In the wake of the Gulf War: assessing family spending of compensation money in Sri Lanka

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Abstract

Between 1997 and 2000, the United Nations Compensation Commission delivered US$4000 apiece to roughly 87,000 Sri Lankan citizens who suffered displacement and loss of employment due to Iraq's military actions in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Using qualitative ethnographic data, this essay examines 11 case studies of Kuwait returnees in the village of Naeaegama, in southern Sri Lanka. Like the majority of Sri Lankans caught in the Gulf War, these returnees are women from poor rural families who worked as domestic servants in Kuwait. The paper compares how the 11 households have spent compensation money and migrants' remittances. Spending choices reveal a clear hierarchy of priorities: buying land and building a house, providing a dowry for unmarried women, and starting a viable business. These goals reflect family-based considerations, and use of the money illustrates the family's role as an economic as well as a social unit. The paper also explores the role of family in facilitating migration and depressing women's wages on the global market. Data reveal the local values, motives, and cultural contexts that shape individual and family decision-making on matters of finance and migration. Family choices are products of and adaptations to globalised contexts. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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