Lucy's research focuses on maternity practices among Somalis living in Nairobi, Kenya, incorporating my interests in medical anthropology and forced migration. She conducted fieldwork between November 2009 and June 2011 in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi, often referred to as ‘Little Mogadishu’ due to the large Somali population. In this frequently hostile and insecure context, families are often dislocated, rupturing traditional support networks. As a result, many do not consider Kenya to be a permanent settlement, rather, they perceive themselves at a transit point during an ongoing process of migration. Her forthcoming thesis explores how Somali women and their families navigate and reconcile their reproductive and migratory decisions within this context of displacement, particularly examining how concepts of the body, reproduction, health, gender, and kinship, determine and are determined by the experience of displacement.
Protecting Fertility, Securing the Future: Reproductive Decisions among Somali Refugees in Nairobi, Kenya
This paper will look at the significance of fertility and reproduction to Somalis in the context of forced migration. Drawing on my fieldwork among Somali refugees in Kenya, it will explore the significance of fertility to both refugees in the process of migration and the UN agencies and NGOs that are intended to support them. It will focus on Somali women living in Eastleigh, commonly known as the ‘Little Mogadishu’ area of Nairobi, where Somalis live in a legally ambiguous context due to the Kenyan Government’s encampment policy which requires all refugees to reside within one of the remote, arid camps. In this hostile and violent environment, where refugees endure frequent harassment, the overwhelming majority of my informants were enormously concerned with onward migration, particularly to North America or Europe. This paper will explore how Somali women experienced childbearing as central to their status as women, and more specifically as wives. It will look at how women often saw their potential for reproduction as a key reason for their initial need to flee Somalia, and how high fertility was perceived as intrinsic to their opportunities to seek security and possibilities for onward migration. Without children, women saw themselves as vulnerable to being abandoned by husbands who intended to move abroad. As a result, biomedical and ‘traditional’ remedies for perceived infertility were frequently sought by women and their families, while identified threats to long-term fertility, including caesarean sections and contraceptives, were shunned. Furthermore, this paper will challenge popular perceptions that organisations supporting refugees only look to maintain ‘bare life’, as it will look at the recognition of challenges to fertility as serious threat to the well-being of women and their families.