Refugee woman and the experiences of local integration in Nairobi, Kenya
- It seems trendy for current studies to argue that the term refugee is no more than a policy category which does not reflect the circumstances of the people that it subsumes. Such studies further argue that the circumstances of refugees are not necessarily different from those of local populations. This study argues that theoretical positions emanating from such observations do not have a universal application as illustrated in Nairobi where the term refugee is not merely a policy category or legal label but also experiential. Understanding the concept refugee is very much an outcome of empirical enterprise which locates those who bear the refugee status in specific contexts. The study draws attention to cases of targeted rape, raids, exclusionary discourses epitomised by negative stereotyping and xenophobia as well as refoulement which are specifically aimed at refugees in Nairobi. The refugee status is intertwined with other variables such as refugees´ ethnic, national and religious identities in ways that restrict inclusion of refugees into the host country. As a gendered experience, exile impacts on intra-household dynamics and transforms gender roles and relations within refugee households in ways that are simultaneously enabling and challenging for refugee women. Although local women also experience Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), for refugee women this intersects with the vulnerability that the refugee status entails resulting in refugee women being abused even by police officers and officials who are tasked to protect them thus leaving them with limited channels for recourse. SGBV thus becomes salient because of its targeted nature. Emphasised in the study is the fact that refugee women are heterogeneous such that it is more appropriate to refer to refugee women´s experiences rather than the refugee woman experience. Exile as occupation of marginal space is however not solely about constraints as it also creates opportunities and possibilities that may not have been available to the women prior to flight. Contradictory as it may seem, the refugee status is mediated by the same variables that lead to exclusion at a macro level in ways that facilitate inclusion at a micro, interpersonal level characterised by interaction between refugee women and locals as fellow congregants or as neighbours who share the same plight of poverty in Nairobi´s slums. This is coupled with refugee women´s agency by which they convert obstacles into resources and create space for themselves in a country which advocates encampment and expects refugees to reside in the designated areas. Through their own agency, refugee women are able to navigate structural barriers meant to deter integration in ways that demonstrate that the absence of an official integration policy does not necessarily deter integration; individual agency has a countervailing impact on measures instituted to deter integration.
Women's Life Worlds 'In-Between'
- This volume of Bayreuth African Studies Working Papers authored and edited by doctoral students of the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS) represents challenges and (im-)possibilities of reviewing women’s life worlds in Africa. Therewith we revive an old debate: African thinkers opposed Western concepts, searching for a kind of feminism beyond traditional roles and beyond Western feminism, which basically antagonizes women’s subordination due to patriarchy. Thus, if African women have different positions to Western feminism, how do they perceive themselves? To what extent are women expanding their social, political or economic realm? Does this change result in a re-definition of gender roles? How do women in Africa deal with gendered hierarchies and authority? Are there conflicts or ‘in-betweens’ among ‘traditional roles’ and the behavior of women? All these questions surround one core content: women’s life worlds ‘in-between’. ‘In-betweenness’ refers here to a situation when the life worlds of women transform, resulting from social, political, economic or environmental changes or uncertainties. In such a situation women negotiate between conflicting or contradictory assumed norms, roles, social practices or orders. Opportunities for women may change, expand or become limited. For example, women can rethink their roles and behavior, be it temporary or in long term perspectives. Following this view the authors focus on situations of ‘in-betweenness’ of women in different African countries and in diverse realms of life. Literary scholar Samuel Ndogo analyzes the autobiography of an exceptional Kenyan author and activist: Wangari Maathai. The title of her autobiography, Unbowed (2006), already suggests friction between her life trajectory and cultural notions of womanhood. However, the title also shows pride at having withstood opposition, which at the same time contests a society’s readiness to tolerate an exception. Katharina Nambula’s paper shares Ndogo’s perspective of Literature Studies and shows how the female protagonists in Waiting, written by Goretti Kyomuhendo (2007), survive in a politically instable and male dominated society during the reign of Idi Amin in Uganda. Facing the men's inability to sort out the chaos, Kyomuhendo’s female characters temporarily deploy their hidden strengths to resume some order. As soon as men re-enter their former positions though, gender relations are back to normal. Other aspects of uncertainty and how women deal with it are discussed by Serah Kiragu. With regard to global climate change, Kiragu assesses changes in women’s livelihoods in semi arid Kenya. She describes the women’s recent difficulties and how they are coping with a changing environmental situation. This approach vividly illustrates that a notion of women as passive victims does not hold. Young rural women in Northern Ghana change their social sphere altogether – at least temporarily. In his anthropological article, Christian Ungruhe describes how a whole generation of young girls move out from their rural homes to urban centers. They become actively involved in labor migration and therewith experience economic independence in an attempt to generate their dowry, acquire modern assets, and consummate relationships. Although the journey marks a temporary phase in the women’s lives, it is an important experience which they can bring to their future rural lives and a permanent phenomenon in women’s biographies in West Africa. In contrast, women in Lesotho participate in wage labor on a permanent basis. Lena Kroeker illustrates in a historic and ethnographic overview why Lesotho ranks 8th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2010 and how women’s high level of participation did not change but merely separated gender and generations. Various civil society representatives met at the World Social Forum with the aim of creating a more equal and just world. Antje Daniel portraits the strategies and main features of Brazilian and Kenyan women’s organizations and explains how characteristics of women’s organizations in the national context determine transnational activism within the space of the World Social Forum. All contributions not only illustrate contemporary life worlds of women but depict processes of change within them from the perspectives of African Literature, Geography, Anthropology and Sociology. The articles in this first issue of BIGSASworks! from a broad spectrum of disciplines provide fresh and original perspectives on an evergreen debate as well as unique empirical material.