Panel 22

The gendered dynamics of mobility and migration

Panel organiser: Mathabo Khau, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa.


Mobility and cosmopolitanism are at the heart of social processes that shape the outlooks and activities of people in all walks of life. Cosmopolitan politics explore the conditions of a citizenship without borders, balancing universal citizenship against citizenship confined within national states; scrutinizing the relationship between national governments and international governance bodies such as the United Nations or the European Union. It raises debates concerning nationalism, ethnicity, gender inequality, migration, diaspora identities and xenophobia among others. In light of rising concerns over irregular migration from Africa towards the global North, the movement of people has been seen in a politically hostile manner. The unequal distribution of social mobility continues to raise concerns for many African women and children relating to their economic and political prospects. The question that remains therefore is how migrants, in particular those from underprivileged regions, can claim rights in the globalized world.

Against this background, this panel explores the gender dynamics of mobility and migration. It specifically wants to address the following issues:

  • When and how can women become universal citizens?
  • Who benefits from the unequal social mobility within African communities?
  • Who is allowed mobility and whose mobility is restricted?
  • How are women and children affected by forced mobility?
  • What does it mean to be an African man/woman in diaspora?
  • What economic prospects are available for African women in the global North?
  • How have African women and children benefited from Educational mobility within Africa and in the global North?
  • Human trafficking and prostitution
  • Sexual health and reproductive rights in diaspora

Papers are invited to address the gendered nature of mobility and migration in any of the above issues and any other human movements that highlight the inequity in social mobility transnationally and towards the global North.

Approved abstracts panel 22

1. Swallows from the Sahara: Female Migration in Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah and Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street

Author: Daniel Chukwuemeka, Department of English and Literary Studies, Godfrey Okoye University Enugu, Nigeria.

This study is set out to group Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah and Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street with comparative reference to how postcolonial experiences propel their female characters into migration. While a number of European and North American species of sparrows are long-distance migrants, the West and South African swallows are non-migratory. The reversal of this avian metaphor in this presentation is a way of asserting that postcolonial African literature has been expanded by migration literature by moving away from the patriarchal stereotype of the female as weak and docile, with their only function being that of child-bearing, rearing and domestic chores, to its introduction of gender, sexuality and class discourse in relation to female migration. Hence the comparative analysis of female migration experiences in both texts gives us a good understanding of how the female protagonists endlessly recreate themselves through their encounters with social complexities and discriminating experiences of being a female, African minority in a foreign land. This results in their identity going beyond the memories of past and reaching a level of maturity or, as Fanon admits, a sort of participating in the creation of a human social world—that is, a world of reciprocal recognition and adventures. The intellectual tool used to analyze the form of migration from female perspectives is postcolonial criticism vis-ā-vis the question of identity. The methods employed in the analysis include finding out the motive behind the migration of the female characters, unearthing of the result of such migration, which is diasporic-identity formation, and the investigation of the concepts of in-betweenness, borderless cosmopolitanism and transitory identities, concepts that house the basic characteristics to classify a literary work as the literature of migration. In doing this, we find that the themes and motifs of feminist migration literature and the postcolonial female conditions are creatively intertwined in both texts.

Keywords: female / migration / the diaspora / gender / identity

2. Self-Employment among East African Women in Malmö: An Intersectional Perspective

Author: Felicity Okoth

Self-employment is a popular occupation line among immigrants living in Malmö-Sweden yet, East African women are particularly absent with this regard. This paper explores how East African women perceive self-employment in a bid to understand why few of them are entrepreneurs in Malmö. The working of gender and ethnicity in shaping self-employment perceptions among these women is empirically explored. Intersectionality as a concept is used to make sense of the empirical material with Anthias’ societal arenas of investigation namely; the experiential arena (identity narratives); intersubjective arena (societal practices), organisational arena (structural positions) and representational arena (discourses) all within the Swedish society are used as contexts for an intersectional analysis. The paper’s major finding is that East African women’s perceptions draw from various barriers to self-employment they or women within their social networks have experienced in Malmo. The demarcation of agency and structure when it comes to self-employment motivation is also found to be blurred among women in intersectional positions. The paper whilst acknowledging the strides the Swedish government has taken to ensure the socio-economic integration of immigrants, recommends for responsible actors to acknowledge the qualitative difference of immigrant groups and to formulate programmes that address specific demographics within these groups.

