‘If this isn’t for my children, who is it for?’ Exploring experiences of structural violence among migrant mothers who sell sex in Johannesburg

Rebecca Walker (2017) ‘If this isn’t for my children, who is it for?’ Exploring experiences of structural violence among migrant mothers who sell sex in Johannesburg, Families, Relationships and Societies, vol 6, no 2, 291–306, DOI: 10.1332/204674317X14861128573280 [OPEN ACCESS]

This article examines the vulnerabilities and forms of structural violence experienced by migrant mothers who sell sex. In Johannesburg, migrant sex workers face multiple vulnerabilities including abuse, discrimination, criminalisation, and many levels of violence, directed particularly at non-nationals. For migrant mothers selling sex, these vulnerabilities increase as they balance the responsibilities of providing for their dependants with the risks and challenges that selling sex entails. Drawing from semi-structured interviews with cross-border migrant women, this article explores their difficulties in accessing healthcare, in finding accommodation, widespread stigmatisation and xenophobia. The article argues that to develop a greater understanding of women who are migrants, who sell sex and who are mothers, there is a need to further explore the challenges that they face as well as the multiple roles negotiated in everyday life.

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.