A Creative Storytelling Project with Women Migrants in Johannesburg, South Africa (Dispatch)

Rebecca Walker and Elsa Oliveira (2020). ‘A Creative Storytelling Project with Women Migrants in Johannesburg, South Africa‘, Studies in Social Justice 14:1, 188-209, DOI: https://doi.org/10.26522/ssj.v2020i14.2218.

This dispatch is about an arts-based storytelling project that was undertaken in collaboration with a small group of women from across the African continent now living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The project, entitled, Mwangaza Mama (a name chosen by the women in the group) was motivated by a politically-driven desire to open up an intellectual and practical space for women to speak for themselves from multiple and varied standpoints. Over the course of two years, a core group of seven women (plus the two of us) met on a fortnightly basis to share stories of love, loss, and hardship while each of us worked on our individual textile stories. The project culminated in the production of three collective quilts, featuring everyone’s textile stories, and each participant wrote one to two narrative stories about a topic or experience that they wanted to share with public audiences. These visual and narrative artefacts, layered in symbols and metaphors, offer insights into the complex lives of women migrants, and the challenges and concerns identified by the participants. The women’s words and visuals also present what Chinua Achebe (2013) would call a “balance of stories,” meaning that their self-representations move beyond (and complicate) stereotypes of vulnerability that dominate representations by others about women who cross international borders.

About Becky Walker

Becky Walker is a research associate 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.