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Migration as a Tool for Development:  The Case of Migrant Women in Senegal

Migration as a Tool for Development: The Case of Migrant Women in Senegal

Through a case study on Senegal, this paper analyzes the complexities of a system in which labor migration is controlled, produced and understood, and in which gender relations are both constructed and followed. Ultimately, the goal is to demonstrate how the migration experience and subsequent return of women to their home countries leads to positive social and economic change at household, community, and national levels. However, in order to make this change possible, adequate institutional frameworks and programs must be put in place to support women prior to, during, and after their migration experience. Subsequently, the paper analyses programs initiated by government bodies, non-governmental organizations, and multilateral institutions in Senegal to uncover their strengths and deficiencies. It then proposes recommendations for how diverse actors in the field of M&D in Senegal, and globally, can better integrate the gender approach into their programs to more practically and effectively empower and protect migrant women as agents of development.   


The number of women migrating internationally and independently for employment opportunities has dramatically increased in the past decade, especially for low-skilled labor in the service industry. This article examines the relationship between Migration and Development (M&D) and the gender dimension, and ultimately aims to highlight the potential of female labor migration as a force for social and economic change in the developing world.

Much of the existing research on the topic of Migration and Development (M&D) has focused on migrants’ economic impact in their home countries, such as that of remittances (moneys sent home by migrants) and foreign investment. It has also predominately focused on top-down approaches to development via governmental or international initiatives, which aim to either increase the gains of labor migration or hamper it. ThisThis discussion has also tended to ignore the gender dimension of M&D, despite thethethe recent increase in rates of women taking part in international migration flows.

This paper aims to address these gaps and provide a novel perspective on the relationship between gender, migration, and development. For labor migration to contribute to development, it must be approached distinctly from other types of migration, supported by actors in government and NGO sectors. Additionally, it must also be recognized internationally as a positive phenomenon with potential to catalyze radical transformation in developing countries ripe for development and upward change. 

This article is divided into three sections. Part one is an explanation of the migration-development-gender nexus. The case study contains part two, a summary of the current situation in Senegal pertaining to migrant women and their rights. Part three examines the efficacy of current programs and provides recommendations for future improvement. Finally, the research in this paper is not comprehensive of all actors in M&D nor their general attitudes towards migrant women in Senegal; it aims to instead reflect on a global scale the extreme complexity and multi-layered reality of women’s rights and international labor migration in Senegal. 

The field of Migration and Development (M&D)

International labor migration has become an intrinsic feature of the ever-expanding world economy. For example, African migrants traveling by boat through the Mediterranean Sea to search for employment in Europe have been at the forefront of international political discourse and media debates. More often than not, the problem is that in Western politics and media coverage, international migration is simplified—the lines between voluntary migration(for labor, higher standards of living, family reunification, etc.) and forced migration(due to political persecution, civil conflict, natural disasters, etc.).).) as well as their causes and implications are often blurred. Most debates also ignore the gender dimension, omitting the nuances of female migration as compared to those of men (or children). 

On the part of practitioners and policy makers, this simplification and lack of contextualization has resulted in problematic management and control of migratory flows. The dominant discourse on labor migration in the vast majority of Western countries has also been overwhelmingly negative. Most stem from fear of migrants as national security threats and of the economic implications of migrants flooding local labor markets. In the past decade, researchers have undoubtedly focused on the ‘migrant crisis’ of industrialized migrant-receiving countries. Seldom mentioned by actors in the Western world is the opposite side of this global transfer of human capital—as experienced by migrant-sending countries. Migrant-sending or origin countries are doubly affected by labor emigration as they both gain and lose valuable human, cultural, social, and financial capital. 

The Role of Women in Migration and Development 

The booming demand for service work (among other low-skilled labor) in industrialized nations has given women from developing countries more opportunities than ever before to seek employment overseas. As women now account for over 50% of international labor migrants, the feminization of international labor migration is not only characterized by rising numbers, but also by women seeking jobs abroad independently of their husbands[1]. Despite these trends, M&D research and policy remains largely gender-blind: not only are migrant women ignored, their impact has been devalued time and time again. Meanwhile, they have become powerful and independent generators of income, and unique agents of development and social change in their communities and countries of origin. 

To narrow down implications and make concrete resolutions, it is imperative to ask how development affects women and how that effect is measured. Globally accepted indicators include the Human Development Index (HDI), the Gender Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Inequality Index (GII). The HDI was created by the United Nations to emphasize that people and their capabilities, rather than economic growth alone, are the ultimate criteria for assessing national development[2]. The HDI assesses life expectancy, literacy rate, number of years of schooling, and standard of living by gross national income per capita[3]. The GDI assesses gender gaps by accounting for disparities between women and men in three basic dimensions of human development: health, knowledge,and living standards(with the same component indicators as in the HDI)[4]. Lastly, the GII reflects gender-based inequalities in reproductive health, measured by maternal mortality and birth rate; empowerment, measured by share of female parliamentary seats and attainment in secondary and higher education; and economic activity, measured by female labor market participation rate.[5]

M&D through the Gender Lens

In many countries, women are not legally considered equals. Women do not have the same property rights as men, the same rights to employment, the same rights of association, mobility, or religious liberty[6]. All too often, women are treated as “instruments for the ends of others…as reproducers, caregivers, sexual outlets, and agents of a household’s general prosperity”[7]. These factors determine the gendered division of labor (in both migrant sending and receiving countries) and the subsequent rates of male and female migration abroad. Most research, policy, and programs in M&D lack gender contextualization and mainstreaming. However, viewing and evaluating the migration-development nexus through a gender lens uncovers key questions that remain unanswered. 

When assessing development for women, considering only the economic perspective is problematic. The reciprocal relationship between M&D aligns more comprehensively with the capabilities approach to human development, which views female development as a subset of human rights[8]. Most propagated by Amartya Sen, this approach focuses on women’s agency, expanding women’s decision-making power and ability to choose free from violence, retribution or fear[9]. It also aims to increase women’s economic role, education level, and generally expand her role in influencing and informing society[10].

