Bosnian Refugee Women in (Re)Settlement: Gender Relations and Social Mobility


Franz, Barbara. 2003. “Bosnian Refugee Women in (Re)Settlement: Gender Relations and Social Mobility.” Feminist Review 73 (1): 86-103.

Author: Barbara Franz


Bosnian refugee women adapted more quickly than their male partners to their host environments in Vienna and New York City because of their self-understanding and their traditional roles and social positions in the former Yugoslavia. Refugee women's integration into host societies has to be understood through their specific historical experiences. Bosnian women in exile today continue to be influenced by traditional role models that were prevalent in the former Yugoslavia's 20th-century patriarchal society. Family, rather than self-fulfillment through wage labor and emancipation, is the center of life for Bosnian women. In their new environment, Bosnian refugee women are pushed into the labor market and work in low-skill and low-paying jobs. Their participation in the labor market, however, is not increasing their emancipation in part because they maintain their traditional understanding of zena (women) in the patriarchal culture. While Bosnian women's participation in low-skill labor appeared to be individual families’ decisions more in New York City than in Vienna, in the latter almost all Bosnian refugee women in my sample began to work in the black labor market because of restrictive employment policies. In contrast to men, women were relatively nonselective and willing to take any available job. Men, it seems, did not adapt as quickly as women to restrictions in the labor market and their loss of social status in both host societies. Despite their efforts, middle-class families in New York City and Vienna experienced substantial downward mobility in their new settings. Women's economic and social downward mobility in (re)settlement, however, did not significantly change the self-understanding of Bosnian women. Their families' future and advancements socially and economically, rather than the women's own independence and emancipation remained the most important aspect of their being.

Keywords: Bosnian refugee women, gendered employment, self-perception of men and women, social mobility, patriarchy, family

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Ethnicity, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Livelihoods Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 2003

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