Poking the wound – research, stories and process – thinking through the complexities

This excerpt comes from maHp/ACMS postdoctoral researcher Becky Walker‘s latest blog reflections on her current arts-based research project with migrant women who live in inner-city Johannesburg.

Since February 2017 myself and a colleague have been working with a small group of migrant women who live in inner-city Johannesburg. Referred to us via a local psychosocial NGO, the women all agreed to be participants in our arts-based research project exploring the experiences of women who are migrants and mothers in Johannesburg. All of the participants are asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. They all arrived in South Africa over the past ten years having had to flee war and poverty in their home countries and crossing many borders in the hope of finally finding safety and more secure lives in South Africa. All of the women are mothers to young children. They are also all parenting alone – their husbands have either been killed, gone into hiding or are simply absent.

The group meets every Friday morning for three hours at a residential house called “The house of dreams”(owned by the NGO) in a suburb of the inner-city. The house is spacious and light. It is a place that is separate from where the women reside and away from the NGO where they attend counselling sessions. All of the women are currently receiving counselling, and many of their children do too. The traumas of living through and witnessing war, loosing loved ones again and again and, negotiating everyday life in South Africa run deep. In many ways the challenges and forms of violence faced in Johannesburg trigger and revive these traumas of the past. Life as a non-national in the inner-city is precarious and can be frightening: “We hid from the rebels…now we hide from the tsotis who want to kill us because we are foreigners” Mary told me.

To read the rest of this blog post visit ‘Mothering in the City: migrants, mothers and women who sell sex‘.

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.