Panel 32

Women, men, language and movement: African language and gender (im)mobilities

Panel organiser: Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, Department of English, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria.


Migratory encounters are inevitably cross-cultural, linguistic and gendered. Language is not only prominent in trans-border transactions, but also in the management of all personal and social interactions in new and sometimes hostile cultural climes. In short, language is the vehicle of passage, of sundry performances of gender and sexuality within and across borders, and of the transformation of gendered consciousness. Embedded in new language ecologies, native notions of gender and sexuality sprout new meanings and trajectories, while gendered notions in host nations undergo complex linguistic transformations. The feminization/masculinization, gendering/degendering of language across borders appears to be a definitive north-south migratory phenomenon which is apt to be investigated.

This panel explores encounters that focus the sociolinguistic implications of migration for Africans, and for Africa, as evidenced in different domains, especially the domains of gender. The panel enquires into how contact languages impact perceptions of gender, and, more generally, how migration impacts the language and practice of gender and sexuality across African borders. The significance of language in the ‘globalization’ or ‘universalization’ of gender norms, in the learning and unlearning of gendered culture, and in the transformation of gender positioning or agency is a crucial undertaking here. We also investigate how notions of gender conflate with migrant vulnerabilities, such as a lower status as migrants, to generate conflicts of gendered identities and create complex ‘home and away’ gender norms within migrant environments. The role of language in the theorization of gender and sexuality in Africa, compared with the global north, for example between African Womanism and Western Feminisms, forms a prominent background to the work of the panel.

DATA SOURCE: The panel welcomes the exploration of language, gender and migration situations in real-life ethnographic settings, as well as cognate narratives in popular culture forms such as drama, film, music and social media.

Approved abstracts panel 32

1. Gendered (im)mobilities and a (re)-construction of femininities in African contexts. A discursive analysis

Author: Lilian Lem Atanga, University of Barmenda, Cameroon.

Migration and digital technologies have allowed for new forms of feminisms and gender identity constructions. These digital technologies have permitted migrant and virtual populations to contribute to the (re)shaping of gender ideologies in African contexts. Migrant populations, through digital technologies/spaces therefore create new opportunities for reaching out, rethinking and reshaping, through (re)linking African gender ideologies to European ones and thereby hybridising a hitherto (traditional) African gender identity. African femininities and gender identities are questioned and reconceptualised through materialisations of identities that challenge and subvert the norm, creating newer forms of African feminisms. 

This paper unpacks (virtual) migration and gender crossings and how new and virtual identities which shape African femininities are discursively constructed. The paper seeks to investigate how new forms of e-participation allow for non-migrants to emigrate virtually, breaking, without physically traversing national boundaries, and reshaping traditional gender ideologies.

Data for the paper will be collected using virtual ethnographic methods. Data is collected from social networking sites. The data is analysed using social media critical discourse approaches (Khosnarivik 2017). We will examine discourses that subvert, challenge or maintain gender ideologies, and present stereotypical or alternative gender identities constructed as a consequence of migration and access to alternative ideologies.

2. Communicating Gender in Diaspora: Migrant African Women in New Zealand

Author: Toyin Kolawole, PG, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Despite the entrenched nature of cultural norms, cultural changes occur in the long term, although the success of the transfer of practices from one “field” to others varies. Some practices are retained (or modified) while some are not; because peoples‟ actions are “preadapted to … demands” of the structure that created their dispositions (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 279). In my study of African women in intimate relationships in New Zealand, I find that although gendered assumptions of roles and expectations of their socialization continued to retain pre-eminence as the frame of reference for intimate practices, the lived expression of an African identity constructed by them is not linear or simplistic, in spite of what seemed like rigid role boundaries. The participant‟s experiences of enacting gendered norms and engaging with their contradictions in the diaspora created conflict in their relationships. In the process, they employed pragmatism and marginal resistance as empowerment tools in complex negotiations of traditional norms in an accommodationist response to the cultural power of men. Many of them took up traditional practices and put them down as it suits them, even as they resist and contest the traditional norms that pose a challenge to them in their new abode. And these negotiations were sometimes mediated by their counter-constructions of discourses of traditional norms.

In this paper, I examine the differentiated modes of expressions consequent on migration and being embedded in a foreign culture, with particular reference to the migrant African females in New Zealand referred to above. The paper examines how language changes and modifies their perceptions of African gendered relationships, sexuality and kinship ties. Using the interview ethnography and participant observation modes, the paper examines the disposition of participants towards gendered terms and their pragmatic associations back home and in the Diaspora. In some cases, the affects have led to an outright refusal of aspects of African gendered norms, while in some cases they have fostered an ambivalence towards African culture and the adoption of a third space of culture along with its multiplicity of identities.

