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Beyond Economics: Women Negotiating Trauma, Violence, and Assimilation as Refugees in South Africa


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South Africa has been a leading country in ratifying laws and policies to address the unique experience a female refugee has in comparison to males. However, despite South African refugee regimes’ efforts to increase awareness, bring gender equality within its refugee laws, and provide resources to the female refugee population there are still components to a female refugee’s experience in assimilating to their new country that need greater attention. This paper addresses the lack of emotional and psychological support given to female refugees. Through the combination of ethnographic research conducted at one of major refugee regimes in South Africa, the Cape Town Refugee Center, and in depth interviews with female refugees, the idea that a refugee regime such as the CTRC is providing a comprehensive approach to aiding the refugee population was directly challenged. In this work five women who embody and represent the experience of many female refugees in South Africa, tell their story about what life has been like navigating their past and current emotional and psychological traumas as a female refugee trying to integrate into their society. In this work another facet in helping an extremely vulnerable population—female refugees—is being introduced as a means to ensure a more successful integration. If this can be done than these women are capable of becoming an asset to their new communities versus a burden to the economy and society of their host country. In a world that continues to have increased instability and an ever-growing refugee population the issue of how to properly and successfully absorb refugees is key to any country’s success. In this work the research addresses the great importance of refugee regimes allocation more resources to helping women refugees work through the immense amount of physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional traumas that they have endured.

Published in: News & Politics, Business
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Beyond Economics: Women Negotiating Trauma, Violence, and Assimilation as Refugees in South Africa

