Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Research Student: Dr Egle Cesnulyte

Limited agency in a neo-liberal world: the case of female sex workers in Mombasa, Kenya

Photo of Dr Egle Cesnulyte

Neo-liberal practices based on economic theory and supported by appropriate discourses are explored in this thesis to show how these processes affect social, economic and patriarchal structures, and explore their gendered effects.

The sex industries are analysed as an example to show how women who are in a disadvantaged position in society manoeuvre the socio-economic and patriarchal scene, ‘bargain with patriarchy’, and attempt to make a living or progress socially and economically through unconventional choices.

This task is undertaken through the analysis of Mombasa self-identified sex workers’ life stories and narratives. Neo-liberal practice resulted in increased poverty and ruptures in social structures.

Even though some women manage to manoeuvre the patriarchal and economic systems of Kenya to their own advantage through unorthodox choices (selling sex being one of them) and manage to change their initial disadvantaged position, many women are unsuccessful in this undertaking.

An analysis of sex workers’ work strategies and plans for the future shows that women aim to capitalise on gender and economic inequalities that marginalise them in order to advance. In order to succeed in this endeavour, women have to find entrepreneurial ways to perform certain socially accepted gendered roles.

Therefore, it will be argued that in a socio-economic system influenced by neo-liberalism that builds on gender inequality, the individuals who internalise neo-liberal logic can succeed in improving their initial disadvantaged position to some extent, but that such individual agency is limited because it fails to challenge socio-economic and patriarchal structures.

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