Rabat - Sub-Saharan migrant women in Morocco have proven an enormous amount of strength, resilience, and independence in what is often considered an environment with no prospects of control or self-governance.
Rabat – Sub-Saharan migrant women in Morocco have proven an enormous amount of strength, resilience, and independence in what is often considered an environment with no prospects of control or self-governance.
Sub-Saharan migrant women in Morocco have overcome countless obstacles and threats in the journey away from their home countries. As they strive to find better lives in the wake of war-torn homelands or economic instability, they can easily fall into gender and migration stereotypes that render migrant women as helpless, dependent on others, and victims of circumstance. While outside factors and actions borne from “survival mode” certainly determine part of migrant women’s livelihoods, many defy their circumstances in powerful acts of self-determination.
Alexandra Brantl, a student at Hamilton University, devotes research to the ways sub-Saharan migrant women in Morocco work to regain autonomy over their maternal trajectories. “This term describes events in a woman’s life, past, present, or future, that relate to motherhood,” Brantl explains. This includes the woman’s body, family, pregnancy, or birth during migration. “These women, in acting autonomously in decisions surrounding their maternal trajectories, can still be empowered,” says Brantl.
When doing what they need to survive, options do become limited. “Literature regarding women and migration led me to assume that most migrant women would be [acting in survival mode.] I assumed the challenging economic, social, and cultural conditions in which these migrant women live would prevent any autonomy surrounding maternity,” says Brantl. “The evidence that I’ve gathered with migrant women directly challenges those assumptions, and shows that migrant women can be empowered women and mothers.”
Migrant women work to regain their autonomy in spite of economic, social, and cultural challenges. Brantl states, “whether that be getting condoms through organizations in order to prevent another unplanned pregnancy, trying five times to cross the border between Algeria and Morocco with a baby in order to find a better life, or working as a single mother to provide for her family,” migrant women show agency over their maternal lives after they become threatened.
Brantl says that sub-Saharan migrant women make independent decisions that affect their maternal trajectories in three aspects: family planning, mobility, and the education of their children.
Family planning is difficult during migration: events of rape and sexual violence against women destroy the autonomy they should have over their bodies. “Unplanned pregnancies, often the result of such events, hurt migrant women’s ability to control their maternal trajectories,” says Brantl. However, the ability to exercise some control over family planning exists for some.
Brantl tells the story of a woman named Ester, who was assaulted during her migration and became pregnant on her journey to Morocco. Now in Rabat, Ester has a boyfriend who has become a part of her family, and uses contraception. Brantl says, “Prior to migrating, she never used contraception, but now uses it as, as she puts it, a way to protect herself. Ester shows independence in her decisions to use contraception.” After experiencing the ultimate loss of control over her body, Ester controls the ability to prevent another unplanned pregnancy. In making the choice to use contraception, regardless of the opinion of others, Ester regains autonomy over her maternal trajectory.
Mobility also poses a route to female autonomy during migration. In choosing to leave their home countries, migrant women act independently; despite challenges like human smuggler brutality, becoming pregnant during migration, and crossing borders with babies, some women are still able to continue the search for a better future.
Brantl tells the story of Alice. “Alice was already three months pregnant when she left Cameroon with her husband. They were in search of a better life for their unborn child.” As Alice and her husband migrated, pregnancy posed further challenges. Alice was forced to pay human smugglers more because she was carrying a baby, and was hospitalized in Algeria for lack of nutrition. “Still,” says Brantl, “after giving birth in Algeria, Alice never wavered from her desire to find a better place to raise her baby. She tried to cross the border between Algeria and Morocco five times with her husband and month-old daughter… while the authorities had control over Alice’s border crossing, her persistence and determination to reach Morocco represents her fight to regain control over her role as mother.”
Education is another area in which migrant mothers exercise independent decision-making. Choices surrounding education for their children in Morocco are displays of autonomy. Brantl illustrates this with more of Ester’s story. “Ester is eager for her son to learn Arabic at school, and she is teaching him English and French. She is excited for him to be able to speak three languages.” Ester is exercising autonomy surrounding her son’s education – an opportunity many migrant children don’t have.
According to Brantl, migrant women are most readily able to demonstrate autonomy over their maternal trajectories through decisions regarding family planning, mobility, and education, and these conclusions challenge common views of migrant women as powerless and dependent.
However, it remains unhealthy and unproductive for migrant women to struggle in an environment that does not support them. The implications of migrant women’s experiences should be considered in shaping the approach organizations take in delivering aid, as well as the policy that Morocco pursues in respect to migrants in Morocco. The need to control one’s body and support their children is always present, but is difficult without systems of support.
Brantl asserts, “If governmental policy, organizations’ delivery of aid, and the information on migration change to support and honor the autonomy that migrant women deserve, children of migrant women in Morocco will grow to have better access to healthcare, education, and more job opportunities.”