Above all, thinking critically about the migration-development nexus through a gender lens reinforces the fact that women play significant role as actors in both migratory and development processes. Rather than being passive recipients of aid or dependents of their spouses, they are autonomous beings with the agency to make their own choices. Subsequently, migration cannot be categorized as simply an improvement or erosion of a woman’s position in society, but rather as a catalyst for restructured power and social asymmetries[11]. Exposure to new ideas abroad and employment outside the household and home country has shown to substantially increase a woman’s sense of agency and autonomy—even in countries where women have limited access to resources and lack decision-making power at household, community, and national levels. [12]

The benefits of female migration are apparent but not automatic. Primarily, there exists a massive inadequacy at the government level to protect migrant women’s rights, create legal avenues for migration, and facilitate migrants’ full economic and social participation in both host and origin countries. In order for the government to enact these measures, the country must have functional institutions and be ripe for change. Only after that can migration have the potential to be a long-term instrument for promoting development and equal gender roles in society. 

In many developing countries, the issue then is the lack of female representation at the government level. According to a UN Women study in 2016, women account for only 22.8% of national parliamentarians, serving in eleven parliaments as Heads of State and in nine as Heads of Government[13]. Developing countries with patriarchial systems put women at risk of becoming the victims of discriminatory migration policies and programs[14]. Country gender dynamics are also represented at national levels by scholars, policy-makers, and media outlets¾and can result in discriminatory policies, gender-blind strategies and projects, and misleading data and statistics. Though government participation in M&D is crucial, the lack of women at top levels can be combatted through decentralization, bottom-up, and community-oriented development strategies that empower female migrants. Focusing on small-scale actors, including non-governmental organizations and civil society, can give women more of a voice in implementing development initiatives, policies, and programs targeting migrants.

As this article emphasizes, there is an immediate need to bridge the areas of “gender and migration” with “gender and development”[15]. In promoting gender equality, only women from these developing countries, equipped with knowledge, and backed up by international organizations and other women abroad, can convince local communities and authorities to accept the positive impact on overall development of investing in women’s socioeconomic status[16]. Gender mainstreaming the migration-development nexus is a prerequisite for organizations to create innovative and effective strategies to empower female migrants both socially and economically.

Case Study – Migrant Women in Senegal 


This article addresses several important research questions. First, how do migrant women’s roles in the development of their home countries compare to those of men? How are migrant women viewed by government representatives and organizations in their home countries¾as agents of change or as ‘vulnerable’ workers? If M&D research is gender-blind, how is female migration reflected in the policies and programs aimed at improving migrant workers’ situations? Do these serve men better than women? And lastly, if migrant women are not adequately supported by either the government, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), multilateral organizations, or the civil society in their countries, which of these actors is responsible for providing them with protection and support? 

Instead of simply approaching the “female migrant” as a subject of study in anthropological terms, this paper analyzes the complexities of the systemin which migration is controlled, produced, and understood, and in which gender relations are both constructed and followed[17]. Through a case study on Senegal, it takes apart internal sociocultural and economic factors including education, religion, and political participation, as well as societal norms and ethnic and linguistic differences. It then scrutinizes the role of government institutions, national NGO’s, and other civil society organizations. Lastly, it analyzes stakeholders in the broader realm of M&D: international NGO’s, multilateral institutions (i.e. the United Nations), and solidarity groups. In conclusion, the paper aims to make sense of how this systemcan be revised and remodeled to better empower migrant women while eliminating the negative social repercussions of migration. 


The data for my case study was collected through an ethnographic methodological approach: a combination of participant observation with fieldwork and semi-structured interviews with representatives of organizations (directors and staff), government authorities, and migrant men and women. The organizations included national NGOs, international NGOs, and multilateral institutions in several locations around Senegal (see figure). Additional information was also gathered during a summer internship with two Senegalese NGOs. The New York University (NYU) Institutional Review Board (IRB) exempted this study from needing formal approval for international human subjects research.

Migration in Senegal: Background & Context 

In the past two decades, Senegal has been in the throes of a major socioeconomic crisis. 

The crisis is partially due to desertification, which has devastated the agricultural sector and 70% of the population employed by it. Another cause was the major economic recession catalyzed by the devaluation of the national currency (CFA) in 1994[18]. Senegal’s booming population, which has quadrupled since the 1960s, is yet another factor. Currently, over half the population (61%) is under the age of 24[19]. A young population and weak private sector have had a profound impact on the labor market – rapidly expanding the informal sector, which employs one out of every two Senegalese, a majority of whom are women and teenagers[20]. Combined, these factors have resulted in major job instability, an unemployment rate of 14%, and, ultimately, a high rate of emigration in search of job opportunities[21].

In regards to mobility, Senegal has historically been a major player for emigration and immigration flows. After colonization, it was a destination for African migrants seeking work in the groundnut, fishing, and mining industries[22]. Since the 1970s, however, it has become a country of emigration and transit for African immigrants trying to reach Europe and the US[23]. Most migrants from Senegal come from the capital city of Dakar, but are increasingly moving from rural areas in search of employment[24]. As a large part of the population migrates for work, this creates a mass influx of capital in the form of remittances from the diaspora. In 2015, the estimated yearly total of migrant remittances surpassed 1.6 billion US dollars, ranking Senegal as the fourth-highest remittance recipient in West Africa[25].

The government in Senegal is democratic, as the country has seen a peaceful transfer of power between four presidents since its independence in 1960[26]. Macky Sall, the current president, has pursued a number of immigration-related policies in areas of protection, security, migration and development, diaspora involvement and migrant return and reintegration (to be further discussed in the government analysis)[27].

