African Women: A Modern History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Beth Gillian Raps | Go to book overview

7
Women and Urban Migration

Population movements are nothing new in Africa, where peoples throughout time have been remarkably mobile. Ancient migrations, while less widespread than has been thought, were usually collective moves by families or groups of families motivated by internal readjustments or security concerns. They periodically increased during periods of crisis such as rain shortfall, internecine warfare, and slave raids. Individual migration was exceptional for men but common for women because patrilocal residence predominated. Thus young wives were dislocated, even uprooted--although this usually took place within a limited area. Individual male migration began with the need to look for opportunities for wage earning and increased as the labor market created by colonial operations developed. 1 Research on these migrations has focused on men because employers were primarily concerned with men. Studies have emphasized the economic attraction of the city, where the labor market was open and wages were higher. Women remained "the second sex in town" 2 until at least the end of the colonial period, but the gender imbalance was less pronounced than is believed. It has been imagined that women were either only following their husbands or had only prostitution in mind.

Women merely followed their husbands, however, much less often than is believed and then only over short distances as was often the case in southern West Africa, the colonizers' "useful Africa." In countries with racial and residential segregation such as Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, and Rhodesia, legislation on contracts for temporary work addressed only men, the only ones admitted to the mining compounds under apartheid. Until recently it was against the law for mining companies to provide family housing for more than 3 percent of their African workforce. In other countries, in partic-

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