“Our Power is Weakened by their Presence”: Refugee-Host Relations, Threat Perceptions and Identity Negotiations of South Lebanese Women
Candace Evilsizor

This research asserts the relevance of applying the feminist theory on collective identity to refugee-host relations. Since women are seen to embody the symbolic dimensions of a nation, host narratives about the “threat” that refugee women pose reveal the coretenants of host identity. I support this theoretical assertion through empirical research in South Lebanon. I interviewed 31 individuals across 10 predominately Shi‟a villages to determine the ways in which South Lebanese women perceive Syrian women to be a threat. First, my respondents expressed fear that refugees‟ higher birthrate will entrench existing economic and security concerns. Second, Lebanese women describe Syrian women as both conservative and immoral. This paradox indicates that balancing individual rights and familial obligations is central to the collective identity of South Lebanese women, which has been shaped by decades of sectarian conflict. Third, disadvantaged women who hope to achieve status and security through marriage believe that the relative desirability of Syrians endangers their prospects. The fear that Syrian women are “stealing our men” is sufficient to inspire behavioral change from four of my respondents, signaling a deeper renegotiation of identity. Since the wellbeing of refugees depends on host willingness to accommodate them, gendered concerns – and the identity tensions they highlight – cannot be ignored.

Full Text: PDF      DOI: 10.15640/ijgws.v6n1a4