Panel 8

Rethinking gendered mobilities and immobilities

Panel organisers: Johanna Bergman Lodin, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

E-mail: johanna.bergman.lodin@slu.se

In many cultures, social norms surrounding mobility in public spaces add to the physical constraints induced by underdeveloped mobility-scapes by particularly curtailing women’s freedom to move outside their residential compounds and beyond. Marital status, ethnicity and class are examples of other social identities negotiating individual mobility. Constrained mobility may also influence access to important resources and services, consequently impacting social mobility over a life course.

Mobility is often conceptualized as revealed movement and used as an indicator of agency and empowerment. However, not all forms of movement are empowering and reflect agency. Norms can also induce mobility pressures on already time-constrained gendered subjects, e.g. linked to constructions of masculine responsibility for provisioning. The everyday or permanent movements of women and men may therefore also reflect their disempowerment within their households and or communities.

In this panel I invite contributions revisiting the mobility concept by exploring its gendered meanings and power relations, and or interrogating the multiple ways gender and mobility in rural and urban Africa intersect, including causes and effects of gendered mobilities and immobilities.

Topical questions include but are not limited to:

  • How can we theorize mobility in a gender sensitive way, which also accounts for other intersecting social identities?
  • How do social norms shape patterns of gendered mobility and immobility?
  • How are gendered mobilities and immobilities influencing women’s and men’s empowerment and livelihoods in specific contexts?
  • What role is there for virtual mobility in relation to this? To what extent can it substitute for physical mobility?
  • To what extent should power, agency, identity and subjectivity be considered as not only gendered dimensions relating to mobility but as constituted in mobility/immobility per se?

 

Approved abstracts panel 8

1. Female immobilities: Care work and fragile social relations in Burkina Faso

Autor: Helle Samuelsen, Associate Professor & Head of Dept. University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
E-mail: H.Samuelsen@anthro.ku.dk

Dependency of long-distance social relations in the form of remittances are becoming increasingly important for rural citizens in Burkina Faso, as in many other West African countries. These relations are, however, rather fragile, particularly for the wives, who are becoming even more immobilized, as they are left with all the everyday responsibilities at home.  The often very sporadic contact, they have with their husbands, who may be working for years in other countries, leave them in a void of ‘double uncertainty’.  This includes both uncertainties about how to manage the next meal and the next child illness, and relational uncertainties about their position in the household of the absent husband’s family. Based on long-term fieldwork in Burkina Faso including a series of interviews with women ‘staying behind’, I focus on the often implicit, unarticulated and silent care ethics of these women and mothers. The notion of care ethics originates from feminist anthropology, but there is also a strong connectivity to Løgstrup’s conception of the ethical. According to Løgtrup, human life is “not first solitary, and then, as if by accident, lived together with other human beings” (in Fink, 2007). The doing of care, often includes brute materiality and hard work, as stressed by Wilkinson and Kleinman (2016). High prevalence of poor nutrition and infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea becomes a vicious circle, where children constantly are sick, and where mothers constantly have to consider what actions they should take in order to prevent or mitigate the next case of sickness. Hoping that their husbands eventually succeeds as migrant laborers, the wives ‘staying behind’ are in the meantime left in a kind of limbo with a very precarious economy, stripped from possibilities of pursuing educational aspirations, and in a very fragile position within the in-law family.

2. The city as her oyster? Rural-urban migration and the gendering of public space

Author: Elizabeth Dessie, Unit for Human Geography, Department of Economy and Society, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
E-mail: elizabeth.dessie@gu.se

