Panel 32

Urban change and shifting gender dynamics in Africa

Panel organisers: Cristina Udelsmann Rodrigues, Annika Teppo, Patience Mususa, The Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden

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Urban growth in Africa, in particular the continuous and accelerated expansion of urban areas in the last decades, has also involved transformations in gender relations. While migration to cities has required redefinition in terms of background rural dispositions; the rapid shifts in urban life over the last years have also changed the expected and experienced roles of both men and women in the African city. The specificities of urban economies and of urban sociabilities shape the way gender relations are built and reproduced, conveying specific roles and behaviours to men and women, to the relationships between and among them. Moreover, in the present context of important global changes, and within the wide spectrum of alternative and conservative possibilities that are creating new modernities, urban African men and women are challenged to produce and engage in new types of gender relations.

This panel addresses the multiplicity of transformations taking place in urban Africa and their effects on gender relations, particularly in the inequalities involved. It focuses not only in the material aspects of urban life – related to urban economies, access to resources, access to urban land, to services and infrastructure – but also addresses the transformation of models, perceptions and rationales in women and men’s roles.

Approved abstracts Panel 32

1. Gender relations in Shashemene, Ethiopia: Change and continuity

Author: Gunilla Bjerén (Stockholm University, Sweden)

During the 1970ies and 80ies I worked on a case study of urbanization in Ethiopia, taking the town of Shashemene as the case. Shashemene was then and still is one of the most dynamic urban centres in the country. In 2008 I was able to collect data for a follow up study of the original one, which was based on survey data from 1973.

In this paper I will present some findings related to changing gender relations at the two points in time. First I want to bring up some problems in studying change over a period as long as 35 years and at a time when so many factors are changing at the same time: the setting for the study, the theoretical approach to gender relations, and the researcher herself. Then there is the problematic of defining and measuring gender relations. The first study was entirely based on survey data relating to migration and livelihoods. The second study repeated the first, with extended and more nuanced questions. In addition there we gathered of life history interviews which brought in a qualitative element, in addition to what the researchers learnt during extended visits to Shashemene.

Findings from the first study were that gender, urban mobility, and earning one’s living were closely intertwined. Women were economically active in different ways but simultaneously dependent on their relations to men directly or indirectly. Adult women and men lived in separate but interdependent economic and social spheres. How much of this has remained the same, or been transformed but with a consistent core? These are some of the questions I want to discuss.

2. Urbanization and shifting gender dynamics in Ghanaian mines - no man’s work, no woman’s job, rather, people’s employment

Authors: Rufai Haruna Kilu, Eira Andersson, Mohammed - Aminu Sanda & Maria Uden (Luleå University of Technology, Sweden)

This paper explores transformations that have occurred as a result of urbanization, leading to increasing women participation within the Ghanaian mine jobs. Over the past decades, scholars of gender have mapped women’s entry into numerous occupations, with the realization that, mining seem entirely male-dominated job. Also, in industrial and organizational discourses and representations, mine jobs appear naturalized as masculine domains. In some jurisdictions, the mining space is not only perceived a male profession, but also coded as masculine, because of its close association with science, engineering, the use of tools and machines. The warm, humid, dark interiors of the mine pits are also mysterious and arouse a sense of danger and risk.

As a consequence of these and related determinants, society perceives and portray the mine job as highly gendered. Therefore, whenever women entered the mining profession, they are viewed to have crossed cultural, social and professional boundaries.

However, recent developments in urban growth in Ghana, the continuous and accelerated expansion of urban areas, occasions redefinition in terms of background rural dispositions, transformations in gender relations, and a change in expectations, experiences, and in roles of both men and women. This paper therefore, set to answer the question as to what ways has urbanization in Ghana influence the shifting gender dynamics in the world of mine jobs.

Adopting a qualitative approach, couple with review of previous empirical studies, this paper settles on some outcomes of urbanization like, demystification of technical / engineering education, policy interventions, changing family structures, changing gender roles and patterns of employment as contributing to increasing women entry into the mine jobs.