Key Words: Self-employment, East African Women, Intersectionality

3. In search of a better life: Lived experiences of young women who trade sex for livelihoods in urban Tanzania

Author: Ludowick Myumbo, Univesity of Tampere, Finland.

The study explores lived experiences of young rural women who trade sex for livelihoods in urban Tanzania. This is important given that there is lack of qualitative research which allows the voices of young women who trade sex for livelihoods to recount their situations from their own perspectives.

Methodologically, the study adopted a qualitative approach. Data was collected through participatory narrative inquiry which afforded a space for a group of six young rural women who trade sex in Mwanza town to tell stories of their lived experiences.

The study has found that young women from rural areas of Tanzania who trade sex for livelihoods in urban centre come from destructive backgrounds, including pervasive experience of abuse, negligence, lack of care, violent and exploitative relationships, but also lack of opportunities for wellbeing. In relocating to urban centres, young rural women hope to find decent work to earn an income. But because they lack qualifications, they end up in informal sector which offer low wages and expose them to exploitative situations, including sex work.

The study gives an insight that patriarchy in rural areas of Tanzania creates gender inequality to the extent that young women lack opportunities for self-actualization and for a better life. This is important for social work research and practice to work effectively in ways that could disrupt gender inequality in Tanzania. Second, the approach of this study is relatively new in the world of qualitative research – a new way of thinking about and studying lived experience. In that respect, the study contributes to methodological approach in qualitative research, particularly for the effective study of sensitive topics.

Keywords: Patriarchy, young women in Tanzania, sex work, lived experience, participatory narrative inquiry, sensitive topic

4. Transnational Politics of Becoming and Being a Mother: Narratives of African Women in the Diaspora

Author: Kezia Batisai, Department of Sociology, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Scholarly evidence reveals that globalization has been characterized by increased movement of people, goods, services, technology and capital across the global. These global processes have produced labour markets and forms of gendered work that have resulted in the migration of women predominantly from the Global South to the Global North; and the less profiled movement of women between Global South countries. While some scholars on one hand have mainly focused on transnational migration and the gendered (mothering) experiences of non-citizens of the recipient countries in the global North, others have captured the impact of such on children left in the global South. Combined, these scholars have explored questions of gender and transnational mothering with a particular bias towards migrant Asian women in the North. Broadening the scope of transnational motherhood beyond the transfer of care and the global North-Asian bias, this article listens to stories of how African women have experienced and negotiated their gynaecological and maternal bodies in the process of becoming and being mothers in the diaspora. The process of becoming a mother for African migrant women includes the politics of sexual health and reproductive rights issues, and access to healthcare and gynaecological services in the absence of private medical cover and legal immigration documentation. On the other hand, the realities of being a mother encompass maternal care issues in the absence of family support structures. The article theorises that when juxtaposed with experiences of citizens of the host country/countries, narratives of becoming and being a mother in a foreign space tell a particularly interesting story about the politics of motherhood or maternality; and what it means to be an African woman in the diaspora. These experiences are often trivialized by mainstream discourses because they are framed as part of women’s reproductive life not worth of scholarly attention.

Keywords: African women, sexual and reproductive rights, healthcare, maternality, diaspora

5. Homing the Unhomed: Representations of Female Migrants in Selected Post-2000 Zimbabwean Novels

Author: Isaac Ndlovu, University of Venda, South Africa.

Keywords: Crisis, female migrants, narratives, refuges, representation, subjugated knowledges Zimbabwe.

The ongoing and now almost two decades long economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe has seen millions of that country’s citizens becoming refuges and migrants in many foreign lands. The experiences of these refuges and migrants has been fictionalized by a number of Zimbabwean writers, most of whom are migrants themselves. The main characters of these narratives, who are largely male, have received considerable literary attention and their deracinated migrant experience has been highlighted. This paper enters this debate by way of the female characters of selected narratives, especially the representation of minor ones whose migrant experiences have either received inadequate literary scrutiny or have been completely ignored. My study represents attempts at foregrounding less hegemonic representations of the migrant experience. Female figures would be drawn from Brian Chikwava’s Harare North (2009), Petina Gappah’s selected stories from the anthology Elegy for Easterly (2009), NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names (2014) and Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician (2014) to argue that focusing on the representation of migrant female characters, particularly the minor ones, allows for the surfacing of what Foucault calls subjugated knowledges. While Foucault was neither discussing literary texts nor engaged in a feminist project, his definition of subjugated knowledges as “a whole set of knowledges that are either hidden behind more dominant knowledges but can be revealed by critique or have been explicitly disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated”, makes its appropriation for this project very compelling. 

