Migration and body politics: a study of migrant women workers in Bellville, Cape Town
Migration has become very prominent in South Africa, and unlike most countries on the continent, it is an extremely prominent destinations for migrants. The country attracts migrants because there is a common perception that there are better economic opportunities, jobs and living conditions within South Africa. Countries like Zimbabwe, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Senegal, Mozambique and Nigeria are statistically high ranking in migrants entering South Africa on a daily basis (Stats SA, 2011). Most forced migration research seeks to explain the behaviour, impact, and challenges faced by the displaced with the intention of influencing agencies and governments to develop more effective responses to address the challenges. As a case study focusing on women, gender and migration at the micro-level, this study deals with the gendered and classed experiences and struggles of women migrants working as hairdressers in street salons in Bellville, Cape Town. The study explores how women who are socially marked as “other” in terms of gender, class, space, identity and nationality navigate an environment in which social worth and belonging is constantly defined by physical appearance and the environment in which the body is physically located. Through a feminist qualitative research method, the study focuses mainly on women’s experiences through interviews and participant observation. The research is therefore deeply grounded and rooted in feminist theoretical perspective and feminist methodological approaches in order to understand women’s lives and gender roles, their body politics and working lives. One of the major findings of this study is that the lack of a gendered analysis of migration has perpetuated stereotypes about who “migrants” are, what access they can have in a foreign country, in what ways they are considered “other”, and, most importantly, how they respond to their experiences of “othering” and political marginalization. It is argued that migration has been constantly changing: many contemporary migrant women are driven by adventure, desire and spirit, and not by famine, war, spouses and poverty. This study therefore develops recommendations for future researchers and policy makers in considering gender and the dynamic changes surrounding migration.