While feminist geography has, by large, traditionally reflected the Anglo-American experience of womanhood under patriarchal structures, critical and postcolonial theories have expanded these realms to incorporate an understanding of gender and geographies beyond the global North and across spaces that are increasingly reflexive and unendingly intersectional. With urbanisation rates set to skyrocket across sub-Saharan Africa in the coming decades, situating conceptualisations of gender within the social, economic and territorial backdrop of cities is crucial to understanding the processes and histories that form them. Drawing on fieldwork currently being conducted in Addis Ababa, this paper suggests the Ethiopian capital is undergoing a new gendering of public space. This gendering can be described as the artefact of livelihood strategies adopted by a distinct fraction of the urban population - recent rural-urban migrants - who are shifting norms and transforming relations through their spatial practices. By doing so, migrants, in their newly fitted urban stature, are re-producing the economic and social landscape of the streets. The paper leans on early findings and observations of these changes which point to the marginalisation of rural-urban migrant women’s ability to claim the city by reforming the public space into a distinctly male arena, thereby disempowering women through dimensions of hardships which jeopardise their plight for social as well as economic empowerment.

3. The Continuity and Trajectory of Swazi Female Mobility in Perspective

Author: Hlengiwe Portia Dlamini, U. Pretoria, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
E-mail: hlingoline@gmail.com

This paper focuses on the problematic of female mobility in colonial and post-colonial Swaziland, especially after the demise of apartheid within a patriarchal cultural context. With reference to the colonial period, it is argued that unprecedented labour mobility, inaugurated by the mining industry in South Africa, was largely engendered. This mobility was also marked by the unbelievable restrictions placed on the movement of women by the colonial administration, chiefs, husbands, fathers and brothers on patriarchal and cultural grounds. The multiple successful and unsuccessful strategies women employed to circumvent these vexatious restrictions is examined. With reference to the post-colonial period, the author posits that the   crumbling of apartheid in the 1990s concurrently facilitated and accelerated the mobility of Swazi women to South Africa. However, more emphasis has been placed in literature, constructed through masculinity and media-friendly lenses, focusing on  the circulation of female prostitution rings and women trafficking as the principal feature of female mobility. Using the concept of intersectionality, it is revealed that women professionals, skilled workers, lecturers, and musicians were an important component of female mobility. All women definitely do not belong to the same class and cannot be treated as such. This paper is constructed on critical text analysis, newspapers and interviews.

Keywords:  Female mobility, colonial and post-colonial Swaziland; patriarchal and cultural norms, intersectionality.

4. Rethinking gendered mobilities and immobilities: A conceptual framework

Author: Johanna Bergman Lodin, Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala, Sweden.
E-mail: Johanna.bergman.lodin@slu.se

In many cultures, social norms surrounding mobility in public spaces add to the physical constraints induced by underdeveloped mobility-scapes by particularly curtailing women’s freedom to move outside their residential compounds and beyond. Marital status, ethnicity and class are examples of other social identities negotiating individual mobility. Constrained mobility may also influence access to important resources and services, consequently impacting social mobility over a life course. At the same time, norms can induce mobility pressures on already time-constrained gendered subjects, e.g. linked to constructions of masculine responsibility for provisioning. Much research on how gender and mobility intersect uses rather narrow (and often implicit) conceptualizations of mobility that only allow for capturing gendered differences in observable daily mobility practices (i.e. revealed movement). In doing so, the opportunity to interrogate the causes and effects of such differences is lost. This effectively de-politicizes mobility and deprives it of its gendered meanings and power relations. Yet, mobility is essentially political and gendered. In this paper, I argue that power, agency, identity and subjectivity are constituted in mobility/immobility per se and that this should also be reflected in how we understand mobility. Building on the many important contributions by especially (feminist) geographers, I frame mobility as being constituted of three interlinked dimensions: movement, access (to opportunity) and ability (to decide in relation to these), and re-emphasize the need to understand mobility as the construction of possibilities for movement more so than actual traffic. This re-conceptualization allows us to theorize mobility in a more gender-sensitive way that transcends simplistic assumptions such as that all forms of (women’s) movement are empowering and reflect agency. To shed empirical light on the theoretical debate, I draw on research from Kenya and Nigeria. The paper can inform both researchers and the theories of change of development practitioners.

To the top