South Africa: The Rainbow Nation?

This post is written by Lizzi Joyner, a first-year undergraduate in International Development, as part of our ‘Experiences in Diversity’ series. She talks about her experiences on ICS in partnership with Tearfund and Zoe-Life in South Africa. She writes at her own blog

Together with some of our placement teachers at the lower primary school.

South Africa. A nation brimming with beauty and brokenness. A nation surviving the most turbulent times, from colonial oppression to the apartheid, to its aftermath today. Because South Africa is such a meshing of languages (there are currently eleven official languages), races and cultures, its make-up is massively distinctive.

ICS is a UK government-funded programme giving young people the opportunity to explore the world of development in an overseas context. Its structure is brilliant: by building partnerships with grassroot movements in relationship with communities and demonstrated by living in host homes and splitting teams between UK and in-country volunteers.

To say that South Africa is a country of contrasts would be an understatement. According to the GINI Index via the World Bank, it is the most unequal society in the world. Inequality has actually increased since the ending of apartheid, with half of the population living below the poverty line. Shockingly, 1% of the population own 70.9% of the country’s wealth whilst the bottom 60% control just 7% of assets. The unemployment rate is also astoundingly high at 27.1%. These systematic imbalances are seemingly accepted – it’s part and parcel of society.

From my own perspective, I found it inexplicable encountering stark inequalities in varying neighbourhoods. I lived in a township called Chesterville close to Durban, and it was a great community to be in. However, close to our place of work located above a freeway was a shanty town. Tiny houses crafted together of tarpaulin and corrugated iron sheeting were clustered together, with poor local facilities or services available. Yet just a ten-minute drive away, and the story looks a whole lot different. Closer to the Westville area were genuine mansions – complete with perfectly manicured gardens, fleets of cars and probably maids to boot. Inequality is one of the greatest challenges facing this generation as the richer get richer and the poorer get poorer. I can think of no other place this is manifested better than the homes of South Africans.

Townships, mansions and shanty towns: South Africa encompasses them all.

ICS uses the approach of host homes together with an in-country counterpart within a community setting – one I highly rate. Living in a host home introduced me to a world so unlike my own and it led me to far better understand the surrounding complexities of culture. That said, living in a host home could be incredibly challenging. In a typical South African family (or Zulu culture), it’s incredibly common for extended families to all live together as one. On a given day, there were just under ten of us eating dinner, with a few extra guests often thrown in! We had a very open-door policy (no, quite literally). Yet household tasks tended to fall to the women. On the weekend of our arrival, I vividly remember being asked when we intended to make breakfast for all the family. Instantaneously, I was outraged. But this is the reality for the majority of women. The cooking, the cleaning, the childcare, the washing etc was women’s work. (I did by the way, overcome my frustration but it remained a source of contention!) Communicating across cultures was another interesting one. Our host family were afraid to offend or criticise us as white foreigners, so they voiced their opinions through our team counterparts. This backhanded method of communication was tough, both on ourselves and our counterparts. Being treated differently as the minority was a struggle, but looking back, it transformed my thinking in what it really means to be a minority, especially in the long-term.

Work-wise, we busied ourselves focusing on education and young people within schools and youth work. This again exemplified massive contrasts of inequality. Whilst working in the schools, under-resourced and wholly black, it was difficult not to imagine the privilege enjoyed in richer areas, predominately white. At first, it was hard to conceal my disapproval for corporal punishment. Yet as I became more tolerant (or possibility patient), I better understood how such conditions made teaching such an enduring career. I found immense respect for the teacher I assisted, and so a genuine relationship blossomed between us. This was also mirrored with fellow team members. It says a lot about how much more ‘development’ can be achieved from the fruition of good working partnerships.

The modern-day expectation seems to be that because official apartheid is over and institutional racism is illegal, the issues of segregation are over. While it is no longer policy, it is certainly embedded into culture as practice. Even decades later, you are categorised into black, white, coloured or Indian groupings. There are some extras, like being a ‘yellow-bone’, meaning you have lighter skin but are neither black nor white. Your race becomes your sole identity: this is who you are. Unfortunately, there’s no allowance for grey areas (pun intended) and consequently, social segregation is all too real. It was rare, near impossible even, to see groups like us merge, be it in the shopping mall or on Durban beach, and we often encountered strange looks and comments from passers-by as we walked the streets.

