Harvesting Solidarity in the Mangroves
“A year ago I would not have ever thought myself capable of waking up at 5:00 am to walk out into the ocean, crawl through the mangroves, and return to shore hours later carrying a bucket of oysters on my head,” noted senior GWSS major Alia Jeraj while discussing her four-and-a-half month study abroad program in Senegal last spring. Alia’s journey took her to Medina Sangako, a small village about five hours southeast of Dakar. There, Alia’s interest in women’s labor organizing led her to an internship with a local women’s oyster-harvesting collective.
Alia’s internship was based on cultural immersion: she lived with a host family during her program, learning from their daily lives and experiences, while also interning with the oyster-harvesting collective. This group of women emphasized communal labor and profit sharing. They spent full days in the ocean, covering their arms in fabric in order to avoid being cut by the sharp roots of the mangroves and oysters. Later, they sold their bounty at local markets, splitting the profits evenly with each other. Because of her GWSS background, Alia was able to analyze the labor performed by this woman’s collective through a feminist lens. Alia says her GWSS knowledge gave her the tools she needed to “avoid a lot of the thinking patterns of many Americans [that] immediately judge a cultural phenomenon as ‘bad’ ’’ and instead attend to the “cultural and historical contexts that lead to labor being divided” in certain ways.
Alia’s internship increased her interest in how women’s labor is organized in different geographies and cultures. Particularly, she wants to push back against the western compulsion to implement capitalist labor structures and economies in cultures and geographies that are referred to by many as the Global South, and are so often wrongly assumed to be less progressed. Alia says that being immersed in a culture so different from the one she grew up in made it easier to analyze connections between “cultural practices, religious beliefs, and labor divisions...in the context of my own culture.”
Alia’s unique internship is just one example of how a degree in GWSS can be used in unexpected and interesting ways. Despite the internship being “the hardest thing [I’ve] willingly put [myself] through,” Alia is thankful for all she learned while interning with the women’s collective and cites her experience as “undoubtedly worth it.” Her internship continues to play a large role in her academic work as she is currently planning her senior thesis on the ways in which gendered labor divisions are constructed through and around patriarchal family structures.
This story was written by an undergraduate account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.