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Assessing the impact of community structures in protecting forced migrant women in inner city Durban.

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Forced migration has become a global crisis, with half of those being women. Forced migrant women are the most vulnerable in situations of displacement and resettling in host countries. Community structures, however, can play important roles in protecting, integrating and providing women with support in their host country. The purpose of this study is to assess the roles and impact of existing community structures in protecting and integrating forced migrant women in the inner city of Durban, South Africa. This study uses social capital and social networks as a theoretical framework to understand the role of community structures in the protection and integration of forced migrant women. The study used a qualitative approach, with in-depth interviews with 12 women who were forced migrants. Participants were recruited through purposive sampling through a local non-governmental organization working with refugees. Data were thematically analysed with respect to the study’s objectives. Results showed community structures played two main roles, first, in offering short-term assistance such as, short-term accommodation, food and medical attention to women. Second, in providing longer - term assistance, in the form of spiritual support, connection to work opportunities and reuniting families. Women’s bonding and bridging social capital were important for them in accessing a wider range of opportunities via community structures and in establishing close-knit social networks such as support groups and savings clubs. Community structures also hindered migrant women’s integration and protection, specifically, around women’s experiences of sexual and gender based violence and intimate partner violence, community structures reinforced traditional gender roles, and they had limited resources to support women. Issues of mistrust also impeded the women from accessing needed assistance from wider social networks in the city. As a result, some women remained isolated and not adequately protected, hindering their integration and access to support systems. This study suggests that strategies to improve forced migrant women’s integration and protection could include creating safe spaces for women. In addition, working with and building the existing community structures’ capacity can help develop better responses to the needs of women.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.