Which leads me onto discussing the best part of ICS: my team. We were a kaleidoscope of characters to say the least; equally split between UK and SA volunteers, male and female plus a UK Team Leader. Living and working with the same nine people day after day in a foreign environment can be intense. It’s super 24/7, and there’s no room to hide tensions. During our pre-departure training, both sets of volunteers were prepped on what to expect from the ‘other’. Sadly, past experiences transpired that SA volunteers were viewed as lazy and uncooperative, UK volunteers as domineering and controlling. Not the best start. Even our female counterparts had expected to dislike us because of previous experiences (happily we weren’t told this until a few weeks in).  Essentially, our team dynamic had every reason to fail. Yet despite our distinctions of backgrounds, religious beliefs, races, cultures, languages and a fair few strong characters thrown in, we genuinely made it work, and emerged as a strong, unified team. Yet we also became like the strangest family dynamic! I viewed my team as my siblings before too long, especially my counterpart Tshedi as we formed remarkable bonds that went far deeper than any other relationship. Perhaps the unusual setting we found ourselves in played a part, but even now a year on, they are still some of the first people I reach out to with news or advice.  

My team from left to right: Lewis, Tshedi, Christina, Thembisa, Rob, Sihle, myself and Kats (Team Leader Philippa taking the snap) in our community Chesterville.

To conclude, perhaps then, this is what development resembles. Development is often portrayed in quick-fix plan headed by organisations who know little on a grassroots level. Or as a second Mandela movement. But I think development stems from relationships. A small and steady changing of hearts and minds towards social justice. To interact as people, not projects. My ICS experience changed my whole life path towards studying International Development, and it was a unique experience I will always treasure. After all, development must be explored, experienced to grow critically optimistic expectations as a result.

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Mobilising patriarchy for comfort: confessions of a white male anthropologist of India

This post is written as part of our March series on ‘Experiences in Diversity’ by Rich Thornton, a PhD candidate in Anthropology. Rich is currently conducting fieldwork on the subjectivity and subjectification of teachers and social entrepreneurs of education in Delhi, India.

My girlfriend Jasmine loves to tell a story about how we met. It was the first day of fieldwork for my Master’s in Cultural Anthropology: Delhi, India, February 2016. Eager to meet the school team, I perched on a plastic primary school chair and said to the teachers, ‘Hi! I’m Rich’. Which for them was absolutely hilarious: because I was a white British man sitting amongst a group of younger Indian women and telling them I am ‘rich’.

Rich and his ‘girlfriend’, Jasmine.

Jasmine loves to tell this story probably because people here do find it funny; and perhaps as a way of reminding us both that despite how much we try to hide from it, cultural difference will always be present in our relationship. But some things actually aren’t about cultural difference (says the anthropologist nervously), and this piece explores how, in response to being socially produced as different, and by using my role as ‘anthropologist’ as protection, I have been discovering how I mobilise patriarchy as a way of producing myself as a valuable and valued subject.

Before I go on, two things must be said. First: I use the term ‘relationship’ and ‘girlfriend’ here because those are the terms I feel describe how Jasmine and I interact. Jasmine avoids those labels, and doesn’t want to define the relationship we share. Second, in my experience of contemporary Delhi, white privilege looms big and large. And there seems to be a distinction between how me as a white foreigner is imagined and how any darker-skinned foreigner is thought of and treated. Despite this blog’s theme of ‘diversity’, we must be clear that racialism and patriarchy remain violent socially-produced realities, and that difference is always hierarchical. And it is indeed through my mobilisation of patriarchy that I have unconsciously committed violence during the first few months of my PhD fieldwork. Here’s two examples of how.