Generally, however, international migration has become fully integrated into the fabrics of Senegalese culture and society [28]. The international migrant has emerged as a hero, an exemplar of socioeconomic success, and for many has replaced the government bureaucrat as the dominant model of achievement[29]. Migration is also driven in part by a post-colonial sentiment that the Senegalese must “go out and fight” to spread knowledge of their country and bring back success in terms of knowledge and capital[30].

The majority of low-skilled Senegalese migrants have basic standards of education and skills in trade, commerce, and entrepreneurship; most are willing to take any job they can find abroad. The educated white collar workers, on the contrary, are less willing to migrate unless a job matches their social status and qualifications[31]. Migrant flexibility explains why emigration from Senegal is predominantly for low-skilled labor. This low-skilled labor migration is also categorized as circular: individuals move to work with the intention of returning as soon possible to support and rejoin their families at home[32]. This pattern rests on the basis of a Senegalese community-oriented society where priorities of family and roots dominate. Even abroad, migrant workers remain linked by ties of kinship with the goal of solidarity – whether informally between families or formally within associations[33].

Research found that the desire to migrate among both men and women, and subsequently the culture of migration this creates, is perpetrated primarily through cultural and social norms. The Senegalese Teranga,a concept loosely defined as hospitality, reciprocity, and a sense of moral obligation to help those in need no matter the circumstances, is deeply embedded in the culture and moral ethos[34]. The Senegalese view their pride and social status as integral to their identities, especially if they are migrants[35].

A common occurrence with low-skilled migrant returnees is their tendency to share success stories of migration, high-paying jobs, and good living standards in the “El Dorados” they had found in Europe and elsewhere[36]. Migrants reported that speaking of the difficult realities of migration (e.g. long months spent finding jobs and working on the streets, facing abusive employers, or living in constant fear of being caught for fraudulent identity cards) would be deemed culturally unacceptable. This would be perceived as an effort to dissuade others from succeeding and making money, or as refusing to share their newfound wealth and connections. This dichotomy is problematic, as it essentially perpetuates a vicious cycle – creating a glorified image of migration as an easy passage to wealth and higher social status[37].

This culture of migration is also perpetuated by cultural factors that stem from polygamy. According to both male and female interviewees, households with multiple wives were pressured to have more children in order to increase the chance that one of them would migrate and bring the family prosperity. A male migrant from Dakar noted this phenomenon was more prevalent in large families, since traditionally the wife with the most children receives most financial support from the husband.

In spite of these pressures, many Senegalese are combatting the culture of migration in Senegal. One such organization is the Project to Support the Promotion of Youth and Women’s Employment (PAPEJF), which aims to create jobs for young men and women in the town of Ziguinchor[38]. Due to the decline in the agricultural sector, PAPEJF focuses on training young Senegalese in livestock raising, gardening, fishing and commerce—which are made more attractive through the implementation of novel technologies[39]. Director Monsieur Diatta emphasized the importance of retaining young people and productivity in rural areas. 

The Feminization of Migration in Senegal

In addition to expanding their presence in education and employment, women in Senegal have become increasingly involved in migratory flows. Professor Dembe Fall from the University of Dakar describes the “rebellion” of female migrants who see migration as an “aspiration for emancipation”[40]. Fall, along with other academics, points out that female migration in Senegal is not new; for decades, Senegalese women have migrated from rural to urban areas. International migration to Europe, the United States and the Middle East, is the new phenomenon[41]. According to the 2010 UN Report, between 1997 and 2001, females constituted 18.2 percent of the labor-migrant population[42]. In 2002, this number increased to 25 percent[43]. In 2008, the Migration between Africa and Europe (MAFE) survey showed that 65 percent of females migrated internationally compared to 52 percent of males in their migrant sample pool[44]. The data also showed Senegalese migrant women found employment abroad in the low-skilled sector – primarily temporary or seasonal jobs in the informal economy, such as import-export activities, cleaning, caretaking, tailoring, sewing, or hairdressing. 

Senegalese Female migration has also become a transnational phenomenon –women are likely to travel between several countries for employment. For example, an association of Wolof hair braiders in New York is known for using their profits made in the US to migrate to France to buy goods and then return to sell them in Senegal[45]. Professor Doudou Gueye uncovers these complexities and claims it is not uncommon for women to apply for several visas to travel between countries for income generating activities. 

Barriers to Migration and Return

Despite the growing feminization of migration, women continue to face significant barriers to migrating to and from Senegal. Women have the constitutional right to travel and apply for passports and visas. However, barriers exist due to gender divisions in social networks and labor markets, differences between ethnic groups, and various social and cultural norms[46].

Migrant associations and social networks facilitate labor migration. Membership to these bodies (both in Senegal and abroad) is divided by gender, which can impede many women from migrating[47]. Men’s associations regroup around ethnic ties and hometown affiliations, whereas women’s groups are multi-ethnic, multi-national, and multi-lingual, anchored in their country of destination rather than of origin[48]. In Paris, for example, migrant women from Senegal, Guinea and Mali are likely to congregate and form networks despite their differences, while Wolof men from the same village in Senegal would form a tight-knit affinity group. These gender divisions can impede female migration, as it is not as easy for women to connect with others who desire to migrate outside their community or country. Many interviewees claimed the improbability that a woman will connect with a man working abroad to help facilitate her migration (rarely this is seen between family members) .[49]

Social acceptance of and attitude towards female migration varies by ethnic group. For the Mandinke and Hal Pulaar, migration is seen as an immoral activity largely associated with prostitution and abandonment of household roles.[50]However, the Wolof group has begun to accept women’s labor migration, as shown by the increasing presence of women in the import-export industry overseas[51]. Historically, the Jola group has promoted seasonal female rural-to-urban migration to Dakar. Around the country, Jola women are recognized for their strength and for “running the household” and thus face fewer constraints as potential labor migrants[52].

