Loreen Chikwira – Gender, Culture and Belonging in a Contested Space: Zimbabwean Women in the UK

I am a final year, part-time PhD student in the Department of Social Sciences. My research study is on gender, culture, and ethnicity intersections in how Zimbabwean women construct their identities and navigate personal and social spaces in the UK. I am a Zimbabwean woman who has lived in the UK for 20 years, and I have an interest in working with marginalized groups in areas of community development and social policy.

Personal challenges made me question my culture and identity and inspired my PhD journey to answer the question of how Zimbabwean women in Britain construct, negotiate and establish their cultural identities in contested spaces. The aims of the research were first, to investigate the factors that contribute to Zimbabwean women’s construction of cultural identities. Secondly, to analyse how the Zimbabwean women use socio-cultural resources to construct and negotiate their cultural identities. Lastly, to examine how these cultural identities are socially established in personal and social spaces.

Different theoretical frameworks based on constructionist perspectives have been used to explain identity and belonging in the diasporic space. For my research project, I employ African feminist standpoint theory and intersectionality. African feminist standpoint theory argues for feminist research that places importance on women’s lived experiences and influences of their particular cultural, historical and social locations on their experiences and sense of belonging within various cultural and social groups. Also, standpoint feminists argue that research knowledge is co-produced with participants and the researcher brings their own experiences and knowledge into the research process.

Semi-structured interviews and focus groups were conducted to explore lived experiences of the Zimbabwean women. The purpose of the focus group interviews was to set the foundation for the project and identify themes and gaps for further exploration in the individual interviews. As part of the reflexivity process, my journey and experiences are incorporated into the research to illustrate the lens through which the research process was influenced by the researcher. My research contributes to African feminist scholarship on the on the use of feminist standpoint and intersectionality to explore African women’s lives in contested diasporic spaces.