Good little anthropologist that I am, I have sought to immerse myself in Hindi communities in order to learn the language and ‘get the culture’. In Hindi, there’s a very common swearword that translates as ‘sister-f*cker’. Some say it’s no longer a swearword as it’s used so commonly, but of course, the word carries heavy patriarchal overtones. I began to notice that if I used this word, especially with groups of men, it would get a laugh and I would receive appreciation. Subconsciously, I began to use it to gain trust and momentary respect. But at what cost? When Jasmine questioned my use of it, I admitted that it was patriarchal and that I wasn’t proud of myself for using it, but I also used some flippant casuistry to intellectualise my way out of guilt. I said that I felt lonely and that also as an anthropologist I needed to ‘fit in’, I needed to build bonds with people.

The point, that Jasmine was clear in expressing, was that my attempt to intellectualise my use of the word, and to produce my own victimhood by saying I felt lonely, was of course also deeply patriarchal. This intellectualisation allowed me to stand back from the event and see it as ‘part of research’, the part when I ‘adopted patriarchy’ as a route to being accepted and learning a language. Jasmine had none of this, and I tasted a bitter truth: how many times, much before I had the context of fieldwork and language-learning to shroud it, had I mobilised patriarchy (e.g. laughed at sexist jokes), to help myself ‘fit in’ during anxious social situations?

Rich with local school teachers in Delhi, India.

And I was about to do it again. In short, Jasmine and I are both part of the same very close network of arts-based educational practitioners in Delhi, and indeed, Jasmine is and has been the conduit through which almost all of my now snowballing research connections have come. As Jasmine works freelance, I recently suggested that she could take on the paid-role of ‘Research Assistant’ in my fieldwork. In this way she would be recognised as an important contributor to my research and also get remunerated for that work. She was understandingly appalled. ‘Research Assistant? How about Research Mentor! Or at least Research Collaborator?!’ She couldn’t believe I would cast her in the role of ‘assistant’ after she has and continues to be such an essential partner to ‘my’ work. And she was right, in my hasty attempt to ‘help’ her, I’d adopted a classic patriarchal label from the history of patriarchal social science and unthinkingly tossed it to her as a weak attempt at forging equality. After sitting with her feelings for a day or two, she responded to my offer with a question: Would I ever have asked Zishan (a male friend and colleague) to be a research ‘assistant’? And indeed, I quickly remembered how, only days before, I’d asked Zishan whether he would like to ‘collaborate’ on some research together. Patriarchy in action once again!

I am slowly realising how, despite the glaring patriarchal structures and practices of contemporary India, I bring my own subtle, insidious, but no less powerful patriarchal ideologies into my relationship with Jasmine. Through the colour of my skin and culturally-nuanced way of being, I feel produced as an object of difference by the gaze of the Delhi locals. True, I am often invested with unwarranted respect, but as a human who fears isolation, this investment is something I want to shed in favour of social invisibility, and for the possibility of being ‘one of the team’. And what I notice, as I try to produce myself as both ‘part of it’ and ‘valuable’, is that I mobilise patriarchy. I use patriarchal swearwords to be one of the boys, and attempt to widen my professional capital by trying to hire my girlfriend as a research assistant. The awkward cultural isolation of fieldwork has magnified my latent propensity to use patriarchal structure to make myself feel more comfortable in the world. I am grateful to have a ‘girlfriend’, or as she would see it, ‘friend’, who is sensitive enough to locate, and will put in the emotional labour to explain, the violence of my actions.

Drama in Education jam in Delhi, India.
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AESTHETIC INITIALISMS: Learning to appreciate the multiplicity of beauty in a heteronormative world

This post is written as part of our March ‘Experiences in Diversity’ series by Charlotte Graham-Spouge MA student in Photography and Cristina Guerrero, MA student in Conflict, Security and Development.

About a month ago, a friend texted me to say how badly she regretted having cut her hair short. I was shocked as I knew how much of a challenge it had been for her not only cutting her hair short, but also ending years of her hair as a burden that defines her sexuality. Only now she had another problem. ‘Men don’t find me attractive anymore and women now expect me to make the first move’- she said. Somehow, by trying to be her true self, she was still trapped in the net of ‘masculine men protect feminine energy’. I remember that I didn’t hesitate to tell her how beautiful she looked and how she shouldn’t let others’ standards and expectations define her. However, my advice was nothing but a cheap quote you could find on the internet.