3. Immigrant Somali mothers’ engagement in their children’s schooling: exploring the accumulation of cultural capital for educational advancement

Author: Doria Daniels, Department of Educational Psychology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Since the democratisation of South Africa many Somali families have made South Africa their home, despite them not sharing a common language, culture or ethnicity with their hostnation. Most of these adults come with no or limited formal schooling experience due to their generation having had their access to basic education interrupted by the 1990s war in Somalia. Women migrants‟ vulnerability to discrimination, exploitation and abuse in their host country is most often normalised by their own history of socialisation within a patriarchal society. Gender‟s intersectionality with the social processes of migration was thus important in my conceptualisation of how immigrant mothers engage with their children‟s education. Existing scholarship on parent involvement seems to assume that parents become involved for two primary (and related) reasons: (1) to help the schools to better educate their children, and, as a result, (2) to improve their children‟s achievement. This positions parents as benefactors and their children as beneficiaries of parent involvement in education. This, however, is based on a view that parents are literate and capable of providing educational support. Very limited knowledge exists about how illiterate mothers engage with their children‟s education. A further gap in the parent support literature is the lack of knowledge on the educational benefits that illiterate immigrant mothers can derive from their investments in their children‟s education and the opportunities that this in turn create for adult learning.

I used Critical Race theory to make sense of the five immigrant Somali mothers‟ testimonios, or “narratives of political urgency” (Delgado Benal, 2017) on their educational experiences with supporting their primary school children with homework. Their history of having had their basic education interrupted or denied shaped how, in the new country, they take on their foundation phase child‟s educational challenges. Their testimonios document the teaching and learning struggles that these mothers experience, as marked by marginalisation, frustration, and resistance. It also charts their personal gains and their understandings and awareness of the power of language to access educational networks and educational advancement.

4. Language, Gender and Migration: An Exploration of the Language of Rehabilitation in Nigerian IDP Camps

Author: Adebola Adebileje, Redeemer's University, Nigeria.

Migration happens either by choice or by force. In the north-eastern part of Nigeria, particularly in six states, insurgency has forced people, especially women and children to flee from their homes and comfortable livelihood, thereby becoming forced migrants (IDPs) in their homeland, hence internally displaced persons (IDPs). Although the Nigerian government, NGOs and international organisations provide basic amenities to rehabilitate these internal migrants, psycho-social support equally demands great attention as it helps to stabilize them emotionally. This study explores the effectiveness of psycho-social support programmes on the rehabilitation of displaced persons by exploring the dynamics of the language(s) used by service providers to disseminate contents to victims. Focusing on gendered notions embedded in the programmes of rehabilitation in IDP camps, the paper examines the effectiveness or otherwise of the language used in conveying these notions to the women. Gendered notions as female reproductive health services (including neonatal and maternity care), sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), HIV/AIDS treatment for women, feminine hygiene/sanitary needs, survival sex, survival prostitution, etc emerged in the various psychosocial programmes designed for rehabilitation. While English is the main language used in counselling, educating and disseminating other psycho-social therapy programmes designed for rehabilitation, majority of the migrants (75%) do not understand English. This raises questions about the effectiveness of such therapies and the victims‟ right to basic education. It implies that the victims, especially young women, may not have been healed of their psychosomatic trauma. In addition to highlighting how the language issue impacts their understanding, the study also draws attention to the need for the provision of gender-sensitive to military and non-military personnel, social workers, as well as judicial and health personnel involved in the IDP rehabilitation process.

Keywords: Rehabilitation, Insurgency, IDP Camps, Migrants, Psycho-social Support Programmes

5. Climbing to Success: Mobility and the Modern Kenyan Woman

Author: Fridah Erastus Kanana, Kenyatta University, Kenya & Philip W. Rudd, Kenya University, Kenya and Pittsburg University, USA .

This paper explores gender stereotyping and the consequences for women‟s mobility and career advances in Kenya. In Kenya, the recent academic year 2017-2018 was declared the year of the woman. Half or more of those who migrate to Nairobi from rural areas in search of employment are women. Kenyan women are today better educated, more employed, and are achieving higher career heights than ever before. However, as the women reach new heights, they experience new challenges; in fact, women as employees are, more than men, likely to have experienced gender related obstacles that others hardly observe or appreciate.

