Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy


Geography and Environment


Arku, Godwin


This dissertation is a rigorous exploration of second-generation Somali women’s relationships to public spaces, in and across the nation’s capital – Ottawa, Ontario. Despite feminist and critical scholarship growing increasingly attentive to how race and gender (e.g., Black women’s geographies) and religion and gender (e.g., Muslim women’s geographies) are navigated in urban space, few studies have examined the ways in which these three identities–chiefly, Black, Muslim and woman–compound to produce a qualitatively distinct urban experience. In the absence of research that goes beyond a two-dimensional model of analyses, this dissertation creates the inaugural theoretical and empirical frames for understanding the spatial implications and experiences of existing at the intersection of race, religion, and gender. To do so, this project utilized mapping focus groups and interviews with 50 second-generation Somali women to explore their complex attachments (e.g., positive, emerging, fractured, absent) to public space in Ottawa. Guided by the question “How do Somali women theorize and negotiate urban public space?,” this inquiry yielded a myriad of intricate and illustrative insights on the relationship between power, positionality, and place. Each of these findings are unpacked via an integrated article format, presented through three interwoven studies on Somali women’s geographies of exclusion, geographies of belonging, and their COVID-19 mobilities. What emerged from this project was an array of insight(s) into the spatial, social, psychic, and physical consequences of being a multiply racialized (Black/Muslim) and gendered (woman) identity in Canada. It chronicles how anti-Black racism and gendered Islamophobia interacts in the minutiae of everyday life, creating a gradient of encounters which range from traumatic to trivial. In addition to its policy implications for local urban planning endeavours, this work offers contributions to feminist geography, Black geographies, critical Muslim studies, cultural anthropology, critical health studies, and Somali diaspora research.

Summary for Lay Audience

People use urban space differently, depending on their social (e.g., ethnicity, race, class, gender, age) identities. These social positions influence how people move through their social worlds, in the form of where, where, and how they go. Since the 1990s, many researchers have committed to exploring the complex ways in which different groups perceive and use urban public space. Increasingly, scholars have focused their attention on Black and Muslim women’s geographies, as these two groups are separately prone to anti-Black racism, sexism, and Islamophobia. Their geographies have been an increasing area of interest because scholars have wondered how these women deal with everyday forms of discrimination, through racist and sexist social interactions in space. Despite this, researchers have yet to study the geographies of women at the mid-point of these two identities – that is, the Black Muslim women. This research sought to fill this gap by creating the first scholarship on Black Muslim women’s public geographies in the Canadian context. Using mapping focus groups and individual interviews, this dissertation examined how fifty Somali Canadian women move through public space in Ottawa, Ontario. It was a thorough exploration into how these women sense and make sense of their public landscape. This research produced a sea of findings that are presented across three chapters: Somali women’s geographies of exclusion, Somali women’s geographies of belonging, and Somali women’s mobilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. From the findings, this dissertation introduced several terms – e.g., spatial humouring, musogynoir, flânoire, and the Somali Spatial Imaginary – meant to help understand life at this particular social location. The findings gleaned here will contribute local urban planning policy, as well as to the areas of feminist geography, Black geographies, critical Muslim studies, and Somali diaspora research.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Friday, August 29, 2025