Let’s be honest here. I have also struggled with self-esteem, but nothing related to identity and sexuality (or that is what I thought). I was born as a woman, I identify as a woman, and I feel attracted to men.  For me, cutting my hair short has no other meaning than changing my look. In her case, however, it has been a long-time struggle with sexual orientation and identity. For her, cutting her hair short meant leaving behind years of bullying – too masculine for some, too weird for others. She was certainly willing to leave all that behind, but society’s standards were still tying her up. Why wasn’t she able to feel good with herself despite being the most honest version of herself?

I remember my advice: ‘do not let society decide for you how you feel or how you have to feel’, but I also remember her answer: ‘it is not that easy’. That answer got stuck in my mind. She was certainly making me question my relationship with self-identity and society. I tried to put myself in her shoes and somehow, I remembered how I have also been targeted by society’s prejudice to the ‘uncommon’. I remembered when I was 13 and I was bullied in school for not shaving my armpits or when I was 18 and I was encouraged by my first boyfriend to wear makeup. I soon understood how I was also one more prisoner of society’s own fears. What is wrong with not shaving? Am I less of a woman for not wearing make up? Am I less interesting for not being one more ant committing to the others’ standards?

The obsession to determine others’ identity is nothing but a lesson of how society’s intransigence is a wall that hides cowardice and fears. In this sense, LGBTQ+ people are a vital lesson of non-conformism. Through their own fight to be accepted for what they are, they show us how society’s prejudices can persuade us to act homogenously and conform to established ideals. As if it was a world ruled by robots that only think through algorithms (rules, values and morals), LGBTQ+ question those algorithms and show us the true meaning of being human: the will to live and love.

This is what the LGBTQ+ community brings us. Many people have certainly struggled to be happy with themselves – some for being too masculine, others for being too feminine; some for not being delicate enough, others for being too delicate. But remember, you are no more than a beauty trapped by the superficial threads of a society that refuses to see beyond. But, again, how can we break with those threads?

In this sense, when my friend Charlotte Graham told me about an exhibition that could illustrate the true beauty of trans life and queer love, I was more than happy about it. Art, in the end, is the ultimate expression of what it means to be human: feel, create, construct, question. Featuring photography, mixed media and film, the viewer is push out into the issues that the LGBTQ+ community faces whilst also celebrating its diversity and power. Through portraits of queer people and stories of their struggle, it makes the viewer question heteronormativity. From soft and gentle portraits of queer love to detailed depictions of trans life, this exhibition reveals new perspectives on a much overlooked community.

Aesthetic Initalism brings together emerging artists to celebrate LGBTQ+ history month. The exhibition opened with a showing in ONCA, Brighton in February and will be showing at the Marlborough pub from the 4-22nd March.

The exhibition is free entry and open to all.

To find out more information, please look at the Facebook event Aesthetic Initialisms or follow @mywildday on Instagram.

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Examining the relevance of the modern slavery and human trafficking discourse

This post is written by Hannah Furukawa, Project Administrator for the ‘Chains’ project and MA Migration and Global Development student. 

In recent years the term ‘modern slavery’ has been widely used to describe practices such as forced labour, forced or servile marriage, the sale and exploitation of children, and debt bondage. The aim to eradicate forced labour and end modern slavery and human trafficking is set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Target 8.7). However, the discourse around modern slavery often uses simplistic binaries of those who are ‘free’ and those who are ‘enslaved’. At the same time, it demonises any intermediaries who are involved in facilitating migration, labelling them as traffickers. New research led by Dr Priya Deshingkar unsettles the dominant discourse on modern slavery by illuminating the infrastructure of brokerage and giving voice to migrants’ own experiences and how they view the process. At a conference last week, outcomes of the research were shared with academics, experts and policy makers, leading to interesting discussions on what the implications for policy and programming might be.

