Panel 19

A Gender Perspective on African Mobilities

Panel organiser: Amanda Gouws, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.


Neoliberalism fosters a deeply gendered and racialized modality of human mobility characterized by conditions of heightened vulnerability that affect men and women differently. In the global neoliberal capitalist economy there is growing evidence of a feminization of migration due to the continued impoverishment and marginalization of many women in developing countries and the increasing demand for female labour, among other things. The feminization of migration is viewed as involving a qualitative change in women’s migratory roles, from being dependents of male migrants to being autonomous economic migrants. As a result, gender (alongside, and inextricably intertwined with race) is increasingly recognized as key to understanding migration and its causes, consequences and implications.

However, despite these insights, women’s mobility in Africa has continued to receive little attention in migration studies, and is largely glossed over and ignored in national legislation and policy.

In this panel we want to explore in rich detail, and across disciplines, some of the questions that emerge when migration in and from Africa is viewed through the lens of gender. Such questions include, for example: how are African nationalisms articulated through ideologies of gender, covertly inscribed into immigration legislation and policy? What role does feminized migration play in shaping social orders and driving transformative social change? What does sexual violence against migrant women reveal about state formation as gendered and gendering process in African contexts? How are migrant women understood as representative of cultural difference because of their portrayal as repositories of custom and custodians of identity, and because of their location within the family?  What are the consequences of carceral politics for women who migrate illegally?

With this panel we hope to center the experiences and perceptions of African women migrants and thereby shed new light on the implications and meanings of women’s mobility in and from Africa.

Approved abstracts panel 19

1. Protecting Migrants from Hate Crimes/Hate Speech – Promoting Carceral Feminism

Author: Amanda Gouws, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

South Africa annually receive thousands of migrants from other African countries.  Some arrive legally while others enter illegally.  Most flee the crushing poverty and civil wars of their home countries to find a better life in South Africa.  Because of poverty they integrate into South Africa communities that are the poorest of the poor, where people daily compete for scarce resources.  This had led to large scale xenophobic violence against them because of perceptions that “they take our jobs and our women”. In 2008 thousands of migrants were displaced after a spate of serious mass xenophobic attacks that left many dead.  Many were called the Makwerekwere (the unwanted) and many women were raped.

Currently the South African government is passing the Prevention and Combatting of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill through parliament in order to combat hate speech and acts of violence in the hope that it will reduce levels of hate speech and hate crimes.  On face value this law will help to combat violence against foreign nationals, as well as curbing racist slurs and the “corrective rape” of lesbians. The bill is, however, silent on the acts of law enforces such as the South African Police Force that is deeply implicated in violence against foreign nationals.  On the contrary it protects law enforcers.

This bill is an example of the carceral state that is a form of neo-liberal governance that moves away from providing social welfare, but rather see the incarceration of people through penal policies as a solution to social problems such as unemployment, poverty, inequality and Afrophobia. Rather than addressing perceptions and attitudes of South Africans, it feeds into the ANC Women’s Leagues’ idea that perpetrators “should rot in jail”.    This paper aims to analyse the Prevention and Combatting of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill and its draconian sentencing provisions for perpetrators to show that it promotes a carceral state and carceral feminism that may not protect foreign nationals, but make their lives more dangerous and precarious.

2. Race, rape and the Rainbow Nation: A decolonial feminist analysis of South Africa’s immigration system

Author: Azille Coetzee, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

The recurring xenophobic violence against foreign migrants in postapartheid South Africa takes a very specific tone: it is a battle between two sets of men. “They steal our jobs and our women” is the ringing refrain offered as justification by South African men for the violence perpetrated against Africans from elsewhere. This narrative erases women from the side of perpetrator and victim of xenophobic violence. It reduces South African women to property or a commodity reserved for South African men, and migrant women to the property or baggage of migrant men. This is therefore a paradigm in which the black woman exists only in relation to men and is not seen as political subject (as citizen or migrant) in her own right. The xenophobic violence in South Africa does not only point to the sexism at the heart of the new South African nation, but also to its persistent racism. While black African migrants are violently kept at the margins of South African social and political life, white migrants are left unaffected and do not feature in the discourse at all. This sexism and racism displayed in South Africa’s approach to immigration has a long history. It is entrenched in the legislative and policy framework on migration, in a way that shows striking continuation with the apartheid framework. On this basis it can be argued that the South African postcolonial postapartheid state has inherited the heteropatriarchal nationalism of the white settler state, at the centre of which is the white masculine colonial subject and other modern colonial epistemic fictions. I argue in this paper that the new South African project of nation building has not managed to dislodge the underlying presuppositions of white settler nationalism. Belonging is still anchored within heterosexual masculinity and whiteness. The result is that the African migrant is unwelcome, the black South Africa woman is silenced and objectified and the African migrant woman erased. In this article I explore the continuities between white imperial heteropatriarchy and the heteropatriarchal politics of the postcolonial postapartheid South African nation, by examining the nation’s stance on immigration on legislative and societal levels. Using the postcolonial feminist scholarship of Jacqui Alexander, Maria Lugones and Gayatri Spivak I ask what the erasure of the black woman (as citizen and migrant) reveals about the South African postcolony and its political imaginary. I examine the workings of Empire in South Africa’s history of immigration control through a decolonial feminist lens and in the process I connect three issues that are usually approached as separate problems, namely the enduring political marginalization of South African women, the xenophobic response to the black African immigrant, and the political and legislative erasure of the black African woman migrant.