The purpose of the paper is to provide an examination of current perspectives of women‟s mobilities and what it takes to climb to success in Nairobi. The design of the paper is a sociocultural linguistic analysis of gender differences from the perspective of women attempting a climb to success. In spite of all the hype about the success of women in rising to new levels of career advancement, Kenyan women still do not attain the positions equal to those of Kenyan men. The paper provides linguistic evidence that while modern women in Africa have the skill-sets and determination required to achieve superlative advancement in lifetime careers, they are often rendered immobile for reasons associated with gender. This paper therefore adds further to the research on gender, women, and language in the work place, and it may well encourage potential educators, employees, and employers to pay a closer attention to the resilience and enormous potential of women who are struggling to make it in the tough world of career competition.

Keywords: Gender, Women, Stereotypes, Gender Roles, Social Mobility, Postcolonial, Slay Queens, Sheng

6. Rural-Urban exodus, Pragma-rhetorical codes and male-dominated discourses of Ejagham

Author: Comfort Ojonkpot, University of Buea, Cameroon.

Ejagham is both a people and a language. The language is spoken across borders between the Republic of Cameroon and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Apart from being a marker of identity, it is a chief tool of cultural transmission. The Ejaghams venerate ancestors through libation pouring, along with certain communicative styles aimed at influencing the ancestors. However, in bequeathing this age-old traditional discourse form from generation to generation, differences occur in the codes, accentuated by the wave of globalization and cross-border dynamics. This study hypothesizes on the impact of globalization on the pragma-rhetorical discourse of Ejagham libations as a result of „cross-border‟ differences between the rural and urban centres of Cameroon. In other words, there are distinctive differences between the libation discourse practices of Ejagham rural dwellers and those who live in the urban areas, while differences are also signaled between age groups, gender, and rural and urban dwellers, due to the wave of globalization. The study adopted an Ethnographic Descriptive Mixed-Methods design against the background of Critical Discourse Analysis Approach, focusing on pragmatics and rhetorical use of language. It examined different rite of passage ceremonies (births, marriages and funerals) in rural Manyu and in urban settings, making use of audio and video recordings and participant observations. It also subjected elders and family heads in the study area to structured and unstructured interviews, questionnaires, and focus-group discussions. The aim is to access the deep meanings of these ceremonies and the ethnic, gender and cross-border differences in their associated language.

7. Language, gender and ensnared migrancy: Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Trafficked, and other representations

Author: Eugenia Ada Amadi, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu, Nigeria.

Trans-Sahara Migration has become a serious global concern in sub-Saharan Africa due to the potential for loss of human capital for the departure countries. What is not generally appreciated is the role of language as a major instrument for ensnaring young female victims across the continental borders in the elusive search of the proverbial „milk and honey.‟ This study explores the dynamics of the language and its effect in promoting the Trans Saharan Migration of African women, particularly Nigerians. The vivid representation of ensnared migration, and the subsequent trafficking of women across the Sahara, provides a source for a detailed investigation of the language of trafficking. Adimora-Ezeigbo‟s Trafficked is one such representation. This study attempts a close reading and detailed analysis of this and similar representations in order to establish how deliberately structured languages of conviction, deception, enticement and persuasion act as catalyst for the illusory and frequently fatal female migration across African continental borders. Hence, language in this context has negative "perlocutionary effect" (Speech Acts: Austin 1962, etc) in activating the forced migration of African women across borders. The study establishes how language is implicitly and metaphorically used to lure African women into prostitution, servitude, neo-slavery and sundry dehumanization in foreign lands.

8. Physical/Spiritual Migration and Linguistic Categorization of Feminist Tendencies in the West African Europhone Fiction