3. Social capital as a coping mechanism for women small scale traders in the informal economy in Nairobi, Kenya

Authors: Daniel M. Muia, (Kenyatta University, Kenya) Anne W Kamau, (Nairobi University, Kenya) Paul Kamau (Nairobi University, Kenya) Harun Baiya (Site Enterprise Promotion, Kenya) Jane Ndung’u (Site Enterprise Promotion, Kenya)

Gender relations are increasingly being transformed in the informal urban economy in Kenya. Women small scale traders (WSSTs) have had to cope by neither relying on their spouses as traditionally expected nor on profit maximisation.. This paper argues that for WSSTs social capital and is at the core of their business operations. Their networks are not just sources of social support but also business support for capital and credit for their businesses. WSSTs control their resources irrespective of their marital status. This paper is based on primary data collected from 398 WSSTs in five urban informal settlements in Nairobi between June and August 2015 using a mixed method approach. Access to credit for WSSTs was a major handicap in their business. The requirements by the credit institutions available were too stringent for small businesses due to requirement for guarantee and collaterals. WSSTs resorted to forming groups (merry go round or chamas (67.5%), women groups (27%) and associations including SACCOs (6%).) so that, besides other benefits, including networking, they could get financial credit. While many of these groups are not registered, they are mainly involved in giving loans and credit besides offering welfare support to their members. The spouses/partners have no say in the businesses. This Paper concludes that WSSTs belong to groups (chama) for social support and also financial support. They do not revert to their spouses/partners for support. The membership of the chama serves as guarantors for WSSTs to access credit. Thus intervention targeting WSSTs should have focus on the social capital development mechanisms as entry point. Equally the emerging gender dynamics of women having full control of their resources needs to be appreciated as an important turning point in gender relations.

Key words: Social capital, informal settlements, women small scale traders; informal economy, Nairobi.

4. Urban change and rural continuity in African gender ideologies and practices

Author: Alice Evans (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Across Africa, there is growing support for gender equality (such as in terms of girls’ education, women’s employment and leadership). However, this trend tends to be concentrated in urban areas Why is this? And what does it tell us about the causes of egalitarian social change?

The aim is to collectively discuss and reflect upon rural-urban differences in gender ideologies and practices. Why is the prevalence of (and support for) female genital cutting lower in urban areas (UNICEF, 2013)? Why are people with equivalent characteristics (age, education, occupation, marital status, wealth and media access) less likely to justify violence against women if they live in urban areas of Sub-Saharan Africa? And why are there statistically significant associations between urban residency and women’s participation in household decision-making? Why does the urban tend to disrupt gender inequalities in Africa? And what can we learn from this?

Drawing on comparative rural-urban research in Zambia suggests that urban heterogeneity (due to intersecting migration channels) increases the likelihood of exposure to women undertaking socially valued roles. This appears to undermine gender stereotypes and enable a positive feedback loop, catalysing increased flexibility in gender divisions of labour. Further, greater proximity to clinics and police allows urban women to control their fertility and secure external support against domestic violence.

But does this hypothesis hold across the continent? What else is significant, in other parts of Africa? Further, while disruption is more likely to occur in urban (rather than rural) Africa, this is likely in conjunction with further factors. So what else matters? What enables greater support for gender equality in urban areas, and how might this be amplified in rural and urban areas?

5. Gendered power and identities at the rural-urban interface in Zimbabwe

Author: Magnfríður Júlíusdóttir (University of Iceland, Iceland)

The rural-urban divide in community formation, behaviour and attitudes has interested social scientist from the early days of industrial urbanisation in Europe in the 19 century. In the idea of the rural as a conservative place and the urban as a progressive place, disruption of traditional power structures and greater individual freedom and heterogeneity in urban spaces is a common narrative on the transformative power of urbanisation. In the paper I will draw on my research in eastern Zimbabwe in the 1990s to reflect on changes and continuity in gender relations in this urban socioapatial context. Apart from common themes in explaing the rural-urban divide, like selective migration of younger and better educated people to urban areas, I argue that the disruption of gendered power and identities based on land in rural communities is an important dimension in understanding change in gendered practices and ideologies in urban spaces. At the same time the long standing and frequent mobility between rural and urban areas raises interesting questions on the mobility of transformative ideas, as well as resistance to change, at the intersection of gender, generation and economic inequalities in rural and urban places.

6. The contradictions, ambiguities and ethical dilemmas of being a young man in contemporary South Africa

Author: Hannah Dawson (Oxford University, United Kingdom)

Informal settlements in South Africa have often been portrayed as homogeneous places typified by deprivation, informality, and violence. This paper takes up the challenge presented by Jacob Dlamini (2009) and Roy (2011) to capture the diversity, complexity, resourcefulness and dynamism of the social and cultural life of Zandspruit. It does this by suggesting Zandspruit, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg, is best understood as a nucleus of heterogeneity where different, often divergent, moral frameworks are negotiated. This paper explores these contested domains and relations of meaning by interpreting the diversity of young men’s economic and social practices and arrangements in a context of unemployment, superfluity and devaluation.