3. Queer on Queer Violence: Homopopulism & African LGBTQ Mobility

Author: James Lotter, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

On the evening of 11 May 2018, twenty five men were arrested in Cameroon on charges associated with “homosexuality” during a nation-wide purge in a country where homosexual behaviour is punishable with up to five years of incarceration. Whilst this is the most recent reported affront on the LGBTQ community in Africa, such sentiments extend beyond the borders of a single nation with state-sponsored persecution occurring frequently throughout the continent. Of the 55 countries that make up the African continent, 34 currently have laws that criminalise homosexuality, three of which include the death penalty (Sudan, Somalia and Northern Nigeria). Many LGBTQ individuals residing in these countries have chosen to remain, forming part of a vital network of resistance. Others have fled persecution often for the sake of their own lives as well as the lives of their families and loved ones. Like many marginalised communities, LGBTQ individuals cross borders for the sake of political and economic security. Europe and South Africa are preferred destinations due to their geographic proximity, economic opportunities and subsequent legislative protections of the LGBTQ community, amongst others. Whilst asylum seeking can be a legal option for many, complexities associated with identity parameters and political pressures remain an obstacle.

With a specific focus on the migration of African LGBTQ individuals to the “Global North” this paper will explore the structural constraints associated with African Queer Mobility within the context of global geo-political shifts and the subsequent rise of anti-immigration populist-nationalist sentiments in Europe and North America. Through employing LGBTQ Asylum seeking in Europe as a case study, this paper will draw on the theoretical lenses of Queer IR in order to understand how and to what extent European Queer subjects are implicated in enforcing restrictions on African Queer Mobility. As such, it argues that the emergence of Homopopulism has resulted in increasing Queer on Queer violence through LGBTQ support of anti-immigrant and carceral (populist-nationalist) regimes.

Puar’s (2017) work on Homonationalism and Weber’s (2016) Queer IR analysis of the “fearful, patriotic sovereign subject” form the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of Homopopulism-an intersection of the politics of queer with the politics of fear. I argue that this has resulted in the formation of a new Queer disciplinary subject: the Queer (non) Secular Nationalist (Lotter, 2018).

4. Trafficking in Persons and Migration of Girls in Nigeria: Narration Analysis of Selected Victims

Author: Onyinyechi Nancy Nwaolikpe, Department of Mass Communication, Caleb University Imota, Nigeria.

In 2016, Nigeria was ranked as first in terms of number of arrivals on the Italian coasts, particular increase in women and unaccompanied minors and these Nigerian female migrants ended up being exploited as sexual slaves or domestic workers. For many Nigerians, migration holds key to better economic opportunities but a large number of those who migrate to other countries face abusive and exploitative conditions without effective access to legal protection. This study was conducted to determine the challenges of the effect of trafficking in persons for the girl child, her family and the nation and the challenges of this act to the development of Nigeria and its’ developmental sustainability. The study anchored on feminist theory, applying it to the roles, values and experiences of girls violated through sexual abuse and domestic abuse. The study was qualitative, it presented a narrative analysis of interviews with selected female adolescents who were victims of trafficking in persons. Insight was gained on the challenges and effects on the victims, families and the nation at large by giving voice to these female adolescents who have experienced sexual abuse and domestic abuse. The study recommended that achieving gender equality and sustainable development in Nigeria would require the government to design polices and frameworks that will curb human trafficking against women and girls in Nigeria and that would also empower them.

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