Negotiating the city: Exploring the intersecting vulnerabilities of non-national migrant mothers who sell sex in Johannesburg, South Africa

Rebecca Walker, Jo Vearey & Lorraine Nencel (2017): Negotiating the city: Exploring the intersecting vulnerabilities of non-national migrant mothers who sell sex in Johannesburg, South Africa, Agenda. Open access, download paper here.

Abstract: 
This article explores the intersecting vulnerabilities of non-national migrant mothers who sell sex in Johannesburg, South Africa – one of the most unequal cities in the world. Migrants who struggle to access the benefits of the city live and work in precarious peripheral spaces where they experience intersecting vulnerabilities associated with gender norms, race, and nationality. These vulnerabilities manifest as abuse, discrimination, criminalisation, and multiple levels of structural and direct violence. Migrant women who sell sex also face stigma and moralising associated with the illegal sale of sex, being foreign, and being a single parent. Drawing on ethnographic work with non-national migrant mothers who sell sex in Johannesburg, and from ongoing work exploring research, policy and programmatic responses to migration, sex work and health, we use an analytical lens of intersectionality to explore the daily challenges associated with encountering and negotiating intersecting vulnerabilities. We consider how these vulnerabilities form entanglements (drawing on Munoz, 2016) and are (re)produced and embodied in everyday practice in the city. We explore how they shift in significance and impact depending on context and social location, and argue for a nuanced approach to understanding migration and the sale of sex that recognises these intersecting vulnerabilities – and entanglements.

About Becky Walker

Becky Walker is a postdoctoral research fellow with the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS).

With a background in Social Anthropology and Development Becky’s work has largely explored women’s experiences of everyday violence in both South Asia and Southern Africa. Becky holds an Msc and PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh where her research focused on the conflict in Sri Lanka and women’s strategies for negotiating everyday violence.

In 2010 Becky moved to South Africa to take up a Postdoctoral fellowship with the Centre of Indian Studies in Africa (CISA) at Wits University and also taught Gender and Development as a sessional lecturer in Social Anthropology. In 2013 she then was awarded a Wotro-funded postdoctoral project through ACMS that explored the multiple vulnerabilities faced by migrant sex workers in Johannesburg.

The project considered the impact of migration legislation, trafficking discourses and transnational networks on feelings of belonging amongst migrant sex workers in Johannesburg and Amsterdam. It also drew from an innovative arts based participatory project that Becky and a colleague ran in a women’s shelter in inner-city Johannesburg, and on-going research at ACMS into sex work, migration and trafficking. Becky’s current work builds on the Wotro project to explore the vulnerabilities faced by migrant mothers who sell sex in South Africa with a particular focus on the intersections of mothering, being migrants and selling sex and also, challenges encountered such as access to healthcare, stigmatisation and discrimination.

Becky has published widely from her research including a articles and chapters on everyday violence, sex work, trafficking and migration and sex work and motherhood.

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