Dr Priya Deshingkar, Global Studies, presenting at the British Academy, London.  Photo credit: Summer Dean

Research in Ghana and Myanmar

Professor Joseph Teye and Professor Mariama Awumbila, University of Ghana, present their findings. Photo credit: Summer Dean

The collaborative project between the University of Sussex, the University of Ghana and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Myanmar conducted over 200 in-depth interviews with aspiring, current and returned migrants as well as brokers and other stakeholders. Both Ghana and Myanmar do not make the top grade of 1 in the US Government’s Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) as they are seen to be wanting in actions to control trafficking. In Ghana two main routes were considered, up towards North Africa and towards the Gulf states, whilst in Myanmar the focus was on migration towards Thailand and Singapore. The research focused on the movement for construction work and domestic work. Both are highly gendered due to cultural and ideological norms and both have many characteristics of modern slavery.

Motivations for migration

In both countries it emerged that reasons for leaving were a sense of frustration and hopelessness with the situations in the home towns and villages, as well as the desire to improve social standing and financial opportunities. Migration is often viewed as a ‘rite of passage’, especially for young men, and in Ghana those who have migrated may improve their chances of marriage upon their return. In line with other research, these findings however challenge the idea that poverty makes people move: migration is a costly process, therefore it is not the ‘poorest of the poor’ who move if they are paying fees upfront. Debt-migrants may be extremely poor.

The role of brokers

Brokers were used at every stage of the migration process and range from formal agencies to informal networks of family and friends. Though some brokers may be ‘in it for the money’, others view themselves as benevolent enablers of migration. Migrants themselves also often see brokers as vital intermediaries who help them with their journeys. Those who migrated from Mon State in Myanmar to Thailand for example, expressed that brokers made them feel safer during journeys. That is not to say that migrants do not then find themselves in exploitative situations. Women moving from Myanmar to Singapore were found to be highly controlled throughout the migration process experiencing physical confinement and having their passports withheld. Debt bondage was also encountered whereby migrants had to work for around 7 months with no wages in order to repay the costs of migration. In some cases where migrants found themselves in unbearable working conditions, brokers were again contacted to help them find alternative positions. The complex role of brokers therefore requires a more nuanced understanding.

Alex Ma, Myanmar Researcher                        Kitty Van Geloof representing IOM Myanmar

Migrant agency

Popular discourse on modern slavery and trafficking often denies migrants any agency. Yet the temporal aspect of how migrants view their experiences reveals that they do weigh up the risks and benefits of migration. Many who have experienced exploitation, once returned home, will choose to re-migrate. Shorter-term sacrifices and exploitative working conditions are chosen over the option of remaining at home; longer-term benefits are considered to be worth the risk and sacrifice. Thus migrants are shown to exercise agency, albeit in highly constrained circumstances.

What government policies often fail to understand is that restricting migration for this kind of work will not stop people’s desire to move and improve their life chances. Both Ghana and Myanmar at different points have banned migration for domestic work, yet rather than stopping movement, this results in longer and more expensive journeys, pushing people further under the radar. Restrictive migration policies often tie workers to employers and limit the length of their stay. This leads to migrants choosing to remain irregular and in informal work. In these circumstances workers may experience exploitative conditions and increased vulnerability.

Policy implications

At the conference academics and policy makers discussed the lack of definitional clarity over the term ‘modern slavery’ and agreed that consensus is needed in order for policies to be developed and to create political and public will. Allowing people the opportunity to experience the positive benefits of migration whilst reducing exploitative conditions is desirable. How can this be done? Conversations arose about providing legal pathways for migrants, regulating brokers and making services more accessible.

Rob Whitby, Head of DFID Migration Policy Team; Ursula Antwi–Boasiako, Head of DFID Modern Slavery Team; and Jennifer Dew, Lead in Migrant Protection and Assistance at IOM consider the research implications. Photo credit: Summer Dean

Recommendations from the research include the need to carry out participatory research in order to better understand the lived realities of people affected by aspects of ‘modern slavery’ and to recognise what is important for them and how things can be improved from their perspectives. Similarly, migrants themselves and not just those who purport to represent them should be involved in the design of interventions; ways need to be found to reach them as they are often invisible, extremely busy and scared of authorities. Finally, endogenous protection (existing informal systems of support for migrants by migrants) can be built upon by policy makers.

