A matter of choice: reflections on agency and empowerment among refugee women and older youth resettling in Canada

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Bhattacharyya, Pallabi
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This research focuses on the rights and agency of victims of wars and persecution, especially the rights of displaced women and youth. Using Naila Kabeer’s empowerment approach, it addresses the question, “To what extent are refugee women and youth in Canada able to (or unable to) practice their agency accessing resettlement services and programs in order to gain empowerment?” Using two sets of qualitative data, the study examines the Canadian resettlement process and questions whether it allows women and youth to act as creative agents drawing upon resources, creating opportunities to improve their lives, create better mental health conditions, and empower themselves as newcomers in a new society. The first study includes secondary data from an Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) funded project on 21 Yazidi women (qualitative structured interviews); and the second study in study two is part of my primary data which was collected through semi-structured interviews with 17 Syrian, Somalian and Ethiopian refugee youth and women living in Manitoba. This study adds new theoretical perspectives to the existing academic literature on resettlement by examining the micro (individual refugee women), meso (settlement services and programs) and macro (national refugee policies) perspectives of successful resettlement. It establishes a new conceptual model for studying empowerment among refugee women using development theory, exclusion theory, and relational theory to investigate empowering attributes of the existing resettlement services and support system in place for refugees. A significant empirical finding from this research is that existing resettlement policies and settlement programs are designed to protect refugees and focus mainly on meeting their immediate settlement related needs rather than increasing their sense of agency and self-sufficiency in the long-term.
Refugee Women, Refugee Youth, Sense of Agency, Empowerment, Resettlement