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Narrations of Belonging and Unbelonging of Refugee Women in Geneva

Estelle Gagnebin

5. Conclusion

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1How refugee women feel in Geneva, belonging or not, safe or not, and how they are able to adapt considering the various boundaries and constraints they face was the main interest of this study. At first, the word “integration” came to my mind when starting this study. How do women feel integrated and how is this process of integration taking place? In his article “Politiques d’asile et trajectoires sociales des réfugiés: une exclusion programmée: les cas de la Suisse”, Bolzman (2001) develops a varied definition of the concept of integration. He discusses mainly the differences in understanding between integration as being a task of immigrants/refugees and integration as a duty that must be mainly taken care of by the State and the host society in general.

2I quickly realized that these two domains were not exactly the processes I wanted to focus on. What interested me was to understand how someone, especially someone coming from a difficult journey as refugees are, can rebuild his/her life somewhere and actually feel at home. I wanted to look at the various significations of what it means to feel at home and safe, at the opposite of the concept of integration that solely looks at economic or social integration for instance. My main interest was to talk to women and try to understand their own journeys and experiences, their impact and meanings as well as their own understandings of what it is to actually feel at home, safe and a sense of belonging in Geneva and Switzerland. Afterwards, my reflections also took me towards the path of intersectionality as a way of escaping the essentialization of refugees/immigrants and women. Closely linked to my desire to understand the various meanings of creating a new home, it was equally important to me to look at how the different identities and characteristics of the women I spoke with have an impact on their own various experiences.

3My literature review was the main tool allowing me to undertake these reflections. Looking at the various studies which tried to grasp processes such as integration, social cohesion and inclusion helped me to develop the theoretical tools used in this study. The concept of boundaries, first ethnic boundaries (Wimmer, 2004; 2008) but later also social and symbolic boundaries (Lamont and Molnár, 2002), was especially crucial in this study in the conceptualization of the institutional context experienced by the refugee women I spoke with. I could thereby explain how five boundaries – Swiss asylum policy, Swiss integration policy, language, religion and gender – mainly impact the refugee women’s inclusion and exclusion journeys and possibilities to express their agency in Swiss society.

4Subsequent to the concept of boundaries, the literature on gender and migration was my gateway into looking at the various identities and characteristics of the women. The concept of intersectionality further developed as translocational positionality by Anthias (2002; 2008; 2012; 2016) was the main theoretical concept I used to analyze the women’s identities and characteristics and their further consequences for their experiences of inclusion/exclusion and feelings of un/belonging. I could identify three clusters of women and show how their very different identities and characteristics impact their experiences of exclusion and inclusion, their feelings of un/belonging – and basically the sole meaning of what being integrated in Geneva is.

5Finally, as my interviews reflect my desire to look at the various experiences and translocational positionalities of the refugee women, I could not develop more clusters. I consequently focused on two main identity strategies – double and hybrid identity and humanist identity and identity as women – used and developed by most of the women in order to make sense of their new lives in Geneva, construct a sense of belonging and create more opportunities for inclusion.

6Finally, I went on to stress the crucial importance of looking at these identity strategies and feelings of belonging as processes. Feelings of belonging will indeed be going back and forth in time and are dependent on many factors (the specific experiences of inclusion/exclusion but also transnational feelings and experiences for instance). Indeed, the employee from Camarada to whom I spoke explained to me how many women feel less stable and safe after some years, sometimes as part of the realization they will stay in Switzerland forever.

7I want to conclude with the main take-away from this study: the crucial importance of de-essentializing refugees, women and humans in general. Indeed, this study allowed me to look closely at a few experiences and processes and show how they are context-dependent but also conditional to individual characteristics and identities. Refugee and immigrant women are sometimes seen as victims of their destiny and as passive. This thesis shows how women’s experiences in a new society are on the contrary varied and far more complex.

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