For more information see:

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Should we be combatting sexism to stimulate economic growth?

Christine Lagarde at a meeting in Brazil.

This post was originally written for ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ by Meenakshi Krishnan of IDS and  Prof. Ben Selwyn of Sussex Global. We include it here as the debut post in March’s ‘Experiences in Diversity’ theme. 

In the run-up to International Women’s Day, it was good to see Christine Lagarde highlight the problems of sexism in the global economy. Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 2011, argues that combatting sexism and bringing more women into the workplace could raise economic growth in some countries by as much as 35%. Greater gender empowerment through changes in state laws and tax accounting contributes to ‘higher growth, a reduction in inequality, an improvement in the strength of the economy and a more diversified, export-focused country’.

Women are now living longer than men in all parts of the world. Over half a billion women have joined the world’s labour force over the last 30 years, and gender gaps in primary education have closed in almost all countries. But there’s still a long way to go.

Lagarde’s emphasis on combatting sexism is a welcome intervention in public debates. It is refreshing compared to the world’s most powerful politician’s attitudes to women. Yet her message is surprisingly narrow, and in some ways contributes to reproducing sexist attitudes; moreover, there is no sense of where the resources to combat sexism will come from. She is not arguing that the IMF, or World Bank, or core economy states should finance the worldwide re-education of men and boys in feminist principles. Of course, changes to the law are necessary. But so too is an extensive roll-out of pro-women education. This would cost money, and since the 2008 world economic crisis, many states across the global south have economised on their social spending.

There is an element here of shifting the task of gender equality onto states with limited resources, rather than identifying potential sources of funds from which to underpin more far-reaching transformations. Such funds do exist, and could be accessed by just and effective taxation of trans-national corporations.

Read also Cécile Andrzejewski, “Women do the heavy lifting”, Le Monde diplomatique, January 2018.

The strategy of combatting sexism to boost economic growth seeks modifications to, rather than a transformation of, a system that is itself rooted in fundamental gender inequality. It is an excellent example of gender mainstreaming. On the one hand, it incorporates into public discourse previously radical demands for equality by women’s movements; on the other, it makes these demands compatible with prevailing economic relations — in particular those associated with industrialisation and economic growth. This is so in at least three ways.

First, the burden of familial care — which is mostly unpaid and predominantly carried out by women — contributes to gender inequalities across all spheres of society. Lagarde does not acknowledge that it represents a mega subsidy to the global economy. In fact, the value of women’s unpaid care work is estimated at $10 trillion — 43 times the annual turnover of Apple. The world’s expanding labour force is, in part, a product of this vast quantity of unpaid reproductive work.

Secondly, the IMF’s economic stabilisation programmes have contributed to the worsening of women’s conditions in many indebted countries. Across Latin America between the 1980s and 2000s, women played the role of ‘shock absorbers’ of neoliberal restructuring, by undertaking more low paid work and unpaid domestic work. Increasing numbers of women entered formal and informal labour markets in response to falling real incomes of male workers combined with cuts to social welfare provision.

Thirdly, much of women’s work across the global south occurs within a dynamic of immiserating growth — where economic gains for a small minority are predicated upon workers’ privation. From the garment factories producing Spice Girls T-shirts where women earn 35 pence an hour, to much of the global food supply chain, to electronics assembly factories across Asia, women workers’ wages are often insufficient to maintain themselves and their families. They resort to various strategies — from extensive and health-damaging overtime, to taking on other jobs or relying upon extended families or producing their own food — all to make ends meet for their families.

In the context of widespread political prejudice, Christine Lagarde’s arguments about the need to combat sexism are important. But they conceal as much as they reveal. They seek to adjust, rather than fundamentally transform a world economy rooted in gender discrimination. The kinds of transformations generating real gender equality and women’s empowerment require much greater shifts in wealth and power towards the working women of the world.

Meenakshi Krishnan is a doctoral researcher at Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, and works on issues of women’s workforce participation, unpaid care work, family friendly work policies and social protection. Benjamin Selwyn is professor of International Development in the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, and author of The Struggle for Development (Wiley, 2017).

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