These attitudes vary considerably from urban to rural areas. Urban areas are more open to change.[53]In rural areas, tradition still reserves migration ,for males, although this attitude is changing[54]. For instance, Caritas Internationalis (CARITAS), an organization involved in M&D, published household data that showed husbands encouraged their wives to work abroad, claiming they were more “economically efficient” and sent home larger sums of money than men[55].

After migration, women face obstacles upon return, specifically with social and professional reinsertion. Primarily, they are expected to return to their pre-migratory social roles. Even after working abroad for years and temporarily taking over the role of primary bread winner, women are not automatically relieved of their household duties. Many male interviewees saw migration as a transitory period for their wives[56]. Rural areas are especially prone to this situation as traditional gender norms are less flexible. In his research, Professor Dembe Fall found that when Senegalese women migrate, they discover a new society, only to return and realize the one they came from had not changed at all. He referred to this dichotomy as the struggle between “tradition and modernity,” and claimed that in order for migration to benefit women, it needs to be accepted by society.  

 In regards to professional reinsertion, women also face difficulties accessing capital (e.g. credit and land) to engage in entrepreneurial activities upon return. According to the World Bank, only 13 percent of women in Senegal currently use a formal financial product or service[57]. Data from the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) showed only 10 percent of women in Senegal are considered financially included, and 67 percent of those rely solely on informal services[58]. Lack of financial education and access to formal financial institutions greatly inhibits ability to accrue credit[59]. Therefore, even if given a loan, women are unlikely to be granted financial services such as savings accounts, digital payment methods, and insurance[60]. A vicious cycle begins where banks are unwilling to lend to those without credit and to trust them with other forms of financial assistance. 

MAFE data shows that only 34% of return migrants were female, suggesting thatreturn migration is minimal[61]. This could result partially from a major lack of support for them upon return (i.e. social and financial assistance, psychological guidance). Secondly, in migrant-receiving countries, NGOs offer support and assistance for “vulnerable migrants” (which mainly target immigrant women and children). Theassistance can take the form of professional development, help finding employment, housing and childcare, and can generally facilitateintegration into the host country. Such programs can strongly dissuade migrant women from returning home[62]

The Positive Potential of Female Migration

Despite theobstacles described above, evidence shows that female migration is positively affecting Senegalese society well beyond economic contributions such as remittances and investment. Qualitative surveys and case studies of individual women show that their contributions extend beyond the economy. Studies have shown that migration has helped women gain a higher level of self-esteem and an increased ability to renegotiate gender norms[63]. Cheikh Babou explores the migration of Wolof hair braiders abroad and its impact on the traditional Wolof household.[64]His data shows that the majority of husbands were eventually employed by their wives’ hair salons and took over household and childcare tasks, and sotheir wives could work longer hours. These women in turn contributed significantly to household expenses such as the rent, utilities, and groceries[65]. Their increased monetary contribution shifted power relations, giving Wolof women a larger voice in decisions about reproductive issues, investment priorities, childcare and work schedules[66]. Babou concludes with the claim: “Money is gradually displacing nonmaterial sources of prestige and authority, such as blood and gender. While traditional social hierarchies continue to retain much symbolic significance, honor and self-worth are increasingly defined by people's ability to accumulate money and satisfy economic needs”[67]

In Senegal, it is evident that gender power dynamics and roles are changing at the household level. Several Wolof female interviewees insisted on having financial independence but also remaining faithful to traditional and Muslim values of respect and loyalty to the husband. To explainsuchbalancing act, one woman referred to a Wolof proverb ñaariloxooy takk tubëy, ñaari loxooy takk sër, or, “it takes two hands to tie pants, and it takes two hands to tie a wrap”. She claimed this quote illustrates how Wolof women integrate their newfound social and economic position into existing gender roles.[68]

In another interview, Madame V, had returned to Dakar after 40 years as the head of Femmes Africa Solidarité, an NGO which supports and promoteswomen in government roles, peace building, and conflict management[69]. When I inquired about her decision to return, Madame V claimed she felt a strong pull to return and join the struggle for gender equality in her home country: “We need to educate the women of tomorrow about the concept of gender and not fall back on the clichés of feminism. We cannot fight for gender parity by focusing only on the professional agenda, but must reconcile the professional with the domestic role of the woman in Senegalese society”[70]. As Madame V suggested, the feminist agenda in Senegal seems to uphold that economic and social empowerment and domestic responsibilities (and traditional gender norms) go hand in hand. This more gradual approach to women’s rights is also strategic in gaining acceptance from the male population.

In Senegal, men are increasingly involved in the fight for women’s rights and accepting their migration as a path to success. Several male interviewees noted that Senegalese women are driven and have high goals. A young man in Dakar noted, “One thing we’ve noticed is that women work better than men. In Senegal, they are harder workers than men. Men spend too much time partying, drinking, wasting money. Women are more family minded.”[71]

On a larger scale, migrant women are increasingly seen as role models, as they change perceptions about the role of women in the workplace[72]. Interview with CARITAS staff showed that migrant women who return to their originalcommunities are viewed in a different light.[73]Since womenreturn wearing nicer clothing and more material possessions, they are associated with a higher social status. Another staff member reported that returning migrant women have the power to change mentalities, particularly if they can reinsert themselves professionally and engage in productive activities upon return.[74]If these women successfully started their own businesses upon return, they wouldexemplify success for other women in the community.[75]Many interviewees emphasized that migrant women motivated younger generations to pursue entrepreneurship and dissuaded them from the idea that migration is the only path to success.[76]

A migration specialist from the IOM also agreed that migrant women were models of success for future generations due to their ability to travel independently and acquire resources.[77]Through the IOM, I connected with one woman who, after years of working in France, imported a large van to Senegal and started her own transportation business in her village.[78]Another woman I spoke to had worked in France and imported sewing machines back to Senegal to create jobs for women in her village[79]. These examples all illustrate how migrant women bring positive change to their communities. 

