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Title:How do low-income Kurdish migrant women reconstruct their lives in an inner-city neighborhood of Istanbul?: experiences of migration and adaptation to life in the city
Author(s):Sensoy Bahar, Ozge
Director of Research:Miller, Peggy J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Ostler, Teresa A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Miller, Peggy J.; Jarrett, Robin L.; Carter-Black, Janet
Department / Program:School of Social Work
Discipline:Social Work
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Kurdish women
urban migration
inner-city neighborhood
child labor
Abstract:The primary goal of this ethnographic study was to understand low-income Kurdish mothers’ experiences with and meaning-making of their lives after forced and/or “voluntary” migration from the southeast region of Turkey to Istanbul. The study situated mothers and families within the multiple contexts they were embedded in, using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework. Informed by strengths perspective and structure versus human agency theories, the study focused on women’s coping strategies and agency, while also identifying challenges faced by Kurdish mothers within their immediate and larger contexts. The study also inquired into mothers’ beliefs around child education and child labor as this population has been identified as at-risk for child labor in the literature. The research took place in Tarlabaşı, an inner-city neighborhoods that is largely populated by low-income Kurdish migrants in Istanbul, Turkey. Twenty-eight mothers were recruited through purposive and snowball sampling. A short demographic survey provided demographic data on participants and their families. In semi-structured in-depth interviews, mothers discussed their migration process and its social, emotional, and financial consequences for themselves and their families. They also talked about strategies they used to navigate through challenges they faced on a daily basis, the impact of gender on their lives, and their attitudes and beliefs about childhood, child labor, and child education. Participant observations focused on the social and physical characteristics of the neighborhood, interactions between mothers and their children, particular strategies mothers used to protect their children in the urban context, and on mothers’ interactions with their neighbors as potential sources of social support. Turkey Census and historical data provided background information and context to the study, whereas newspapers’ helped in understanding the attitude of the public towards Kurdish population, and the current state of the ethnic conflict in Turkey. Kurdish mothers came to the inner-city neighborhood of Tarlabaşı through either forced or voluntary migration. Their narratives revealed that regardless of their migration pattern, mothers experienced feelings of loneliness, restricted mobility, and poverty in the city. While they were able to minimize feelings of loneliness and limited mobility in their new environment through creating new social ties, learning their surroundings and the Turkish language, poverty continued to be a struggle for their families despite the various strategies they developed to supplement the family budget. Mothers also struggled with the inner-city characteristics of Tarlabaşı, especially when it came to raising their children. Mothers’ concerns about their children’s safety due to criminal activities, negative peer influence, and lack of safe places to play for children led them to develop strategies to minimize risks. These included individual and collective monitoring, resource brokering, curfew on hours spent outside, and cautionary warnings to children. Many mothers with older children reported that their children worked either full-time or during the summer. Mothers played a critical role in making the decision to send their children to work. Families usually chose workplaces owned by other family members, relatives, friends, or people of their hometown to be able to make sure their children were safe while working and to avoid their children’s exploitation. Most of the mothers with younger children also considered sending their children to work as a possibility and poverty was not the only rationale they provided. Limiting their children’s exposure to the dangers of Tarlabaşı, providing a vocation if their children did not attend high school, teaching about “life” and “responsibility” were among the reasons why they considered sending their children to work. In terms of which child went to work, child age, birth order, and school success/continuation were considered. Children’s gender was not a major determinant of whether they worked, but it was critical in deciding where children worked. Gender was a critical and constant variable shaping women’s lives. Many of the mothers were married through arranged marriages, even though there were also a notable number of love marriages in the sample. Most of the mothers cohabitated with their family in-laws to varying extents after marrying their husbands and suffered both emotionally and physically because of this living arrangement. Female members in the family in-law contributed greatly to women’s suffering, underlying the perpetuation of the patriarchal system by women themselves. In their marriage, women usually supported traditional gender roles in the role distribution of wives and husbands, but they expected their husbands to be emotionally more invested in the marriage, reflecting more “modern” perceptions. The study findings add to the literature on poverty, migration, gender, child labor, and inner-city neighborhood processes by focusing on low-income Kurdish migrant women’s life experiences, an understudied population. The study also revisits the theoretical discussions of ecosystems theory, structure and agency, parental ethnotheories, gender ideologies, and resilience in a different cultural context. The findings have implications for developing culturally relevant policies and programs that recognize and build upon the strengths of low-income Kurdish migrant women and their families.
Issue Date:2014-01-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Ozge Sensoy Bahar
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-01-16
Date Deposited:2013-12

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