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Chapter 1 sets the stage for the book. It situates the argument of the book within discussions on the origins of neoliberalism, neoliberal ideas and practices travelling from the Global North to the Global South and neoliberal duality before moving to demonstrate the limits of gender considerations in theorizing neoliberalism. The chapter puts forward the argument that in order to understand gender under neoliberalism it is crucial to take the experiences of marginalised women – women selling sex in this instance – in the Global South seriously. It surveys debates regarding neoliberalism, sex work and the connection between the two. The chapter concludes with methodological considerations, notes of field research and the outline of the book structure.
Chapter 4 investigates neoliberal transformations by looking at the commercial sex industries of Mombasa and argues that neoliberal footprints are reproduced here as well – from the vast inequalities among women selling sex to individual entrepreneurship and intense competition for the clients. Neoliberal workings in creating divisions show a dual logic when it comes to commercial sex: individuals who manage to refashion themselves in line with the needs of the industry embrace entrepreneurial, business-like behaviour are successful in accumulation, whereas other women, who often are in a disadvantageous situation to start with, usually manage just to survive and thus are governed by a logic of livelihood. This duality of the logic governing sex work is reflected in sex workers' work patterns and their interactions with clients and each other. The first part of the chapter focuses on the ways in which women selling sex operate in the city and adapt their looks and behaviour to attract clients and make as much money as possible; the second part of the chapter interrogates questions of solidarity and competition, with witchcraft narratives arising as a moral commentary on neoliberal duality.
Chapter 5 examines how interactions between global and local systems of meaning within the neoliberal political economy shape sex workers’ dreams and plans for the future. This is done by examining the notion of a ‘good life’ that prevails in sex worker narratives. The first part of the chapter considers what such a ‘good life’ consists of and how an understanding of the ‘good life’ differs according to how successful a sex worker is in her trade. The second and the third parts of the chapter analyse what strategies and plans women have to reach their aims. The second part concentrates on women’s ideas about attaining the ‘good life’ through marriage; the third focuses on how a ‘good life’ can be secured through business and work. The final part of this chapter discusses what differences sex workers show in their dreams for themselves and their children, and what might be the reasons behind these. The argument put forward points to the duality of neoliberal logic: some women who live in precarity dream about a 'good life' that means basic survival and living conditions, while women who have already secured their basic needs dream about accumulation and social progress.
Chapter 6 explores the structural obstacles to achieving a post-sex-work ‘good life’, with an emphasis on gendered structural violence and neoliberal agency. Some individuals manage to negotitate sex work better than others, thus reproducing the distinction between winners and losers, and this chapter interrogates what obstacles are important when producing this distinction. The cycle of success in the sex industries, the ability to earn money and spending patterns are investigated to show the difficulties of balancing spending in a way that is compatible with future plans for a ‘good life’. Furthermore, the dangers that define everyday experiences in the sex industries, such as the possibility of unplanned pregnancies, the financial strains of raising children, the probability of alcohol and drug addiction and health risks, are discussed to show how these factors contribute to making an exit from sex work to a ‘good life’ complicated. Thus the chapter points to the limits of gendered agency in the commercial sex.
Chapter 8 brings together questions of sex work and agency to reflect on gender under neoliberalism. First, the chapter makes a claim about the gendered nature of making a living, with women’s options being defined by informality and depending on male income in exchange for their social reproductive labour. Women who cannot strike a traditional bargain with patriarchy are left in precarity, and some of them choose sex work as one of these precarious informal ways for making a living, so pointing to the gendered inequalities that neoliberal practice builds upon. Second, the chapter points to the neoliberal agency that is possible in these gendered and constrained structures. Women can instrumentalise gendered inequalities for their own progression and accumulation purposes. Discussions about the work strategies and life plans of women selling sex point to such possibilities if they internalise market logic and successfully embrace their neoliberal self in the violent everyday realities. However, as the third part of the chapter shows, such agency is an option available only to a few, and those who cannot or do not manage to negotitate competitive markets for their own advantage remain in gendered precarity and are guided by the logic of livelihood.
This chapter investigates the ways in which neoliberal transformations in Kenya have been gendered and how those processes have contributed to increasing gendered precarity. It treats changes in formal economic structures together with informal dynamics to demonstrate the gendered outcomes of neoliberal reforms. First, it interrogates the ways in which the restructuring of the economy since the 1990s has had different effects on men's and women’s positions in the labour markets. The decreasing male ability to earn money and the ways in which these processes have affected informal safety nets are discussed before moving on to explore new ways in which women have been targeted for certain jobs because of their cheap labour. Second, the chapter focuses on a specific disadvantaged group of women – those who fall through the cracks in the informal safety nets and struggle to make a living – to demonstrate the gendered, informal and precarious nature of jobs available to women in such situations, with sex work as one of the alternatives. Finally, the chapter turns to demonstrate the ways in which neoliberal economy and society relies on such gendered precarity and the income generated in this way for social reproduction.
Chapter 7 interrogates the intersection between the global and local when considering options available for an exit from sex work and looks specifically at the role of the state, the NGO sector and grass-roots sex worker activism to show women’s limited space for agency in this process. This chapter explores how gender operates in this context of the negotiated duality of the African state to show that despite the Kenyan state’s efforts to avoid engaging with gender issues more profoundly and a continuous exclusion of women from the remit of the state, it must open some political space for movements with a gender agenda because of its accountability to donors that are driven by liberal ideas of inclusion. The first and the third parts of this chapter illustrate this process t+G11hrough examining sex workers’ narratives regarding the Kenyan state and politics, as well as analysing the politics of the sex worker movement. The second part of the chapter focuses on the engagement with the international sphere, which has important re-gendering or gender-strategic consequences. The limits of the NGO sector to address gendered inequalities and create viable alternatives for people selling sex are interrogated by analysing programmes targeting individuals selling sex.
Chapter 3 interrogates the diverse gender roles that women adopt (that of wife, informal wife, mistress, lover, sex worker) to depend on male income, in order to argue that commercial sex is at one extreme end of a such range of survival options. Concentrating on interviewees’ life stories, the first part of the chapter illustrates the different attempts of women to depend on a male income through reproductive labour – both in the informal economic sector and in the domestic sphere. The analysis points to the tensions in the traditionally available options of such dependency in the era of neoliberal transformations, and the difficulties that women face when attempting to pressure men into living up to their obligations. The role of sex workers’ perceptions and assumptions about men and their desires that are the basis for women’s performative gender roles are analysed in the second part of the chapter.
As Kenyan women traditionally have fewer formal employment opportunities, often occupying lower-paid jobs in the informal sector, the experiences of women who earn money in unorthodox ways can offer revealing insights into the agency of women and its limits. Grounded in the narratives and life stories of women selling sex in Kenya, Eglė Česnulytė reveals the range of gendered and gendering effects that neoliberal policies have on everyday socio-political realities. By contextualising and historicising contemporary debates in the field, this important interdisciplinary study explores the societal structures that neo-liberal narratives and reforms influence, their gendered effects, and the extent to which individuals must internalise neoliberal economic logics in order to make or improve their living. In so doing, Česnulytė counters the prevailing male-dominated studies in political science to place women, and female-based narratives at the forefront.
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