However, while these economic and social changes are profitable for individual women andtheirfamilies, they occur mostly at the micro-level. Contributionto large scale social and economic development requiresa critical change in mentalities to accept migration as a possibility for women’s empowerment[80]. In order to extract changes from the micro-level to benefit society and the economy at large, certain institutions and structures need to be in place. The government, NGOs, and both international and local institutions are key toempowering migrant women and translatingtheir development potential onto a national scale. To assess the current situation in Senegal, I will analyze existing institutions and their programs that work with migrant women. My goals are to identify such programs, disclose their strengths and deficiencies in addressing the needs of migrant women, and finally to suggest recommendations for future improvement.   

Results: Program Analysis and Evaluation

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Sector

            In Senegal,178 NGOs are involved in M&D initiatives, two of which are CARITAS and Femmes Éducation Culture Santé et Développement en Afrique (FECSDA).[81]CARITAS is a catholic relief NGO which partners with local and international organizations and government agencies. Their program “Pointof Assistance for Refugees and Migrants” or P.A.R.I, was created to assist refugees and economic migrants to return home, with immediate support for basic needs, and seed funding for small business projects[82].  

Since its inception, P.A.R.Ihas assisted over a dozen migrant women with voluntary return from Germany and Belgium, all of whom started businesses in commerce, tailoring, laundry services and beauty[83]. The program also reached its primary goal of encouraging entrepreneurship and voluntary return for women. However, CARITAS staffalso spotteditsweaknesses and claimed the program lacked funding and coordination with government and international organizations. They complained that the untrained (often unpaid) staff members in regional offices failed to monitor returned migrants and the migrants’ use of grant funds, which often resulted in  often incomplete and unreliable data[84]. Subsequently, the program did not train migrants. Upon completing background checks, grants were given to return, assuming migrants were proficient in a certain skill and knew how to manage a business. In more than a few instances, staff noticed that migrants lied about having prior experience in order to secure the funds[85].  

FECSDA or Femmes Education Culture Santé et Developpement en Afrique, is an NGO which supports Senegalese women in domains of education, culture, health and development[86]. FECSDA hosted a two-week entrepreneurship training workshop for migrant women who had all recently returned from several African and European countries[87]. The workshop presented topics on business and financial management (i.e. bank accounts, credit and loans) and staged debates about the role of women in the Senegalese workplace[88].  The goal was to educate and support women, and eventually to give them grants to start their own small businesses. Post workshop, the participants signed a waiver promisingto keep to their initial business plan and agreeing to be monitored on a monthly basis for the next year[89]. Most business proposals were for hairdresser salons, tailoring businesses or import-export commercial activities[90]

After interviewing both staff and participants, I would conclude thatthe workshop was successful overall in bringing together women and creating a safe space to discuss shared difficulties they faced[91]. Many women felt the workshop taught them new entrepreneurial skills and gave them the chance to share their feelings about return and reintegration to Senegal[92]. They also felt they had developed close relationships with others in the group that would be beneficial in the future. FECSDA staff felt the program’s main downfall was its Monitoring and Evaluation system. As women started businesses in their hometowns outside of Dakar, home of FECSDA’s only office, staff were obliged to travel for monitoring purposes.which in some cases led to failed businesses as productivity and accountability could not be sustained.[93]

The above analysis sheds light on a greater deficiency of M&D programs in the NGO sector. Out of over twenty NGO programs analyzed, only three, including P.A.R.I and the FECSDAworkshop, targeted migrant women specifically. A number of NGO’s also lacked efficient Monitoring and Evaluation practices to accurately evaluate program success. Programs such as those organized by CARITASand FECSDAonly requirefollow up for twelve months, while monitoring practices lack regularity, standardization, and comprehensive reporting. As a result, migrants often spent their grant money or returned to the countries in which they worked. NGOs also lacked systems to gather feedback from the beneficiaries (i.e. migrant women) of their programs. Feedback loops are essential in order to evaluate and improve services to ensure they genuinely meet the migrants’ needs.

Another deficiency across the board was the lack of rigorous training programs. Women often lack the skills and experience in entrepreneurship and financial management, leading to inefficient management, ultimately causing their endeavors to fail. Lastly, the majority of NGO programs focused only on the economic needs of migrant women, ignoring comprehensive social and psychological support for social reintegration back into families, households and communities.

International Organizations and Multilateral Institutions (MI) Sector

International organizations, UN agencies and other institutions such as the World Bank, the ILO, and the European Union, also play crucial roles in M&D programs in Senegal. This analysis focuses on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The OHCHRprotects and promotesthe rights of migrant women[94]. The migration chief at the OHCHR claimed migrant women’s labor in Senegal is vastly undervalued, underpaid and de-skilled[95]. In addition, migrant women often face abuse from employers especially in the service industry in which most jobs are found. To combat these issues, the OHCHRprotects women’s rights throughout the migration process, since this wayis crucial to empowering them and ensuring a stable reintegration upon their return home[96]. The OHCHRalso aims to uphold international labor migration law through investigative reports, advocacy efforts, and dissemination of information to migrants about their rights[97]. Additionally, one of their main functions is to critique and publish government policy and practice in regards to M&D. 

One such report performed in May of 2016analyzesand critiquesthe government’s policies in regards to female migration and development[98]. Several government shortcomings were revealed, such as its failure to comply or implement the internationally recognized “Convention on Rights of Migrant Workers”at the regional and local levels. Furthermore, the OHCHR claimed the government had not only failed to disseminate information about eligibility requirements for voluntary return and reintegration programs, butalso to hold relevant ministries accountable[99]. The OHCHR urged the government to “adopt, implement and provide the necessary funds for a comprehensive policy on the migration of labor, in line with the Convention and in a gender-sensitive manner”[100]. OHCHRalso recommended the government toestablish a “centralized database to collect quantitative and qualitative migration-related statistics and information”[101].Though comprehensive and informative,OHCHR’s report was majorly uncommented on by the Senegalese government. 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM)is the largest international organization in the field of migration aimed at “promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all”[102]. IOM aimsto maximize the positive relationship between migration and “recognizingRecognizingthat “nearly half of the world’s migrants are now women, IOM also takes into account the opportunities and challenges that this presents for migration and development activities, and presents a gender-specific focus for all remittance projects”[103]. IOM’s approach involves various services “tailored to the needs of governments, aimed at transferring skills and knowledge acquired by migrants abroad to their country of origin...Recent program focus has been placed on the facilitation of remittances—the private financial transfers of migrants—and the development impact that they can have on communities and countries of origin”[104].

