Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Social Work

First Advisor

Kimberly Bender


Refugees, African women, Interpretative phenomenoligical analysis


The global refugee crisis, propelled by wars and political conflict, is producing a massive demographic shift around the world. The impact of forced displacement and the abrupt dislocation from all that is familiar is devastating and leaves women refugees especially vulnerable. The United States is viewed as a beacon of hope for many, including African women refugees, who seek the freedoms denied them in their natal countries. Women refugees from Africa experience multiple and complex challenges (such as lack of English and job skills, as well as low literacy) as they move to economic self-sufficiency and navigate life in their new environment. Yet, very little is understood about the ways African women refugees, who have limited resources, adjust and cope in their new setting. Also, policies and practices employ a deficit-based model that focuses only on assumed needs and rarely on the strengths or abilities of African women refugees.

Knowing there are several gaps in the literature, the current study followed an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) and examined the lived experiences and resiliencies of twenty African women refugees attempting to meet the demands of early economic self-sufficiency while integrating into life in the US. The sample (n = 20) consisted of women refugees from Africa between the ages 23 to 57 years old (with an average age of 33 years old) and living in the greater Denver metropolitan area. Participants were from the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan. The African women lived in refugee camps in Africa for a period of three to 22 years. The length of time in the US varied from nine months to three years, with an average time of approximately two years.

Findings revealed several themes under the super-ordinate themes of pre-migration and post-migration experiences. For pre-migration experiences, findings suggested that even though war strips women from their real lives into one of physical darkness and despair, the women devised ways to redefine what “normal” means, which contributed to making the women feel hopeful of a “better tomorrow.” For post-migration experiences, results suggested: (1) the continuing emotional, cognitive, and physical challenges resulting from trauma experiences hinder the move to early economic self-sufficiency for women refugees from Africa; (2) women use a combination of religion, solidarity, ethnic identity (Africanness), strong family/community ties, and activism to survive; and (3) the majority of women use informal social networks to secure employment. While this combination of resources may allow women refugees get by, many women are still unable to move to economic self-sufficiency. This is particularly true with the often problematic institutional practices and differential treatment because of race, gender, religion, and culture that exists in the labor market and mainstream US society. Finally, results also indicated that education, “refugeeness,” cultural traditions, religion, and spirituality are used to resist Western norms and values. The study concludes with a discussion of implications for social work practitioners, policy advocacy, and research.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. This work may only be accessed by members of the University of Denver community. The work is provided by permission of the author for individual research purposes only and may not be further copied or distributed. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Badiah Haffejee


Received from author

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247 pgs


Social work