West African migrant women in Australia : stories of resilience and strength

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[Background and rationale] African migrants are increasing in number in high-income countries, including in Australia. Currently, there is limited research around the experiences of West African migrant women living in Australia, especially in New South Wales, and none using a strengths-based approach. As the number of African migrant women in Australia continues to increase, it is imperative that we understand these women’s experiences of successful settlement and re- establishment in Australia. Consequently, the broad aim of this thesis is to understand the strength and resilience strategies that West African-born women drew upon in their early years of settlement and re-establishing themselves in Australia. This research also documents the strength strategies that West African migrant women utilised in preparing their children for life adversities and challenges as they resettled in Australia. [Methods] A systematic review of the literature helped generate a conceptual framework using the Bronfenbrenner ecological model (1979). As a positive approach to studying the population, Smith’s strengths-based conceptual framework (2006), was applied and feminism principles were also incorporated to explore the intersection of race, gender and minority variables in the women’s stories. The study design and data collection process were qualitative storytelling. Stories from 22 West African women living in New South Wales, Australia, who voluntarily participated in the study, were thematically analysed. Ethics approval (Appendix D) was received for the study from the University of Technology Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee as well as written permission (Appendix A) to utilise the Migrant Resource Centre’s facilities for study brochures and flyers (Appendix C). [Findings] The concept of resilience adapted in this study is defined as the capacity to feel competence in the face of precarious adverse migration living conditions and maintain equilibrium to achieve good outcomes. Themes and sub-themes that emerged from the women’s stories generated data that supported the above definition. Past personal life and events were pivotal to the women’s experiences and were portrayed in the first main theme: connecting past life to the future. Two additional main themes, embracing the new reality and forming connections to build support, underscored the socio-ecological factors that influenced the women’s resilience and strength strategies. All of the women experienced culture shock in relocating to a new country. Experiences of racism, discrimination and xenophobic attitudes were among women’s negative experiences. Women’s optimism and motivation were linked to securing a better life and future opportunities for themselves and their families, especially their children, and being able to support their families back in West Africa. The women’s resilience and strengths were related to their religious beliefs and spirituality, communalism, optimism and hardiness. Through insights from the women’s stories, this study documents an often- neglected strength perspective of African people, thereby contrasting the vast negative discourse in the literature. An original and unique contribution to knowledge from the study includes the women’s resilience legacy for incoming women migrants. This piece of work gave women a voice, which was achieved through the storytelling methodology and feminism framework adapted for this study. [Conclusions] Resilience has a significant impact for the resettlement, health and wellbeing of migrants. Findings from this study have implications for policy, practice and future research. Research findings identify healthcare workers’ vital roles. The study outcomes indicate that healthcare and allied professionals are capable of supporting the improvement of African women migrants’ health status and behaviours by capitalising on their resilience and strength, and utilising it for their care. Health workers at the hospital and community level can make referrals to culturally appropriate resources and support for new migrants since health workers are, in most cases, the first point of contact. Findings also suggest the need for awareness and greater sensitivity to women’s past experiences, and how that might shape their choices in accessing healthcare. The findings are useful for health and allied care workers in their care of both current and future African migrants, especially women. The thesis contributes a highly needed feminist study around African women migrants in Australia and, by extension, to other developed countries throughout the world.
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