IOM’s program RMTS or“Reintegration from Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal”,ran from 2015-2016 and assisted voluntary return of Moroccan, Tunisian and Senegalese migrant workers to their home countries[105]RMTS worked with governments in both countries of origin and destination to prepare, assist, and eventually give grants for migrants to start businesses upon return home[106]

Despite assisting over 1,612 migrants, only one woman returned from Belgium, twenty from Morocco, one from Egypt, one from Norway, one from Spain and twenty from Niger[107]

IOM staff cited various program weaknesses. Firstly, the bureaucratic nature of the request and demand for voluntary return (i.e. lengthy background checks and dozens of forms) prolonged the process substantially and caused a vast majority of migrants to abandon their applications[108]. Staff also felt that giving migrants grants instead of loans lowered their motivations to use the money to start successful businesses in order to pay them back[109]. As a result, in a number of cases returnees had used the grant money to migrate again. 

IOMstaff also mentioned that female migrants were weary to return because of pressures to financially facilitate the migration of their friends and family[110]. IOM staff developed “offices of transit” to provide free housing, food, water, medical attention, psychological assessments and other services and stay for up to a month . This effort is aimed at combatting family pressures and support returning women to readjust for professional and familial reintegration.

This analysis proves advocacies such as OHCHR’s report are ineffective. Although OHCHR’s report was informative on a global scale, it did not have major impact nor did it exert significant pressure on the government to change its practices and policies in the M&D sector. Subsequently, the report sheds light on a disconnect between international multilateral institutions and the local population they aim to serve. UN agencies, notorious for bringing in Western specialists to consult local staff for short term contracts, contribute to this disconnect[111]. Since specialists only spend short time periods, they often stay in the headquarters and “expatriate bubble(s)” which may prevent them from interacting with their program’s groundwork. Multilateral institutions directed by powerful countries in the West tend to reflect goals and realities of Westernized notions of human rights, financial inclusion, and gender equality. International consultants, while undoubtedly necessary to advise on crucial issues, may advocate certain initiatives without considering the specific cultural and social norms of the country they are working in.

Government Sector

Though government is discussed extensively in this paper, it is important to understand its role in M&D. Key government stakeholders in Senegal include the Ministry of the Interior, for immigration and border control, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Senegalese Abroad, for foreign and diaspora relations, assistance to migrants while abroad and upon return[112]. Additionally, the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Planning is in charge of developing a national migration policy, facilitating research on M&D issues, and producing reports and data[113]. Current policies include bilateral agreements that dictate provisions on entry and residence between Senegal and host countries, such as France, Gabon, Mauritania, Morocco and Spain[114]. The policies most endorsed by the international community have focused on limiting clandestine or illegal migration, tightening border controls, and encouraging return migration[115].

Government programs which have targeted migrant women include FAISE and HOM. The most publicized is Fonds d’Appui à l’Investissement des Sénégalais de l’Extérieur (FAISE) or the “Investment Support Fund for Senegalese Abroad.” Its primary goal is to attract nationals residing abroad to invest into businesses, mutual savings and microcredit institutions in Senegal[116]. Since its creation, FAISE has funded over 122 projects and provided over 600 million CFA (1 million USD) to assist members of the Senegalese diaspora in developing businesses abroad in sectors such as livestock farming, fishing, handicrafts, sanitation, and information and communication technologies[117].FAISE also contributes around $9,000 yearly to migrant returnees to help them start their own businesses in Senegal[118]. Many interviewees attributed FAISE’ssuccess to the fact that a majority of grant recipients have been women in the diaspora, who are “better” at managing the grants and businesses[119]. However, FAISE has provided only financial assistance to diaspora or returning migrant women – which, as previously discussed, can have a negative impact if not matched with social and psychological support. 

Help of Migrants (HOM) is a free online platform, created by the ARD regional development office of Sedhiou. HOM aims to connect migrants abroad with migrant associations and development projects in their localities of origin, to facilitate partnerships and their productive investment at home[120]. HOMalso supports local and regional authorities, promotes decentralized development planning, and connects diaspora with technical and financial resources abroad with local entrepreneurs in Senegal[121]

HOM staff felt the program was successful in promoting entrepreneurship, channeling investment and remittances, and promoting knowledge exchange between diaspora and locals. The program has also successfully monitored the projects, as most businesses started by diaspora and locals become financially independent within three to five months. HOMstaff claimed the program’s largest weakness was the gender imbalance—as only one out of every ten migrants assisted was female[122]. There was mistrustbetween local authorities, migrants, migrant associations and NGO’s.[123]Since the technological approach was relatively unfamiliar, it took time to convince authorities, migrants and migrant associations of the platform’s effectiveness. The staff felt that it was especially difficult for women to trust and understand the platformbecause of their lack of experience with technology and inability to speak French[124]

In general, of central concern to government involvement is its failure to define a precise M&D policy. It has been criticized internationally for failing to realize, or perhaps ignoring the fact that migration can be beneficial to national development in ways other than migrant remittances[125]. Additionally, the Superior Council of Senegalese Abroad, which aimed to foster dialogue between the Senegalese diaspora and migrants with the national government, was suspended in 2013. As a result, Senegalese nationals currently working abroad have limited legal protection[126].

