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Lokot, Michelle (2019) Unraveling humanitarian narratives : Syrian gender norms in contestation. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The war in Syria has displaced millions, leading to many Syrians seeking refuge in countries like Jordan, where they access humanitarian assistance, including interventions designed to promote ‘gender equality and women’s empowerment’. Many international humanitarian agencies assert that Syrian refugees experience gendered changes during displacement. This includes increased early marriage and gender-based violence, transformed gender roles as women shoulder economic responsibilities, and altered mobility for women and girls. In these narratives, conclusions are often made about the role of forced migration in disrupting gender norms. Based on ethnographic research with Syrian women and men in Jordan, and interviews with humanitarian workers who work on gender issues, this thesis seeks to unravel dominant humanitarian narratives about gender norms and ‘change’. It contributes knowledge to the study of gender norms and power, focusing on (im)mobility, family relationships and resistance to gender norms. These contributions are situated within three periods: before displacement, during the conflict in Syria and during displacement in Jordan. The findings challenge assumptions about gendered (im)mobility and vulnerability, offer insights on how older women exercise power over younger women, and contribute to thinking on how Syrian women and men resist prevailing gender norms in sometimes unexpected ways. These findings suggest that the humanitarian agency fixation on ‘changes’ in gender norms during displacement hides complexity and can overstate the role of displacement as an intervening force. It builds on existing literature on gender and forced migration, highlighting the complexities in finding a singular narrative around ‘change’ and pointing to the importance of understanding intersecting power hierarchies both in the lives and experiences of Syrians, and in the humanitarian structures that serve displaced populations.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Nadje Al-Ali
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2020 11:49

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