Abstract: Case Studies of Resettled Refugee Mothers and Daughters: Review of Cases from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Case Studies of Resettled Refugee Mothers and Daughters: Review of Cases from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Erum Agha, PhD, MSW, LCSW, Postdoctoral Fellow, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

Patriarchy has historically been a traditional social system in many Eastern countries - ingrained among individuals born in that system and reinforced by internalization of norms through socialization. It influences relationships among families and in society at large and is also associated with disempowerment of women. When Eastern refugee mothers and daughters resettle in the West, their roles shift and daughters begin to take the parental role in caregiving with responsibilities common to males in the Eastern cultural context. Exposure to traumatic events throughout the migration journey makes the mother-daughter dyad more vulnerable and in many ways inseparable. This intersection of mental health needs with race and gender, further shapes and marginalizes the mother-daughter dyads. Limited research is available on the emotional bonds between refugee mothers and adult daughters and their collective mental health needs for optimum outcomes in the context of social and interpersonal functioning. There is a need to examine these relationships to develop culturally relevant and appropriate social and clinical interventions for mother-daughter dyads and strategies for their individual empowerment.


Data are a subset of a primary qualitative study (n=14) conducted to examine the mental health needs of resettled refugee women. This exploratory qualitative study employed a feminist methodology to explore the social and interpersonal functioning of resettled refugee mothers and their adult daughters. Recruitment was facilitated through refugee resettlement agencies in the southeastern United States. Verbal consent was sought from all participants and no compensation was offered. Mother and daughter dyads were interviewed at two points in time, one month apart and lasted 45 minutes each. Thematic analysis was used to analyze data using NVivo software. Code book was developed starting with consultations with experts and community partners. Intercoder reliability was established, discrepancies resolved through discussion and reports were produced for coding categories.


All women in the case studies lacked English language and work experience upon arrival. Mothers had no or minimal education and daughters had varied low education. There was some desire to socialize among daughters and low to none among mothers. All dyads practiced Islam. Mothers’ vulnerability made it challenging for daughters to pursue their goals; yet, the daughters supported their mothers’ dependence. Social interventions improved outlook in all dyads. Grief & loss, isolation, and resistance to change were the most prominent themes among the mothers; whereas, hope, changing roles and socialization as adaptation were the most prominent themes among daughters.

Conclusion & Implications:

There is limited literature on the unique social, emotional and mental health needs of mother-daughter dyads and approaches to addressing these needs. This information is critical in serving them socially and clinically. In addition, examining the dyads as co-dependent could be erroneous. Social and community services must address the mother-daughter dyads as one unit initially until clients are ready to seek independent services. Although the dyad may exhibit some features of codependency, with proper support and culturally relevant social and clinical interventions, transformation to interdependence may surface quickly leading to independent healthy lives.