08 February 2021

Integration journeys of refugee women in Geneva

When trying to understand processes of immigrant integration, it is crucial to consider not only the economic and social conditions, but also the feelings of (un)belonging and the identities of the individuals. This observation led Estelle Gagnebin to study in her master dissertation how refugee women in Geneva themselves experience their integration journeys. Her findings, which she details in this interview, won her the Ladislas Mysyrowicz Prize and are now published in open access as part of the Graduate Institute ePapers, thanks to the support of the Vahabzadeh Foundation.

What led you to study the integration processes of refugee women in Geneva?

I was volunteering with Essaim d’accueil, a small organisation aiming at socially integrating refugees and asylum seekers in Geneva. We were organising visits to refugees’ shelters in Geneva and other activities, such as hiking or picnics in the countryside. I came to realise how different the experiences of refugee women were, how more difficult it was to have them interested in our activities for instance. Consequently, I decided to try to understand the particularities of being a refugee woman in Geneva and how this can impact their experiences of so-called processes of integration.

How did you formulate your research questions and what was your methodology?

My questions were: What are the different experiences of refugee women in Geneva, notably given their various positionalities within the society? And what strategies do they use to create a sense of belonging in their new home?

As I was mostly interested in understanding the perceptions of the women, I undertook in-depth interviews with 14 refugee women, whom I contacted thanks to organisations engaged with refugees such as Camarada or Agora. I also exchanged with professionals working in the field and undertook a wide literature and policy review. 

What are your major findings?

They are threefold: first, there are important institutional and social constraints experienced by these women immigration and integration policies, gender and its socially constructed roles, religion, age and language; second, focusing on the intersectionality of these constraints helps to de-essentialise the experiences of these women and allows for a more fine-grained understanding of their specific reality; finally, these women use a variety of identity strategies to create a sense of belonging, of feeling at home, such as their identity as women or their identity as humanists, which allows to them to feel part of a wider humanist or women-based group.

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This e-paper was published thanks to the financial support of the Vahabzadeh Foundation. It reproduces Estelle Gagnebin’s master dissertation in Development Studies (supervisor: Professor Elisabeth Prügl), which won the 2020 Ladislas Mysyrowicz Prize.

Full citation of the e-paper:
Gagnebin, Estelle. Narrations of Belonging and Unbelonging of Refugee Women in Geneva. Graduate Institute ePaper 33. Geneva: Graduate Institute Publications, 2021.

Interview edited by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.