Sufferin and smilin: A narrative study of the impacts of violence against women on the space for action of African migrant women in Ireland
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The literature on the impacts of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) details physical, reproductive and mental health impacts, and increasingly economic impacts; however less is known about the social impacts of VAWG. In particular, there is limited knowledge on the role of stigma beyond its relevance to help-seeking and disclosure. Using an intersectional narrative analysis, this thesis investigates the social impacts of lifetime experiences of VAWG among a small group of African women living in Ireland. I use the concept of life space or space for action (Lundgren 1998; Kelly et al. 2014) to frame social impacts as impacts on the relational self, and to explore the ways in which these might ripple out to the wider community. This research was carried out among highly marginalized people in Ireland and investigated themes which are frequently silenced, presenting significant methodological challenges. I conducted five in-depth interviews and six participatory Focus Group Discussions with African migrant women, identifying a continuum of violence and oppression affecting research participants. Using narrative methods at all stages of the research, I developed a detailed analysis of collective identities and individual narratives of violence impact and survival. While the data set is small, it proves rich and revealing, and provides new insights into both intersectional oppression in Ireland, and the role played by stigma in the immediate social impacts of VAWG. The research findings clearly identify two closely related collective identity tropes: the strong Black woman (Kanyeredzi 2017, Collins 2000) and the resilient survivor (Taylor 2018). These tropes, arising in the context of gendered racialized stigma and shame, produced impacts that are not previously documented in the VAWG literature. They are seen to protect victim-survivors from the intense pain and abjection of the emotion of shame, while also imposing a burden of what I term ‘stigma work’ on individuals: this is apparent in conscious efforts to maintain appearances and manage relationships. This work largely protected communities from the ripple effects of VAWG, placing the full burden of impacts on the individual. A counter-narrative of identity is also presented, which suggests different identity responses to stigma and the possibility of social burden-sharing. This thesis represents one of the only in-depth academic studies of the intersections of race, migration, gender and violence in Ireland, and it identifies the strong Black woman trope for the first time in the Irish context. In the concept of space for action, it provides a new framework for understanding the social impacts of VAWG-related stigma and the ways that impacts can ripple from the individual, via her relationships, to the wider community. It identifies “stigma work” as an impact occurring in the context of both violence and stigma, and demonstrates how such work is protective of the individual at the affective level, and also protective of the wider community. The ultimate relational impact of VAWG was, in this study, absorbed almost entirely by individual victim-survivors: ‘suffering’ with trauma, isolation and intense responsibilities, while ‘smiling’ rather than exposing their vulnerability. The thesis introduces new research questions for understanding VAWG and its impacts in the context of a continuum of intersecting violence and oppression. It offers recommendations to address gaps in understanding, policy and practice related to the specific needs of migrant women victim-survivors in Ireland.
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