“This is going to be like being in a reality TV show isn’t it?” Life among displaced women negotiating the Calais border during the Covid-19 lockdown

Authors: Maria Hagan*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Migration, Women, Gender
Keywords: Calais, migration, women, covid-19, domestic space
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 55
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Calais has attracted the attention of considerable scholars since it emerged as a key European migration pressure point in the early 1990s. And yet, in-depth discussions relating to the experiences of displaced women at this border are few and far between. This paper draws on my own unexpected experience of spending three months in lockdown with displaced women in Calais when the field research I had been carrying out with (predominantly male) people living in makeshift camps at the border was interrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020. Drawing on ethnographic insights from this disorienting period of living together in crisis, as well as on these women’s narratives of their affective, embodied experiences of the border, this paper fleshes out the gendered obstacles to passage women face in Calais before detailing how lockdown enabled them to renegotiate some of these obstacles when physical proximity to their male counterparts was ruled out. It then argues that the lockdown period encouraged the women to engage in what I describe as a ‘domestic counter-politics,’ a concept emerging from the changed role of domestic space during this period from one of hindrance to the mobility of the female body to one of strategic potential. The cross-community ties of support and solidarity that emerged from protracted, enforced togetherness led the women to draw on their unique positions as a small but diverse group to endure crisis and negotiate cross-community opportunities to clandestinely reach the United Kingdom.

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