Space, gender and work : the experiences and identities of female street traders in central Pinetown, Durban
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Poverty and unemployment are critical challenges that confront the post-apartheid government. Over a decade has passed since the implementation of the neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (GEAR), and the policy has largely failed to address the socio-economic inequalities in South Africa. As a result of the lack of job opportunities in the country, many South Africans participate in the growing informal economy. Although there are more men employed informally, women tend to dominate certain sectors such as street trading. Research indicates that many female street traders are the sole providers for their dependants, and thus rely heavily on the small income that is generated. As women, female traders are also tasked with managing their households and taking care of their families. The thesis aims to explore the identities that female street traders construct in relation to their work experiences at home and in the informal economy. The empirical research for this study was conducted in the Hill Street informal market, which is located in the central Pinetown area, within the eThekwini Municipality. In order to address the research problem, this study adopts a feminist approach that highlights the engendered binary logic that pervades western spatial thought. Spatial binaries, such as the space/place and public/private dualisms, are intimately linked to gender. Whilst notions of home in the private sphere are thought to embody feminine characteristics, public space is typically encoded masculine. Feminist geographers argue that how space is conceptualised matters to the construction of gendered identities, in that gender and space are mutually constitutive. In this study a range of qualitative, interpretive techniques are used to explore the meanings that female street traders attach to their work spaces and to their identities as women. By exploring the everyday work activities of female street traders, as they move between engendered public and private space, attention is drawn to how the working experiences of these women both challenge and reproduce traditional ways of conceptualising space and gender.