Accepted Paper:

The meanings of women's mobilities: gender ideals and female mobility in West Africa  
Gunvor Jonsson (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Malian women's mobilities are associated with numerous meanings and partly constrained by Islamic, patriarchal and Mande ideals. Discourses on women's mobilities and the 'strangerhood' of women reflect notions of "ideal femininity" but also, alternative femininities and changing gender ideologies.

Paper long abstract:

African women have always migrated and female autonomous migration in West Africa is on the increase, partly due to the changing structure of economic activities since the 1990s. Despite increasing global attention to women's involvement in migration, very little research has looked at Malian women's different forms of mobility, beyond the "rural exodus" from the countryside into towns. In West Africa, women's mobilities tend to be restricted and regulated by men; hence, women are often not expected to be highly mobile or to migrate autonomously. This paper delves into some of the numerous and contested meanings associated with Malian women's mobilities and reflects on the wider discourses and ideologies upon which these meanings were founded. It draws on twelve months of fieldwork in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, with female traders of Malian backgrounds. The paper discusses the relevance of local Islamic, patriarchal and Mande ideals to understanding perceptions of and constraints upon women's mobilities, emphasising some of the conflicts over the meanings associated with women's mobilities. It then examines some of the parallels between migrancy and womanhood, as reflected in local terminology which linked womanhood to liminal or perpetual conditions of strangerhood. By looking at the meanings of women's mobilities it becomes possible to explore not only what "ideal femininity" looked like but also, to consider alternative femininities and the changing discourses on gender. The ongoing socio-economic transformations in the region, which entail increasing mobility and financial autonomy for women, demand a reconsideration of how to achieve "ideal" gender relations.

Panel Time01
Imagination, migration & (im)mobility