Cultural and ethnic studies, Gender and sexuality studies, Law, Political science, and Sociology