It is problematic that government efforts such as FAISE and HOM have thus far focused on the diaspora investment, rather than on supporting temporary migrant workers and facilitating their return home. Another major issue is the lack of decentralization and trust between national and local authorities[127]. Monsieur Diaw, the mayor of Louga (a town in Northern Senegal) claimed that more than 50 percent of government employees at the local and regional levels had only basic levels of education[128]. Lacking an understanding of migration and its impact on local development, or perhaps ignorant to non-monetary rewards, local authorities have failed to follow migration regulations, keep track of data and assist in development projects sponsored or facilitated by migrants[129]

Future Recommendations: M&D in Senegal and Globally 

A set of future recommendations for program improvement in M&D can be drawn from this case study. For the NGO sector gender specific and standardized data recording is needed. Consequently, NGO’s should integrate feedback loops with program participants (migrant women in this case), to ensure program sustainability. Independent development management consultants should be brought in to build bridges and ensure actors in the field of M&D regularly meet the needs of program participants. This would be especially valuable for international multilateral organizations (such as UN agencies), whose programs may lack local contextualization. Such consultants can also ensure policies and programs provide equal treatment for male and female labor migrants. 

As mentioned previously, organizations must also recognize that for women in developing countries, the domestic agenda cannot be easily replaced. For this reason, they should focus on reconciling the domestic agenda with larger social and economic roles. M&D actors should also employ grassroots approaches that involve migrants from program outset to completion. Organizations should readjust the focus on social assistance in and economic assistance, especially for reintegration and professional reinsertion. To combat the lack of funding, they should find alternative sources of capital, such as Corporate Social Responsibility, and partner with corporations interested in migrant labor in exchange for their support for programs to facilitate temporary labor exchanges. 

Additionally, the role of the civil society is fundamental. In this case, it is made up of migrants, diaspora members and their associations. In the future, it would be beneficial for Senegalese migrant women (returnees and diaspora) to form associations based in their communities of origin and connect with migrant women groups across West Africa for mutual assistance and solidarity. If such groups existed, women could migrate and return home more easily, and would be more confident in asserting their role in social and economic domains in society. Women in the diaspora could also create online platforms to share information and mentoring advice for women at home; such as the exchange of entrepreneurial skills, financial capital or loans for women to start businesses at home, or even dissuade them from the need to migrate in the first place.

Despite prioritizing NGO, multilateral organization and civil society efforts, this paper uncovers the essential role of the government in M&D initiatives. Though micro level and grassroots are beneficial, it isnecessaryto go beyond them to enact public policies that eliminate women’s obstacles to gain autonomy and mobility. Several recommendations for government engagement include a policy focus on return migration, extracting the social resources of migration, and creating bilateral temporary labor migration agreements with other countries. In general, the government needs to enact equitable policies that eliminate women’s obstacles to migration and empower them during the migration process and upon their return home. These policies should also regulate and ensure safe and legal migration for female labor migrants and combat irregular and clandestine migration.

In addition, the government should recognize that remittances are not the only avenue for development. They could create an online service for diaspora to contribute to development in diverse ways: by investing in public projects, sharing their skills, mentorship, ideas, and social connections to benefit Senegalese citizens. This type of platform would be beneficial in building trust between authorities and migrants, and would promote return migration as a strategy for development.The state should ensure that more accurate records about migrants are maintained, acknowledge rising female migratory flows and manage them in direct cooperation with migrant-receiving countries. National authorities should also ensure local authorities are trained and certified prior to taking their positions.

There exists a massive disconnect between sectors of M&D, both in practice and policy. Emphasis must be placed upon cooperation between the government, NGO (both local and national) and multilateral institutions. Local and national authorities need to build trust with migrant associations. The dissemination of data, results, knowledge, and resources among sectors is crucial to the improvementimprovement the position of migrant women in Senegal. Sharing results from successful projects would encourage collaboration.

Most concerning is the lack of data on migrant women in Senegal;  incomplete or vetted, gender blind and rarely distributed online for public use. The problem is there is a lack of information sharing, as NGO’s, government, or other, record their own data sets as the baseline for evaluating the success of its individual program. There is no central database for them to share data and results, which leads to misunderstanding and mistrust between sectors. 

The staff at the OCHCRfor example complained that NGO’s in Senegal only write reports to disseminate their findings to donors in order to secure further grant capital, rather than sharing them with other actors in the field. Sharing information in this case would combat some NGO tendencies to alter reports (skewing to more positive outcomes than those actually recorded) to give the impression of program success. In addition, without the sharing of data, the Senegalese government will be unable to create sound policies that reflect the realities of international labor migration in the country. 

Across the board, programs’ objectives were oversimplified and generalized: they were not gender specific and assumed migrant women as having the same ethnicity, language and religion (despite the fact that attitudes and obstacles towards migration are largely dependent on these). Therefore, reintegration programs particularly, must consider cultural and ethnic differences to ensure sustainable impact. 

Lastly, as we have seen, the programs analyzed focused on economic over social assistance, and prioritized financial over social, cultural, and human capital. In my interviews, it seemed organizations either lacked resources or were skeptical that social assistance would actually translate into change outside of the household. It is apparent that these actors have either not realized, or choose to ignore, what Amartya Sen and other economists have repeatedly proven: that empowering women socially also helps countries develop economically[130].


The future of the gender – migration – development nexus depends on the country. This study notes, ethnic, religious, linguistic, and historical differences determine how migration is perceived by the local population and managed by society. This development cannot be understood solely through quantitative data and quantifiable evidence. Analyzing the migration-development-gender nexus requires a micro-level and community based approach and continuous contact with female members of society, who in some countries are ignored by policy makers and researchers alike. While economic impact can be extracted from quantitative data and surveys, measuring social impact is incredibly challenging.  Case studies such as this one serve as evidence that in many countries economic data tends to be unavailable or outdated. Both do not occur overnight, yet, social changes are subtler and thusmore difficult to recognize and evaluate. It can take decades for social change to diffuse from the individual to the family, to the community, and finally to the national level.

