Facing the Challenges of Precarity: African Women Migrants in a Globalized World

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Mary OSIRIM, Bryn Mawr College, USA

This presentation will explore precarity in the lives of African women on the continent and in the Diaspora in case studies based on my research during the past two decades:  – 1.  Zimbabwean entrepreneurs involved in cross-border trade with South Africa and 2. African women immigrants in the Greater Boston and Philadelphia areas.   The presentation begins by defining precarity as the widespread condition of temporary, flexible, casual work in postindustrial societies, brought about by neoliberal labor market reforms.  These reforms have strengthened the employers’ ability to “manage” workers and weakened the bargaining power of the latter since the late 1970’s.    Precarity affects many members of our societies – especially women, youth, immigrants and disproportionately populations of color.

The case studies that I will examine involve women who have voluntarily migrated or are refugees and have experienced marginalization in the labor market and in the broader society. Globalization and neo-liberalism in the Global North and the South create precarious circumstances for many at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy. And many poor immigrant women often find themselves at the bottom.  Despite the difficulties of precarity and intersectionality in their lives, these women are resilient and continue to demonstrate agency.

The feminist political economy paradigm informs my work and will be discussed and applied to the case studies investigated in this presentation.  Further, a transnational lens also assists in “making sense” of the precarious situations that Zimbabwean women cross-border traders experience as well as African immigrant and refugee women in the US. In the midst of the challenges presented by precarity, African women migrants “recreate home” in part through the organizations that they establish and have helped create a new Pan-Africanism that emanates on the continent and in the Diaspora.