In exploring the social and moral categories young men construct and use to constitute themselves in relation to others, this paper pays particular attention to the ways in which young men establish, maintain or curtail social relations, expectations and obligations (to kin, peers, romantic and sexual partners). This paper illustrates how young men reconcile, negotiate and contest the multiple and sometimes competing interpretations of what it means to be a man in contemporary South Africa. Specific attention is paid to the moral, social, and economic implications of young men’s money flows, transactions and distribution to show how moral subjectivities are not only mediated but also constituted through and by diverse articulations of obligation and relatedness.

7. Honest labour or human trafficking; the exploitation of female domestic workers in Kenya

Author: Dulo Nyaoro (Moi University, Kenya)

Urbanization in Kenya has generated a great deal of social and economic transformations. In Kenya like many countries in the developing world, one of the greatest vehicles for social transformations is rural urban migration. While urban areas provide space for great economic opportunities and personal development, they are also spaces where the tragedies of neoliberal prescriptions of market forces are deeply experienced. The neoliberal orthodoxy that drives labour and capital creates great chasm of inequality. This inequality is dichotomous at both macro and micro level as manifested in the binaries of developed and developing countries, or rich and poor people. However such grand concepts hide human agency in the perpetuation or experience of inequality.

One of the enduring creations of urbanization in modern Kenya is the domestic house help. While at the beginning of the formation of the salaried employment, house helps were typically relatives, the increasing need for formal education and change in family formations required that house helps be paid. Domestic work has come to symbolize the sharp edges of class formation and gender inequality and exploitation. The house help in Kenya is typically a teenage girl, semi-illiterate, from a poor background and powerless. Compared to the dominant norm projected by neoliberal capitalism of a white, male, rich and powerful, the deviation of the house help from this norm of success is complete.

This paper argues that several reasons converge to make the female house help the embodiment of urban crises in Kenya. First, the kinship ties which link housemaids and their employers have not completely died. This allows for exploitations. Secondly, neoliberal economic ideas disadvantage the most vulnerable groups, and female house maids are the most vulnerable people; third, poverty and greed conspire to make families expose their female children to exploitation. Fourth in the class formation, the house help is at the bottom of the labour hierarchy, without union protections. Fifth, the law offers little protection to the house maid making the position of the housemaid informal.

Key Words; Urbanization, housemaids, poverty, gender, discrimination

8. Expectations of beauty: the woman in Nairobi

Author: Lydia Muthuma (Technical University of Kenya, Kenya)

Contemporary Nairobi accords masculinity the official role of heading a family. However, in this society, the man of the family, the father and husband, is not tasked with the responsibility of reflecting that family's honour through his sense of beauty as displayed in his dress. This role has curiously been reserved for the woman. What are Nairobi's expectations of a woman's personal appearance (grooming and general attire)? What underlies these expectations? Does appearing beautiful (well groomed) connote intangible goodness? Why is this role/expectation placed on the woman rather than the man?

This paper is about authentic feminine beauty in Nairobi. It is an echo of Lisa Mladinich's (2015) query: "which women exemplify beauty in your life?" I pose this same question to Nairobians in order to find out their standard of feminine beauty and whether this standard is identical from the perspective of both genders.

An assumption that Nairobians follow the global fad beamed by the current mass media is difficult to accept especially in the face of #mydressmychoice, an open online conversation carried out in response to a public beating of a woman dressed 'incorrectly' or indecently. The men who beat her up claimed that she was ill dressed; she was dressed like today's girlish supermodel in body hugging clothes. She was like many a cover model that appears in women's magazines all over Nairobi.

#mydressmychoice suggests that public expectations, of feminine beauty, are not  choreographed to the dominant cultural image carried by the mass media and social media. Some men, according to this debate, appear to tolerate the image while violently disagreeing with its realisation in their womenfolk. They do not believe in, accept or allow the flesh-and-blood supermodel that otherwise lives among them courtesy of smartphones, computers, tablets, the television and bill boards. This supermodel or movie star, painted and airbrushed into picture perfect photoshop, appears offensive in reality (i.e. in the flesh-and-blood version) raising a question about public images and their relation (or lack of it) to everyday life. 

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