Urban Forum

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 59–73 | Cite as

Selling Sex, Mothering and ‘Keeping Well’ in the City: Reflecting on the Everyday Experiences of Cross-Border Migrant Women Who Sell Sex in Johannesburg

  • Rebecca WalkerEmail author


In Johannesburg, a city with the largest proportion of South Africa’s migrant population, women who sell sex face multiple vulnerabilities including discrimination, criminalisation, and many levels of violence, directed particularly at non-nationals. Drawing from interviews with non-national or cross-border migrant women who sell sex on a regular basis, this paper explores experiences of selling sex, motherhood and ‘keeping well’ through the lens of the city. Noting that violence against sex workers is often identified at an inter-personal and behavioural level (attacks and abuse from clients, the police and the public), this paper seeks to make more visible the unjust and violent structures and practices of the inner-city, which impact upon and negatively shape the everyday experiences and well-being of migrant women as they sell sex. These include difficulties in accessing basic services such as healthcare and childcare, encountering widespread stigmatisation and the misrepresentation or silencing of certain voices within the sex worker movement. Therefore, questioning the ways in which the city is experienced, and in turn how practices of the city have failed migrant women who sell sex, the paper argues for a broader approach, an approach that recognises the complexities and ambiguities inherent in the lived experiences and multiple identities of migrant women themselves rather than through the frames applied to them whether it be that of sex worker, foreigner or mother.


Sex work Mothering Migration Structural violence Johannesburg Women 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.African Centre for Migration and SocietyUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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