Renegotiating Gender Identities and Sexual Bodies: Zimbabwean Migrant Women’s Narratives of Everyday Life in South Africa
A wide range of literature reveals that women in many African societies have historically been faced with the challenge of patriarchy and lack of freedom in their households—a challenge also mirrored in institutions of education, the economy, law and politics. This gendered position produces gendered inequalities which lead women to experience poverty more severely than men. The feminisation of poverty has over the years resulted in the feminisation of migration, which implies a change in women’s migratory identities and roles, where women are increasingly migrating as independent migrants rather than to rejoin male family members. Often, women migrate due to a desire for greater autonomy and a decrease in social restrictions on their productive and reproductive bodies. They also migrate to enhance their economic opportunities and seek new survival strategies in their endeavour to cater for their family’s needs and those that pertain to their being. It is against this backdrop that this article explores the experiences of migrant women and the strategies they employ as they, against all odds, renegotiate and reconstitute their gendered identities and sexual bodies in order to survive the complex realities of living in a “foreign” space. The article focuses on 15 Zimbabwean migrant women’s experiences of feminised poverty that pushed them out of the boundaries of their homeland, and the sexual and gendered livelihoods that emerged as part of their survival strategies in South Africa. As the article engages with Zimbabwean migrant women’s experiences prior to and after moving to South Africa, it is at work to illuminate how sexuality and migration shape and reshape one another. The article analyses the role of sexuality in gender and migration research that has not been given the pre-eminence it should in the Global South. Overall, the article reveals that the often subsumed and hidden role of sexuality in gender and migration research adds another complex layer of vulnerability to the bodies, identities and roles of Zimbabwean migrant women in South Africa.