Who did I speak to?
Women from all over the world.I conducted 6 interviews for this project. Each woman I talked to was from a different country: Bhutan, Iraq, Cambodia, Algeria, Eritrea, and Rwanda.
Most of the women I talked to were in their forties or fifties. Only 2 women were in their twenties or thirties.
The current level of education was generally a High School Diploma; 2 women had education beyond that.
The majority of women in this study could vote and were excited to participate in American democracy.
My questions generally focused on the differences in gender roles and discrimination between their home countries and Central Ohio. The following are comparisons the women made:
- In Bhutan and Algeria, marriage is very important. Women are expected to become housewives, and they must be responsible for the children and housework. When the Bhutanese and Algerian woman came to the US, they discovered they had a more equal role in marriage and became partners with their spouses. In addition, the education for girls in America was a lot better.
- The Iraqi woman spoke about the change in women's experience in Iraq before and after 2003. Before the American invasion in 2003 women's rights were improving in Iraq; women were getting an education and experienced relative safety. Post-invasion, it became unsafe for women to travel, work, or socialize outside the home. This is due to the unstable government and rise in sectarian violence. In Central Ohio, she enjoys the freedom to travel and work as she pleases. In addition, she feels like she is more of an equal partner with her husband here.
- Today, the main issues with gender equality in Eritrea stem from the authoritarian government. Previously, the same issues stemmed from the colonial government. The Eritrean woman I spoke with lived under the colonial occupation. She explained some of the cultural practices that negatively affected women. One practice she encountered was the marriage of rape victims to their attackers. Virginity is highly valued, and when women lose it prior to marriage, it is difficult for them to find husbands and financially support themselves. Sometimes, when women would reject men, the men would rape them to force them into marriage. She is happy that in America, women can work and get an education just like men can.
- Rwanda is a unique case because women's rights are heavily promoted by the Rwandan government. However, this does not mean women are considered equal throughout the country. In fact, the Rwandan woman I spoke to expressed the difficulty of being a woman there. She told me that boys have more access to education and various opportunities. She also shared that the women and girls in a family are expected to complete all the housework. She found that this was not the case in America. Here, her brothers had more responsibilities, and the tasks were split more evenly.
- It was difficult for the Cambodian woman to make comparisons because she was so young when she left Cambodia.
My favorite question to ask was: what makes you proud to be a woman from _____? For the woman from Bhutan being the first daughter in her family made her proud. For the Iraqi woman being a descendant of the world's first civilization and the original people of Iraq made her proud. Others were proud of the immense strength shown by women of both the past and present in fighting for the rights of their people and gender equality.
I also asked the women about how they have adapted to living in Central Ohio. I asked: Did they experience discrimination here? What is it like to work or go to school here? What did they struggle with? The answers I got varied, but they centered around 4 themes.
- English Language skills. The ability to speak and understand English has a big impact on the everyday lives of new residents of Central Ohio. It controls what jobs you are able to work and your educational experience. The woman I talked to from Rwanda explained that school was extremely difficult for her in the beginning because she struggled with English. The woman from Eritrea told me that learning English was the hardest part about moving to America.
- Education. College degrees from other areas of the world do not always apply in the US. This is common. If you wish to hold a similar position or work in your area of expertise, you are expected to redo your entire degree. This happened to one of the women I talked to. She earned a degree and was a teacher in Algeria. Her education and experience did not apply here and now she cleans to earn money. For two of the women I talked to, education was the main motivation for coming to the US. Many parents want their children to come to the US to get a good education. That is why the Algerian woman brought her family to Central Ohio. That is why the Rwandan girl was brought by her parents to live in Central Ohio.
- Xenophobia. It is difficult to live in an area where you are not respected. All of the women I talked to experienced xenophobia while in Central Ohio. The example that stood out to me the most is the Eritrean woman who was trying to educate her son and had to navigate hurdles just because she was a refugee. The teachers at the school were having issues with her son in the classroom when he could not sit still. This woman was often called and told her child was misbehaving, so she would punish him when he got home. Eventually, the school told her that her son should be medicated because he had ADHD. A visit to the doctor confirmed otherwise; he did not have ADHD, he just needed additional help and attention in the classroom. She noticed that many other refugee families were having similar problems. Schools were not providing everything their children needed, and they judged families by their accents and ability to communicate. She also felt tension in her work environment. Some of the other women I talked to felt this as well. They noticed they were being treated poorly because of their accents.
- Loss of community. A couple of the women I talked to were accustomed to a more open and social living environment. Where they are from, neighbors come in and out, have conversations, and share meals. This is not the norm in Central Ohio. Here, a normal relationship with a neighbor is to say "hi" every once in a while. This is isolating and makes it harder to adjust to their new home.
- Treat everyone with respect! Some people think refugees are less intelligent or capable because they have an accent or cannot speak English well. This is false and disrespectful.
- Do not stereotype. People accuse any refugees from the Middle East of being terrorists. This is NOT the case. The refugees coming here are fleeing the actual terrorists.
- Extend educational opportunities. Currently, there are many obstacles for refugees in the classroom. They include: language barriers, mental health concerns, and expenses. These issues can be addressed by giving them access to additional support. It is not fair that we expect them to quickly adjust to a new system and perform at the same level as natives.
- Improve healthcare. Good healthcare is expensive and difficult for many refugees to afford.
- Provide better living conditions. Do not place refugees in struggling areas. They deserve access to a clean and safe environment with green space and good schools.