6. Gendered engagement as theological praxis: On the refugee phenomenon, transformational development, and maternal health in the practice of Theology and Development

Author: Dr Barnabé Anzuruni Msabah, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and Pan Africa Christian University, Kenya.

In Africa, refugee women always come across unthinkable challenges during their flight and in their hosting countries. Some of the challenges facing them in the hosting countries include unemployment, unfair treatment, attitudinal demeanours, and various other predictable or unpredictable chauvinisms. These challenges constitute a complicated addition to the existing health issues that women naturally go through. This is why integrating the gender discourse into the dynamics of the refugee phenomenon is fundamental to considering the status of women in various contexts of the society. In this regard, refugee women have difficulty in accessing health facilities in their hosting countries and therefore maternal health presents a great challenge. As a result, maternal health can be said to be a sustainable development issue that affects refugee women in Africa as they often die of preventable and treatable complications during pregnancy or childbirth. This paper therefore takes an interdisciplinary approach to gender, health and theology. It explores the role of the church in promoting maternal health towards achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs). The paper is based on a recently conducted study focusing on the health and wellbeing of refugee migrants in South Africa. The data for the study was conducted qualitatively through semi-structured one-on-one interviews and focus groups with key informants from the refugee community in Cape Town. The study focused on the fact that refugees in Cape Town have gone through painful experiences that have led to extremely traumatising cases with long-term effects on their health. The findings of the study indicated that the church’s mandate is to advocate for the transformational development of those whose hope is in short supply including refugee women. Thus, the church needs to reflect and act on the maternal health of refugee women, which is a gendered engagement of theological praxis.

Key words: maternal health, refugee phenomenon, theological praxis, transformational development, gendered engagement

7. What does it mean to be an African man/woman in diaspora?

Authors: Hilda Härgestam Strandberg, Independent researcher in Medical Humanities and African Literature & Anne Ouma, Researcher and Development Advisor, Social and Economic Geography.
E-mail: and

Broad scholarship examines the ´double marginalization´ of subjects and spaces that is characteristic of dominant accounts of globalization. This scholarship argues that:

Women are side lined, as is gender analysis more broadly, and southern countries are positioned as the feminized other to advanced economies (Nagar et al.2002:266).

Empirical evidence abounds that highlights the experiences of women and marginalized societies of neoliberal processes and reconfigurations of national economies, including coping strategies they have adopted including (migration and mobility) to cope with these changes ( Cupples 2005, Davies et al.2005, Acker 2004).Feminist scholars discuss the gendered organisation of social life, which helps and perpetuates the reproduction of different and unequal lives for women and men; While  class, race and ethnicity are important aspects that reinforce inequalities, in a time of increased migration and mobility and women living in the Diaspora.

A woman in the Diaspora navigates between at least two worldviews simultaneously. On course are encounters of a paradigm which she engages in; Is subjugated by; In a consistent and continuum; In overt or covert form; With diverse dimensions of ethnocentric Hegemony (as discussed in various readings).  An alternative worldview counts but not, while dictates of suspicion, fear of the unknown and power dynamics, downplay the structural hierarchical institutional discriminatory approaches that are the order of the day. Odore (2002) discusses cosmological knowledge of women that, constitutes phenomena that cannot be measured through various scientific methods as often undermined.

Questions regarding the value of these knowledge(s) come to the fore in transcultural encounters between different understandings/experiences of female circumcision, often referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM). This paper engages with how some African women’s knowledge(s) of female circumcision/female genital cutting manifest in a Swedish context, focusing on guidelines, recommendations and educational material produced by The National Board of Health and Welfare – Socialstyrelsen. What is implied in the consistent call for “more knowledge” regarding medical care, health care encounters and preventive work? Where is such expertise to be found? What discursive space is allowed for voices outside of the dominant discourse, in both a geopolitical and epistemological sense?

The paper presents a critical assessment of the discursive practices, with the question of how to make space for other voices, perspectives and narratives. What is the significance of “epistemological humility” (Applebaum 1996) in the construction and dissemination of FGC knowledge(s) in a Swedish context? How may cases of successful discourses and eradication of FGC practices within African contexts (e.g Senegal and Kenya) challenge and inspire? What role may be played by Swedish-African women well experienced in both paradigms?

Key Words: Diaspora, Hegemony, Inequality,  Knowledge, Female Circumcision

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