A picture speaks a thousand words: Understanding women's migration in Johannesburg through visual diaries
Caroline Wanjiku Kihato
Using the visual diaries of a group of African women migrants now living in Johannesburg, this article explores what is now termed the ‘feminisation of migration’. It does this less by drawing attention to the fact that women are moving, than by using women’s own images and narratives to reveal dimensions of that experience that have yet to be understood. Women’s visual diaries and their narratives reveal the ways in which they negotiate the structural impediments of asylum officialdom, police harassment, patriarchy, unemployment and poverty. The research argues that current understandings of the feminisation of migration do not adequately reveal the socio-cultural and political complexities of women’s mobility on the African continent. Women are not the silent emissaries that dominant iconography portrays them as being. Their discursive practices and images ‘talk back’ and contest hegemonic representations. And while many have overcome significant structural hurdles in order to survive, they are not always heroines. By using photographs that have been taken and explained by the ‘subjects’ themselves, the method allows migrant women’s voices to be heard, and through chosen images, reveals how they wish to represent their realities. This paper thus reveals women’s schemas – their ways of making sense of, and conceptualising their worlds and experiences. In doing so it offers an alternative way of reading the complexity of African women’s mobility in the twenty first century.