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'I think a woman who travels a lot is befriending other men and that's why she travels': mobility constraints and their implications for rural women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa

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This article is concerned with the implications of practices, politics and meanings of mobility for women and girl children in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Women and girls commonly face severe mobility constraints which affect their livelihoods and their life chances. The article reflects on their experiences in rural areas where patriarchal institutions (including the gender division of labour, which places great emphasis on female labour contributions to household production and reproduction), and a patriarchal discourse concerning linkages between women's mobility, vulnerability and sexual appetite, shape everyday social practices and material inequalities. This compounds the physical constraints imposed by poor accessibility (to services and markets) associated with poor roads and inadequate transport in both direct and more complex ways. The article draws on field research conducted in diverse socio-cultural and agro-ecological contexts in western and southern Africa (principally southern Ghana, southern Malawi and northern and central Nigeria) to explore the impacts of relative immobility and poor service access on women and girls. Three (interconnected) issues are examined in some detail: access to markets, access to education and access to health services. Possible interventions to initiate positive change are considered.

Keywords: education; gender; health; markets; mobility; promiscuity; transport

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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