Author: Babatunde Ayeleru, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Migration as a concept has gained prominence over the years in literary discourse . It is often physical, psychological or spiritual. It has diverse nomenclatures and interpretations, such as mobility, movement, exile or displacement. Feminist discourse, on the other hand, has assumed various dimensions in critical literary analysis. There exist various variants of Feminism such as Motherism, Womanism, Stiwanism, Moderate and Radical Feminism. Other theories, such as Masculinity and Male Studies, have also started gaining currency in literary discourse. This paper purposively selects four writers of different sociopolitical and linguistic backgrounds-Abimbola Adunni Adelakun‟s Under the Brown Rusted Roof, Lola Shoneyin‟s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (Nigerian Anglophone Writers), Sembène Ousmane‟s Les Bouts de bois de Dieu (Senegalese Francophone author) and IsaïeBiton Koulibaly‟s Ah…Les femmes! and Encore Les femmes…Toujours Les femmes! (Ivorian Francophone writer).The objective of this paper is to examine how physical and spiritual movements embarked upon by characters, especially female, in the selected texts have mitigated or reinforced the language and expression of women‟s deplorable conditions. It also attempts a categorization of feminist tendencies through the analyses of the motives of the movement and the specialized use of language by the selected writers. Adopting a combination of postcolonial, postmodernist and feminist theories, as well as stylistic approaches, the paper interrogates, classifies and ascertains the authors‟ literary approaches to the treatment of different forms of mobility as they affect women‟s conditions. The essay concludes that the authorial and characters‟ linguistic manipulations in the texts are pertinent to the determination of the interface between Migration and linguistic categorization of feminist tendencies in Europhone West African fiction.

Key words: Mobility, Feminism, Postmodernism, Stylistics, Adelakun, Shoneyin, SembèneOusmane and IsaïeBiton Koulibaly

9. ‘We are Partners’: Migration and Gender Role De/Reconstruction Of Northern Nigerian Women Immigrants

Author: Hameed Tunde Asiru, Umaru Musa Yar'adua University, Katsina, Nigeria & Fridah Kanana Erastus, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya.

There have been several attempts at deconstructing how female sexuality is stereotypically portrayed in Nigerian hip-hop songs and Nollywood movies. This growing attention is clear evidence of a corresponding increase in gender consciousness in Africa. Many of such studies have observed that everything about women has been sexualized, as common objects to gratify men‟s desires (Onanuga, 2017; Aromona, 2016; Adewoye et al, 2014; Oikelome, 2013), which further accentuates the ideology of phallocentrism, in feminist theoretical parlance. On the other hand, the migratory experiences of women (who are the major world migrant population) across geographical borders are marked with sexual assault and other human rights violation bordering on misogynistic tendencies (Adagbada, 2017; Plambech, 2016; Espin, 2006). In this paper, we investigate: (1) Nigerian immigrant women‟s deconstruction of their societal perception which positions their adherence to normative social roles as the yardstick for measuring morality and values in the society. (2) Their construction of new gender roles and sexuality against the core traditional prescriptions. (3) The (socio)linguistic implications of their migration experience. The study adopts an ethnographic approach by examining real-life experiences of immigrant northern Nigerian women through interviews. The subjects were three categories of immigrant women namely: those who moved from rural-urban centers to accompany their spouses who work in the cities; those who left their husbands in the rural areas and moved to the city in search of better opportunities to fend for their families; and those who are in positions of authority.

10. Représentations du genre et perceptions de la migration à travers la musique urbaine en Côte d’Ivoire. (“Representations and perceptions of gender and migration through urban music in Côte d'Ivoire”).

Author: Yves Marcel Youant & Jean-Claude Dodo, Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Cocody-Abidjan Département des Sciences du Langage Institut de Linguistique Appliquée.
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En Côte d'Ivoire, la musique urbaine est dominée par deux genres majeurs, à savoir le Zouglou et le Coupé-décalé. Dans leur expression musicale, ces deux genres font un recours permanent à la thématique de la femme mais aussi à celle de la migration des populations. Entre portraits, satires et histoires vécues, la musique urbaine s'y pose comme le thermomètre des phénomènes sociaux et surtout comme un révélateur des représentations populaires du rapport homme-femme et de la réalité de la migration telles que perçues dans une société ivoirienne, qui à l'instar du reste du monde, est en pleine mutation. Cet article observe, à partir du langage qui en découle, les caractéristiques de l'identité socio-culturelle de la femme en Côte d'Ivoire, de même que celles liées à la perception des phénomènes migratoires qui jalonnent son histoire contemporaine.

Mots clés: Musique urbaine – migration – genre – représentations


In Ivory Coast, urban music is dominated by two major genres, namely Zouglou and Coupédécalé. In their musical expression, these two genres make a permanent recourse to the theme of the woman but also to that of the migration of the populations. Between portraits, satires and lived stories, urban music arises as a thermometer of social phenomena and especially as a revealer of popular representations of the relationship between man and woman and the reality of migration as perceived in an Ivorian society, which, like the rest of the world, is changing. This paper observes, from the resulting language, the characteristics of the sociocultural identity of women in Côte d'Ivoire, as well as those related to the perception of migratory phenomena that punctuate its contemporary history.

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