Exploring the Relationship Between Perceptions of Insecurity on Maternal Well-being and Health: An Ethnographic Approach

Location: Kenya

Alumni: Amber Lalla

Faculty: Rahul Oka

In refugee settings, the political economy of insecurity exacerbates the high stress environment for displaced residents. Women refugees, in particular, endure high conditions of external threat of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which, in turn, creates an overarching social stressor that potentially contributes to adverse medical and future reproductive health outcomes.  The goal of this study was to better understand the broader implications of high stress and insecure environments on maternal wellbeing and health, particularly in the context of Somali and Oromo women living in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Though quantitative surveys and ethnographic analysis, the results of the study revealed that perception of insecurity is positively correlated with both heart rate and body fat percentage (BPF). These results suggest that through access to the commercial economy, insecurity contributes to the epidemiological transition within an encamped refugee setting. It is proposed that these relationships are mediated by higher stress that, in turn, increases coping through communal meal sharing, giving refugee women a sense of normalcy and dignity through access to calorie dense, non-rationed food and drinks. Additionally, increased body fat may further perpetuate this cycle and create more insecurity, as women are perceived as wealthy from the host community. Due to the increasing rates of displaced persons worldwide and increasing births occurring in refugee camps, the results of this study may be used to showcase the importance of providing a secure environment for women in refugee settings in order to foster a healthy environment for women and their children.

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