Summer School. Gender and Migration: A Legal and Literary Perspective, Venice International University, Italy

Stephanie de Villiers

From 15-21 May 2022, I attended a Summer School at Venice International University in Italy. My PhD thesis focusses on madness and gender in diasporic literature, and the Summer School was on migration and gender from a legal and literary perspective. This was an incredibly ambitious project, and in preparation we had to read three novels on migration: Adua by Igiaba Scego, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. During the Summer School, we considered these texts in relation to legal cases on migration, and discussed how migration laws are gender-specific and do not always make room for the vulnerabilities and difficulties faced by women migrants, especially those who are forced into journeying far from their homes in order to seek asylum. What emerged from the discussions was the importance of literature in the construction of laws surrounding migration since it is through the telling of stories that we are able to learn about migrants’ lived experiences. In addition, literature, and the ability to critically consider and analyse stories play an important part in the interpretation of laws, which can affect the outcomes of human rights cases of migration. The final assignment of the Summer School was the perfect illustration of this. Working in groups, we were given a legal case on migration, and asked to do a feminist rewriting of the decision. My group’s case involved a man from Kiribati who had been denied asylum to New Zealand on the grounds that he was not individually persecuted. In our feminist rewriting, we changed the gender of the man to a pregnant woman with three children, all of whom had been born in New Zealand. We then argued that the family’s human rights provided legal grounds for their asylum. In our rewriting, we also included the fictional testimony of the woman, which I wrote in the form of a poem. Even though I was disappointed by the lack of focus on migration in Africa, it was an absolute pleasure for me to attend this Summer School, which reinvigorated my passion for my thesis. I am also incredibly grateful for Stellenbosch University’s International Office for providing me with a travel bursary, and for my supervisor, Dr Jeanne Ellis, for her support in this endeavour.

Read Stephanie’s poem, “Testimomy”, here.