Juggling with Moving Sexual Norms: Senegalese Women's Attempts to Make Their Way Trough Migration

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 10:00
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Melissa BLANCHARD, Idemec, France
The current discourse, both in Senegal and in migration, depicts women migration as a potential danger, entailing the loss of decent women for the community. It implies that women will experiment new opportunities and embrace the loose sexual behavior of the West, especially if they move to secular and licentious France.

So, even though extra-marital sex is not exceptional in Muslim Senegal, when women migrate, social control over their sexual behavior outside the sacred ring of marriage becomes very constraining. In Marseille, a highly puritan Senegalese community advocates for an even stricter sexual behavior than in Senegal. Both men and women participate in promoting new restrictive norms for women’s sexuality, which are a product of migration but which are said to be ancestral.

Nonetheless, ethnography shows that women have a multiplicity of sexual behaviors, which they use as means to achieve their social and economic goals in migration. These different behaviors also vary according to generation, with older generations being more flexible than younger ones. I.e., while women who migrated independently in the 70s often conducted a sexual life that some assimilate to a form of semi-prostitution and are now given the pejorative name of “free women”, those who came through family reunion in the 90s promote a strict sexual puritanism.

Based on a long-term ethnographic research conducted in Marseille, this paper aims at examining how, in response to the repressive collective discourse, women negotiate their social position in the immigrant community, in the broader local society but also in their origin society through an individual interpretation of the different sexual roles of prudish or “free women”. It will also appreciate how the collective construction of stricter norms of feminine sexual behavior is related to the different ages of Senegalese migration in the specific socio-economic context of Marseille.