11: Hair Salons as ‘Private-Public Spaces’: Exploring the Experiences of Young Migrant Women in an Urban Township in South Africa

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This chapter examines the experiences and life-worlds of young migrant women in Thembisa, a sprawling township on the outskirts of the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. Based on conversations and interviews in small hairdressing salons where the young women congregate, the chapter explores how they form relationships and build networks around what we refer to as ‘private-public’ spaces. ‘Private-public’ spaces describe the ways in which a space like a hair salon can be open to anyone on a busy, open street but also be a space for creating (sometimes temporary) friendships, networks and threads of trust among girls and young women looking for better futures in a different country. Exploring how the teenage girls, many of whom have become mothers themselves at a young age, do not fit the stereotypical picture of a vulnerable child migrant, the chapter argues for a greater focus on the realities and needs of migrant youth and especially girls as they move across borders, and base their survival on spaces which simultaneously expose and provide protection from the precarious experiences of everyday life in South Africa.

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