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Navigating (im)mobility: female entrepreneurship and social media in Khartoum

  • Griet Steel

Through Facebook and other social media, a growing number of well-educated women in Khartoum are marketing and selling typically female personal care and beauty items online. These ‘tajirat al-Facebook’ (or Facebook traders) are the new entrepreneurs of Sudan who work from home to run their businesses and widen their social circles. Relying on the urban infrastructure of mobile phones, delivery boys, digital connectivity and online platforms, they navigate public life from the intimate sphere of the home or harem to become successful businesswomen who continuously transcend conventional gender norms and classic divisions between public and private, online and offline, and work and family. By addressing the day-to-day socio-economic practices of these traders, this article casts innovative light upon the broader discussions surrounding the role of women in economic life in Africa. It is argued that the mobile phone, and the smartphone in particular, has opened up a range of opportunities for women to enhance their social and economic manoeuvring space and to negotiate power within, and beyond, the domestic realm. New communications technologies have paved the way for a new kind of entrepreneurship in which the commercial goals of profit making are intimately entwined with the broader practices of sociality and diversion from boredom.

À travers Facebook et d'autres médias sociaux, un nombre croissant de femmes instruites de Khartoum commercialisent et vendent des produits de beauté et d'hygiène féminine sur Internet. Ces « tajirat al-Facebook » (commerçantes Facebook) sont les nouvelles femmes entrepreneures du Soudan qui, de chez elles, dirigent leur entreprise et développent leur cercle social. S'appuyant sur l'infrastructure urbaine des téléphones portables, des livreurs et des plateformes de connectivité numérique et Internet, elles conduisent leur vie publique depuis l'univers intime de leur domicile ou harem pour réussir dans les affaires en transcendant en permanence les normes de genre conventionnelles et les divisions classiques entre public et privé, connecté et non connecté, et travail et famille. En traitant des pratiques socioéconomiques quotidiennes de ces commerçantes, cet article apporte un éclairage innovant sur les discussions plus larges concernant le rôle des femmes dans la vie économique en Afrique. Il soutient que le téléphone portable, et notamment le smartphone, a offert aux femmes un éventail d'opportunités pour améliorer leur marge de manœuvre sociale et économique et pour négocier le pouvoir au sein de la sphère domestique, mais également au-delà. Les nouvelles technologies de communication ont ouvert la voie à un nouveau type d'entrepreneuriat dans lequel les objectifs commerciaux lucratifs sont intimement liés aux pratiques plus larges de socialité et de diversion de l'ennui.

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