This analysis also highlighted why grassroots and bottom up approaches are most successful at empowering migrant women. These women have potential to be strong agents of change, but they need support from the government, from national and international organizations, and from other women in Senegal and the diaspora abroad. In order to advance their status in developing countries, they need to be at the center of program and policy creation. The top-down approach (which involves government actors and the elite in developing countries) will continue to be unsuccessful. Without implicating women from the grassroots and giving them a productive role in society, gender equality cannot exist. In patriarchal societies, social changes brought by migrant women can easily evaporate into thin air. Thus, the importance of social assistance, solidarity, and community involvement, must be advocated by both men and women involved in organizations which aim to promote gender equality.

While focused on Senegal, the outcomes of this research have global implications. Migration has been recognized as a path to socioeconomic empowerment around the world. Obstructing, devaluing, and restricting mobility for women is not limited to Senegal or West Africa. It exists around the world and is handled differently in each country. Nevertheless, the key recommendations in this paper are transferrable. Migrant-sending countries in the developing world would undoubtedly benefit from refocusing to a grassroots and community oriented development approach that targets migrant women’s social, cultural and human capital (over economic ones). However these programs must be backed up by government practice and policy, through encouraging “return migration”, legally protecting migrant women’s rights and facilitating skill and knowledge transfer through exchange platforms. By fostering solidarity through the establishement of women’s groups, the government can help build entrepreneurs. Through such policies and practices, countries could contribute to their economic growth while simultaneously empowering women in both economic and social domains in their society. Future research would benefit by focusing on bilateral agreements and policies for temporary labor contracts between migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries and on encouraging return migration and entrepreneurship for migrant women abroad. 


I would briefly like to thank my senior thesis advisor Ascension Mejorado and the Global Liberal Studies department at New York University for their consistent advice and support and for awarding me two generous grants which allowed me to pursue research in Senegal. I also thank the many individuals and experts I interviewed in Senegal, from organization staff to migrants themselves, for providing such useful insight for this research.


This work was supported by the Dean’s Senior Thesis Research Grant and Global Research Grant from the Global Liberal Studies department at New York University. 


Anna Bachan

Anna holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the NYU Global Liberal Studies department, with a concentration in Politics, Rights, and Development and minors in French and Public Policy & Management. During her undergraduate studies, her passion for social science research leadher to pursue several fieldwork trips in Africa where she mainly focused on the intersection between migration, development, and women’s rights. After graduation, Anna was accepted to the Princeton in Africa Fellowship and as such, she currently works as a research assistant at the African School of Economics in Cotonou, Benin (West Africa).

End Notes

[1]Piper, 4

[2]“Human Development Index”


[4]“Gender Development Index”

[5]Human Development Report 2016 UNDP

[6]Nussbaum, 1


[8]Nussbaum, 4



[11]Piper, 25


[13]“Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation.”


[15]Piper, 10

[16]“Migration and Development: Perspectives from the South”, 27

[17]Andersson, 12 

[18]Ibid, 77.

[19]Ibid, 33.

[20]Ibid, 77.

[21]"Senegal Unemployment Rate 1994-2017." 

[22]Toma, 78


[24]Ibid, 80.

[25]“Enhancing Financial Capability and Inclusion in Senegal”, 27.

[26]"Senegal Overview the World Bank." 

[27]Workshop 2015 - Senegal Chapter, 4

[28]Ibid, 81.


[30]Cisse, 22.

[31]Toma, 81.

[32]Maggi, Dame et al, 145.

[33]Ibid, 146.

[34]Dembe, Carretero et al, 33.


[36]Toma, 81.


[38]Ndiaga Fall Diatta, personal communication


[40]Papa Dembe Fall, personal communication. 


[42]“Migration, Remittances and Gender-Responsive Local Development”, 25

[43]Toma, 86.

[44]Ibid, 87.


[46]Papa Demba Fall, personal communication.

[47]Ibid, 90.

[48]Ibid, 91.

[49]Coumba Fall Venn, personal communication.

[50]Ibid, 85.

[51]Lambert, 2.


[53]Toma, 82.


[55]Rose Sagna, personal communication.

[56]Toma, 120.

[57]“Enhancing Financial Capability and Inclusion in Senegal”, 38

[58]Consumer Behaviors in Senegal: Analysis and Findings. 



[61]"MTM i-Map Migration and Development Layer SENEGAL." 

[62]Salla Mbaye, personal communication. 

[63]“Migration, Remittances and Gender-Responsive Local Development”, 25.

[64]Babou, 17.

[65]Ibid, 12.

[66]Ibid, 12.

[67]Ibid, 18

[68]Ibid, 19.

[69]Coumba Fall Venn, personal communication.


[71]University student in Dakar, personal communication.

[72]Toma, 86.

[73]Rose Sagna, personal communication.

[74]Jacques Niouky, personal communication. 



[77]Salla Mbaye, personal communication.


[79]Professor Doudou Gueye, personal communication.


[81]Workshop 2015 - Senegal Chapter”

[82]Jacques Niouky, personal communication.




[86]FECSDA and Ibrahima Niang, personal communication. 








[94]Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women- OHCHR

[95]Claire Boyer, personal communication.


[97]Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women - OHCHR





[102]“About IOM”

[103]“IOM – Migration and Development”


[105]Reintegration Morocco-Tunisia-Senegal.


[107]Salla Mbaye, personal communication.




[111]"Module 5: Multilateral & Bilateral Organizations." 



[114]Ibid, 6.

[115]Ibid, 12.

[116]Ibid, 11.

[117]"FAISE : 122 projets de Sénégalais”


[119]"Helping returnees turn a profit in Senegal." 

[120]“Le Help Office for Migrants (HOM) de Sédhiou en deux mots”,


[122]Lamine Ba, personal communication.



[125]"Senegal Overview The World Bank." 

[126]Ibid, 12.

[127]"Senegal Overview The World Bank." 

[128]Badara Diaw, personal communication.


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