Refugee Women: Resilient and Reluctant Users of Social Work Services

Refugee Women: Resilient and Reluctant Users of Social Work Services

Mary Nash (Massey University, New Zealand) and Antoinette Umugwaneza (New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services – Palmerston North, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6563-7.ch005

Abstract

This chapter approaches the topic of resettlement social work with women refugees portrayed as resilient yet reluctant users of social work services. While the field of social work with refugees has already been widely introduced and discussed, less attention has been paid to resettlement work with women refugees. In order to contextualise this discussion, key terms are briefly defined, and relevant legislation together with demographic features are covered. The chapter includes a case study presented by one of the authors, an expert by experience. Research relating to this field of practice is presented and ethical issues discussed. Practical applications and cultural concerns derived from the research suggest how practitioners and refugee women may work together, drawing on the strengths and experience of the refugee women to achieve goals that are consistent with those set out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
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Introduction

Mary and Antoinette have worked together to write this chapter. Mary has previously researched the experiences of social workers in New Zealand working with refugees and migrants. Antoinette came to New Zealand as a refugee and is now working as a caseworker supporting refugee resettlement.

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW, 2012) reminds us that the “issues surrounding refugees are matters of justice and peace. Social workers in the vast majority of countries will be required to address the problems facing refugees in their practice” (para. 4). Potocky-Tripodi (2002) has argued that “social work practice with refugees and immigrants requires specialised knowledge of the unique issues of these populations” (p. 3). Without this knowledge we consider that resettlement support will be jeopardised. There is a broad consensus in the statistics cited by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 1990) that

… refugee women represent, either as single women or with their dependents, approximately 80 per cent of the UNHCR’s target population and that programmes can be effective only if they are planned with an adequate understanding of, and consultation with, this group. (p. 7)

While the field of social work with refugees has already been widely introduced and discussed, less attention has been paid to resettlement work with women refugees. This chapter, therefore, approaches the topic of resettlement social work with a focus on women refugees and their rights to citizenship and participation in society and through the case study portrays them as resilient yet reluctant users of social work services. It moves, therefore, from a macro human rights perspective to a micro and applied perspective in which women refugees and their daily concerns as new settlers are considered.

In order to contextualise this discussion for an international audience, key terms are briefly defined and relevant legislation together with demographic features are covered. The chapter includes a case study presented by one of the authors, herself an expert by experience. Research relating to this field of practice is presented and ethical issues discussed. The Indicators of Refugee Integration framework (Ager & Strang, 2004) assists the discussion.

Key words and phrases used in the literature search included refugees, “women refugees”, “social work with refugees”, “women and human rights”, “refugee resettlement”, and resilience. It was interesting to note how often, when searching documents on-line, the word women failed to turn up, suggesting that it is timely to focus on women refugees and how they manage the issues involved in, and the processes of, resettlement. Much of the research we have drawn on is based on qualitative and narrative methods designed to give voice to refugee women themselves. We found that practical applications and cultural concerns derived from the research and guided by experience suggest how practitioners and clients may work together, drawing on their strengths and resilience, to achieve goals which are consistent with those set out by the UNHCR, as recognised in Australia and New Zealand. Many of the information sources for this chapter are derived from open access sites on the internet, particularly policy statements, UNHCR research, and NGO websites. This means that readers without access to libraries (and, therefore, without on-line access to academic journals) will, nevertheless, be able to follow up some valuable sources of information on their own behalf.

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Women Refugees

According to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), a refugee is a person who

… owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. (Article 1(A)2)

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