  1. 1. Beyond Economics: Women Negotiating Trauma, Violence, and Assimilation as Refugees in South Africa<br />Jennifer Bradshaw<br />Advisor: Yvonne Braun<br />
  2. 2. Background<br />20.8 million refugees seeking asylum, half are women<br />About 300,000+ seeking asylum in South Africa<br />20% applicants are female, 5% gain legal status<br />women’s journeys to safe refuge are usually more difficult and involve less access to resources. <br />When a woman must flee for her safety she leaves behind her home, community, support system, and livelihood. In this process of becoming a “refugee” a woman is likely to increase her vulnerability in significant ways. <br />Traditional Concept of who refugees were<br />-political, social, religious…how females can be active participants in all these categories<br />
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  4. 4. South Africa’s Role in Female Refugees’ Experiences<br />GUIDELINES ON INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION: Gender-Related Persecution within the context of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugee<br />Refugees Act 130 of 1998<br />2001 recognition as gender could be a reason for persecution<br />UNHCR<br />UNHCR’s 1951 Convention Relating to Status of Refugees<br />the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees<br />the Organization of African Unity (0AU) of 1969<br />
  5. 5. South Africa’s Role in Female Refugees’ Experiences<br />The right to dignity (s. 6),<br />the right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources (s. 12(1)(c)),<br />the right not be tortured in any way (s.12 (1)(d)),<br />the right not to be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading manner (s.12 (1)(e))<br /> lastly the right to bodily and psychological integrity, including the right to make decisions concerning reproduction, and to security in and control over the body (s. 12(2))<br />(Handmaker: 2008).” <br />
  6. 6. Previous Literature<br />Susan Forbes Martin in her book Refugee Women: <br />Despite the increased awareness and understanding of the challenges presented by a largely female and young population, major problems remain in protecting and assisting refugee and displaced women. There are still far too many situations in which women and children are subject to sexual violence and targeted attacks during flight and in refugee and displaced persons camps. Women still find it difficult to feed themselves and their families, and sexual exploitation by armed forces, government officials, and even humanitarian aid workers continues to prevail in too many countries (px: 2004).<br />
  7. 7. Previous Literature<br />Valji et al addresses “the existence of legislation that seems to protect women should not be used as evidence of state protection in and of itself…(223:2008).”<br />Martin notes it is only recently that gender as a reason for persecution has been recognized by some refugee regimes (Martin: 2004).<br />“gender blindness to these issues” (Freedman: 2008). [Traditional notions of who refugees were/are…ignoring issues surrounding female refugees]<br />Past work done by leading refugee regimes such as the, UNHCR have provided quantitative data about refugee populations (UN General Assembly: 1980; Tran, Nguyen: 1994; Yu, Liu. 1986; Montgomery: 1996) <br />
  8. 8. Literature Review/ Why address this issue/ Significance<br />if female refugees are not properly and fairly processed and provided for, then, as Martin has shown with her work female refugees can adversely affect local services, job markets, food costs, water supplies, and the environment of their host country (2004).<br />if females can be properly and safely absorbed then they can too greatly add to their new communities by helping stimulate the economy with purchasing and selling powers while also providing the opposite affects of a brain drain—a brain replenish.<br />if empowered and taken care of can help improve their home countries<br />
  9. 9. Case Study: Cape Town Refugee Center<br />
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  15. 15. Why CTRC…<br />The Cape Town Refugee Center (CTRC) provided a unique opportunity to examine a center that addresses multiple components to processing and providing services to refugees. It also is an excellent case study of a refugee regime that exists in a country that has been incredibly ambitious on paper in processing, protecting, and providing for female refugees in and equal and fair manner<br />
  16. 16. CAPE TOWN REFUGEE CENTER<br />96% funding from UNHCR<br />UNHCR’s influence<br />Disconnect between CTRC and UNHCR<br />4 others like it in South Africa-major social service provider for refugees in South Africa<br />Receive 80-100 refugees a day<br />36% female<br />60% male<br />4% female<br />About 10,000 clients a year…and this number continues to grow by about 2000 persons a year<br />
  17. 17. Population Breakdown<br />Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Congo, Burundi, Somalia, and Zimbabwe.<br />Based upon the CTRC’s statistics in 2007 the Center’s clients were 43% from DRC, 12% from Burundi, 14% from Rwanda, 9% from Somalia, and 8% Zimbabwe.<br />In 2008 the population breakdown was: 37% from DRC, 11% from Burundi, 12% from Rwanda, 8% from Somalia, and 20% from Zimbabwe.<br />The Center had not finalized the statistics for 2009, but I was able to get the final numbers for October-December 2009 which showed: 21% from DRC, 17% from Congo-BRZ, 8% from Burundi, 7% from Rwanda, 4% from Somalia, and 15% from Zimbabwe <br />
  18. 18. Methodologies<br />Triangulation Method (Berg 2007)<br />-participant observation, in-depth interviews, used stats from CTRC <br />Qualitative Field Research Jan 2010-March 2010<br />25semi structured interviews<br />11males and14females<br />30-1.5 hour interviews<br />In analysis used Purposive Sampling (Berg 2007)-tried to have my sample population representative of the population CTRC was serving in regard to nationality<br />
  19. 19. Methodologies<br />Recruiting methods<br />Why I chose that subjects that I did…<br />-gender, availability, nationality, viable candidate, (safety)<br />Translators/transcribers<br />
  20. 20. Trying to Understand the Emotional, Physical, and Psychological Traumas of Female Refugees: Five Women Refugees’ Stories About Assimilation in South Africa<br />Alexa (past traumas)<br />Michelle, Heather, and Jessica (social life)<br />Heather and Sarah (Home Life)<br /> Jessica and Michelle (finding employment and the work environment)<br />
  21. 21. Processing the Past: Alexa<br />“I told them [Home Affairs Office] there was too much rape happening and people kill each other anytime, like there was no government. People die anytime like a chicken in the streets, they don’t even take the body away, you going to see the body eaten by the dogs for one week…that was Luanda [the town she lived in Angola].”<br />“Like the way I was raped and I don’t like, I didn’t tell, and I never tell my children. I never even tell my daughter I was raped.” <br />“I never love a man in my life and I never love sex. Never. I was never happy to do sex. That’s the way I went through my marriage, destroyed…” <br />
  22. 22. Dynamics At Home for A Woman Refugee<br />Jessica and Heather: Abandonment<br />“Because of the distance we were in, we couldn’t connect anymore, the things we should to do together he didn’t enjoy anymore. And he was like more into the South African women, and South African music.” (Heather)<br />They just left us with the kids. For us to take care of the kids, but how can we take care of the kids if we are just working…you can’t even take care of yourself, if I tell you since this morning I eat only one doesn’t mean men cannot take care of my baby, he can, they just don’t do it, they don’t care. (Jessica)<br />
  23. 23. Dynamics At Home for A Woman Refugee<br />Domestic Abuse:<br />Christina CTRC Director: “Most of African man, they wouldn’t really accept what is happening in South Africa, women are so…how can I say it… are so liberated, and men from other nationalities wouldn’t want their women to be exposed or to come into contact with the South African women.”<br />Sarah:<br /> Is your husband sometimes mean, because there is no family around? <br /> Yea, even if it is not my husband, all day there are other husband or other men. If they were there in our country they behave like where they come from—they respect you. But if, they are here they learn some other stuff, if they want they, they do whatever they want: they tell you where you can go, you don’t have nothing here—you don’t have an uncle, a mother, or father you see…Sometimes they beat you or whatever, my husband…<br /> <br />
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  38. 38. Social Life<br />Jessica: xenophobia <br />They can just call, when you are walking here, they can just call ‘hey you foreigner.’ You’re a foreigner always. Even now I want to open a business, that place that I have owned by a South African lady. I talked to her. I cannot show as if the shop is mine, because if I do that, they may not want me there—if you are doing something good<br />Michelle: the culture of rape in South Africa<br />And the time that she fired me it was too late, about 6 o’clock and I went over the road to phone my friend to see if possible to help me and so I can sleep by her…and when I was coming back from the phone, somebody raped me on my way<br />“The one who raped me infected me with STD…after that, that they take HIV test, they also give what they took from my insides to the police and after that they give me medication for an a abortion, maybe if I’m pregnant.” <br />Heather<br />People think that if you are single you are automatically looking for a man. It is easier for a man to just touch you wherever he wants.<br />
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  43. 43. Navigating Employment in South Africa<br /> Volatility of Employment<br />Cannot not be dependent on employment of wage<br />Self employed –struggle with reinvestment<br />Juggling care of family and work<br />Methods of finding employment, keeping a job, and their implications on a female refugee<br />Human trafficking- World Cup 2010 FIFA<br />Jessica:<br />There is this man who that Monday was there, when I didn’t go that Monday, I come here [CTRC]. When I went there on Tuesday this man, taking a small group, us our ages, he can lie to us, says he going to give us job. When he take you, he take you to his house, he’s doing poor things to these two ladies, so they come and explain to us, please if you see this guy, you need to not even get inside that car, because that means he is using you, women…it’s very common.<br />