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Research Spotlight: Women and Forced Migration

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UT Austin alumna Karin Wachter aims to help advance mental health programming for forced migration populations.

The forced movement of people, whether displaced within their own countries or across national borders, is a pressing concern for states and humanitarian organizations. Regardless of the cause, displaced people face a need for protection and support.

But research is also needed. For UT Austin alumna Karin Wachter (Ph.D., School of Social Work, ’17) an understanding of women’s experiences in forced migration is one path to a deeper understanding of displaced people and how humanitarian efforts can better serve them.

“The overarching question I sought to answer was, what are women’s experiences of social support in forced migration, the dynamics that shape and impact their experiences, and the factors that enable or impede their ability to maintain or recreate social support networks?” says Wachter, who is the 2016 recipient of the Hogg Foundation’s Moore Fellowship, a $20,000 award for doctoral students at UT Austin in support of research on the human experience of crises. “In essence, I seek to bring to the forefront aspects of women’s experience of forced migration that gets less attention in literature and in practice.”

Wachter was deeply influenced by her ten-year career in humanitarian assistance. Most of her work was in African countries impacted by war and mass displacement. This includes refugee and internally displaced camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania.

“When I came to the University of Texas at Austin to pursue my doctoral studies, I quickly came to appreciate the fact that Texas was one of the largest refugee resettlement sites in the country, and I realized that I would be able to put my professional background and lived experience to use here,” Wachter says.

The ultimate impact of Wachter’s work is to bring into focus aspects of women’s experience that are often overlooked in policy and practice.

“We may not fully appreciate or adequately recognize the severity of psychosocial impacts because we go about our lives quite differently compared to folks arriving from the DRC and elsewhere,” Wachter says.

A key part of the Hogg Foundation’s strategic direction is promoting new learning about how communities show resilience in the face of traumatic events—including disasters such as climate change, famine, war and disease outbreaks. With its focus on displaced women, Wachter’s work is making an important contribution to that understanding.

Wachter is now an assistant professor of social work at Arizona State University. She credits the Moore Fellowship for playing a pivotal role in her growth as a scholar and person.

“The dissertation process had a profound impact on me—personally and as a researcher, educator and advocate,” Wachter says. “This work has already shaped new research initiatives underway and my conversations with practitioners who work with displaced women.”

An unit withing the DDCE, the Hogg Foundation serves as a strategic grant-maker to advance recovery and wellness for the people of Texas. In alignment with the university’s vision to transform lives for the benefit for societal, the foundation aims to advance community support for mental health in everyday life.

Story by Ike Evans, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health