The structural dynamics of forced migration, displacement, and resettlement upend all aspects of life, including the social norms that govern daily life. These disruptions introduce stressors and challenge the boundaries of socially constructed gender roles, simultaneously exacerbating and transforming inequities to varying degrees. While gendered dynamics have been comprehensively examined and theorized in the study of migration and immigration writ large, the intersection of gender and refugee resettlement specifically remains a comparatively undeveloped area of research. This qualitative study offers insights into gendered experiences of resettlement from the perspectives of cis-gendered women and men who resettled to the U.S. as refugees.
This study employed a purposive sampling strategy to recruit participants who had resettled as refugees to an urban setting in the western region of the U.S. A total of 44 women and 44 men (n=88) who had originated from Africa, the Middle East, and South/East Asia participated in the study. Participants were on average 38 years old and had been in the U.S. for 11 years. The semi-structured qualitative interview guide queried women and men’s experiences and expectations of resettlement, reflections on life in the U.S., and their past and future priorities. The research team used a thematic analytic approach to examine structurally coded data from a critical intersectional perspective, paying particular attention to gendered experiences, as well as the gender identities of participants. Researchers thus examined categories of “family responsibilities,” “education,” and “racism or discrimination.” Analysis and interpretation of data within and across these categories generated three interrelated themes. In adherence to standards of rigor (Creswell, 2013), reflexive analytical memos and discussions served to conceptualize and ultimately finalize themes.
The analysis identified three themes related to gendered experiences of refugee resettlement: (1) shifting and expanding expectations of women post-resettlement, (2) gender disparities in education pre- and post-resettlement, and (3) gendered experiences of discrimination post-resettlement. The themes highlighted expanding and intensifying responsibilities that specifically complicated women’s efforts to manage new household, employment, and parenting dynamics. Recognizing the importance of education to long-term stability post-resettlement, participants described gender-specific barriers to achieving educational goals, particularly in regards to learning English and meeting family obligations. Finally, the analysis highlighted gendered aspects of discrimination and oppression, with attention to the ways in which participants resisted and subverted stigma and harassment.
Conclusions and Implications
The findings from this analysis contribute to the limited number of studies that examine gendered experiences and highlight intersecting disparities. The analysis offers several pathways for informing refugee resettlement policy, practice, and research concerned with battling inequities and building solutions. For instance, the study reiterates the need to challenge the notion of the (male) head of household as the “primary applicant” and thus the main recipient of information and services. The findings also highlight the imperative for equity in long-term access to educational opportunities and support over time. Ongoing research must embrace a broader non-binary conceptualization of gender, design studies that track nuanced experiences over time, and systematically address intersecting inequities in policy and practice.