Panel 2

Gender, Mobility and Change

Panel organiser: Diana H. Madsen, Senior Researcher, Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden


Postcolonial feminist critical perspectives provide important insights on the intersection of gender and race and on gendered and racialised representations of migrants. The panel will explore how postcolonial feminist insights inform theories and methodologies for research on gender, mobility and change and can work to deconstruct existing stereotypes and destabilise representations. Which new theoretical concepts and methodologies have been developed in studies of gender, mobility and change? How have insights from postcolonial feminism been used in new studies on gender, mobility and change? The panel will look into studies on gender and migration from specific African contexts and sectors as well representations of African migrants in culture and art to explore how migration has influenced gender relations. What are the consequences for notions of men and masculinities? And how has migration changed the roles of women?

With this panel, we hope to challenge existing gendered stereotypes and representations on migration and explore new tendencies on gender, mobility and change.

Approved abstracts panel 2

1. “When I grow up, I want to be like you”: young men, poverty and aspirational masculinities in contemporary Nairobi

Author: Carolyne Egesa, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Building on recent calls for focus on street-level optimism about life and the world, exemplified in Appadurai’s (2013) concept of ethics of possibility, this paper takes up the question of “aspirational masculinities” among poor young men living in marginalized neighborhoods in Nairobi, Kenya. For many of these young men, aspirational is the best way to describe their longing for particular forms of manhood, which remain beyond their reach due to economic marginality.  Despite their economic marginality, most men associated ‘proper’ masculinity with hegemonic societal norms, including marriage, provisioning, breadwinning, wealth accumulation, and self-reliance. Perhaps as compensation for their failure to consistently perform such modes of hegemonic masculinity, however, these men articulated strong aspirations for masculinities that embody values of care such as positive emotion, interdependence, relationality, and the rejection of domination and its associated traits. Drawing on examples from 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper attempts to theorize the complex structural, social and individual factors that contribute to the aspirational ‘caring masculinities. We contend that the masculinity aspirations of poor Nairobi youth are complex; fashioned at the crossroads of structural constraints and agentive projects for a good life, and simultaneously supportive and resistive of traditional hegemonic manliness ideals.  Limited and mediated through their location on a peculiar local and global context, these young men’s aspirational masculinities both reflect an objective condition of practical and enduring inequality as well as a deep desire for positive social change.

2. Understanding transnational teacher migration: narrative expressions of women teachers in southern Africa

Authors: Nontokozo Mashiya and Dipane Hlalele, University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

This paper provides an exploration and subsequent understanding of the concept and practices of transnational women teacher migration in the southern African region. Drawing from the premise that cherishes understanding as a fluid, pluralistic and reciprocal exercise, we tap into the narrative expressions of women teachers in basic and higher education to understand the nature and factors at play in their migration. Transnational teacher migration is a trend that is seen to predominantly emanate from emerging to developed economies. Whilst emigration is seen in a negative light in that it robs fledgling economies of their valuable assets and purchasing power, developed economies usually reap the rewards of a skilled workforce. In addition, women teachers may be presumed to be less mobile than their male counterparts in many parts of the African continent. Couched within Appreciative Inquiry, the presenters unravel women teachers’ narratives regarding their migration to other countries. For various reasons attributable to the ease with which certain jobs in the teaching fraternity may be accessed, most women teachers chose countries closest to their homes whilst fewer seem to opt  for the available opportunities further afield.

3. Refugees under Western Eyes: Mobility, Gender and Change – Insights, Tendencies and Perspectives on Research in Refugee Camps

Author: Diana Højlund Madsen, Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden.

Based on readings of existing case studies on gender in African refugee camps (for example in Algeria, Burundi, Kenya and Mauritania) the paper debates the understandings of gender and gendered representations of refugee women and men and interlinked male and female refugee workers. The studies seem to be divided in two groups respectively with an isolated focus on women listing different types of violence against women taking place in refugee camps describing a ‘deficit’ situation and women merely as victims of violence (for example González 2016; Martin 2017). The other group of studies analyses the gender dynamics aiming to explain the changes spurred about by the refugee situation and to deconstruct stereotypical representations of the ‘ideal female / male refugee’ in need of saving by the male and female refugee workers and UNHCR (for example Fidddian-Quasmiyeb 2010; Grabska 2011; Olivius 2016; 2017 & Turner 2003; 2017). The refugee women are respectively portrayed as ‘victims’ without agency or ‘equality ambassadors’ in a process of liberation with the assistance of the refugee workers and UNHCR as a part of their civilising mission. The refugee men are often portrayed as ‘perpetrators’ constituting a barrier for women’s empowerment and as being ‘emasculated’ related to their refugee situation and the dependency on UNHCR. As such refugees and their culture are often perceived as being ‘backwards’ and ‘suppressed’ in contrast to the ‘modern’ and ‘liberated’ west represented by the refugee workers and UNHCR.

The studies seriously questions stereotypical assumptions pointing towards differences and power struggles between refugee women and alternative strategies for men. Drawing on postcolonial feminism the paper questions the perceptions of refugees under western eyes (rephrased from Mohanty 1988) represented by the refugee workers and UNHCR as well as the inside of the western represented by refugee workers and UNHCR. Based on these insights and tendencies perspectives on future research on mobility, gender and change will be presented.

4. Feminist Thinking, Travelling Theories, Global Inequalities: North/South and South/North mobility of concepts and ideas

Author: Signe Arnfred, Department of SocialSciences and Business, Roskilde University, Denmark.

Transnational migration flows are marked by global inequalities. So are also transnational flows of concepts and ideas. This paper investigates the sometimes contradictory flows and transformations of feminist thinking, from colonialism onwards, with a focus on Africa. With colonialism and Christian missions, European thinking and ideas settled in Africa. Generally as tools of power, and with a male bias; European thinking at that point in time was androcentric. European thinking was, however, also used for other ends: all African leaders of struggles for Independence had attended European mission schools and/or universities. But also subversive knowledge was male biased. In the post-World War II era of ‘development’, by inspiration from Western women’s movements (from the 1970s onwards) critique of implicit male bias in development projects was carried to Africa by Western donors; first in terms of WID (Women-in-Development), later GAD (Gender-and-Development). Western feminist thinking also inspired incipient African feminist ideas. However, the critical intentions of WID, and particularly GAD, were co-opted by powerful donor institutions; in World Bank contexts ‘gender equality’ became a tool of economic growth. Travelling of feminist ideas from South to North is a more recent phenomenon, subject to other types of obstacles and difficulties. African gender scholars criticise Western concepts and ideas regarding gender. This critique often moves on an epistemological level, challenging e.g. implicitly taken-for-granted gender relations of power. Reception in the global North of this type of critique is, however – even among fellow feminists – an uphill struggle. Also in the world of thinking and ideas, flows and mobility North-South run smoother than vice versa.

The paper details aspects of this history of turns, changes and contradictions in flows of feminist ideas, opening for a discussion of how insights from postcolonial feminist thinking may impact on studies of gender, mobility and change in Africa.

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