Resilience factors in women of refugee background: A qualitative systematic review


Women of Refugee Background (WoRB) are identified as being understudied within research, despite making up half of the world’s refugee population. Resilience is a common characteristic ascribed to WoRB and if often identified as a core factor influencing long-term wellbeing. Despite this, there is increasing doubts regarding the validity of hegemonic Western understandings of resilience and associated theoretical frameworks when applied to refugee populations. The aim of this systematic review was to investigate factors endorsed by WoRB as contributing to their resilience. Furthermore, it aimed to identify the theoretical frameworks which have been applied to WoRB to help contextualise and/or interpret the resilience research focusing on WoRB. The current review identified 30 relevant studies following the application of inclusion and exclusion criteria. Religion/spirituality, culture, children, social support, family, personal characteristics and formalised supports were key themes identified as being endorsed by WoRB as contributing to their resilience. Identified resilience frameworks used within research were also discussed along with the theoretical and practical implications.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i24212113v6i2-1p101

Keywords: refugee; resilience; review


Abraham, R., Lien, L., & Hanssen, I. (2018). Coping, resilience and posttraumatic growth among Eritrean female refugees living in Norwegian asylum reception centres: A qualitative study. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 64(4), 359-366. doi:10.1177/0020764018765237

Antonovsky, A. (1993). The structure and properties of the sense of coherence scale. Social Science & Medicine, 36(6), 725-733. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(93)90033-Z

Antonovsky, A. (1996). The salutogenic model as a theory to guide health promotion. Health promotion international, 11(1), 11-18. doi:10.1093/heapro/11.1.11

Antonovsky, H., & Sagy, S. (1986). The development of a sense of coherence and its impact on responses to stress situations. Journal of Social Psychology, 126(2), 213-226.

Babatunde-Sowole, O., Power, T., Jackson, D., Davidson, P. M., & DiGiacomo, M. (2016). Resilience of African migrants: An integrative review. Health Care for Women International, 37(9), 946-963. doi:10.1080/07399332.2016.1158263

Baird, M. B., & Boyle, J. S. (2012). Well-being in Dinka refugee women of Southern Sudan. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 23(1), 14-21. doi:10.1177/1043659611423833

Béné, C., Newsham, A., Davies, M., Ulrichs, M., & Godfrey‐Wood, R. (2014). Resilience, poverty and development. Journal of International Development, 26(5), 598-623. doi:10.1002/jid.2992

Betts, A., Loescher, G., & Milner, J. (2013). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): The politics and practice of refugee protection (Vol. 62): Routledge.

Bowen, S. J. (1999). Resilience and health: Salvadoran refugee women in Manitoba. (M.Sc.), University of Manitoba (Canada), Ann Arbor.

Bussey, M. C., & Wise, J. B. (2007). Trauma transformed: An empowerment response: Columbia University Press.

Butler, K. (1997). The anatomy of resilience. Family Therapy Networker, 21, 22-27.

Byrskog, U., Olsson, P., Essén, B., & Allvin, M. K. (2014). Violence and reproductive health preceding flight from war: Accounts from Somali born women in Sweden. BMC Public Health, 14(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-892

Carminati, L. (2018). Generalizability in qualitative research: A tale of two traditions. Qualitative Health Research, 28(13), 2094-2101. doi:10.1177/1049732318788379

Carranza, M. E. (2012). Cross-Border Family Therapy: An Innovative Approach to Working with Latina Refugee Women in Therapy. Women and Therapy, 35(1-2), 57-67. doi:10.1080/02703149.2012.634725

Cheung, S. Y., & Phillimore, J. (2017). Gender and Refugee Integration: A quantitative analysis of integration and social policy outcomes. Journal of Social Policy, 46(2), 211-230. doi:10.1017/S0047279416000775

Chung, K., Hong, E., & Newbold, B. (2013). Resilience among Single adult female refugees in Hamilton, Ontario. Refuge, 29(1), 65-74


Darychuk, A., & Jackson, S. (2015). Understanding Community Resilience Through the Accounts of Women Living in West Bank Refugee Camps. Affilia - Journal of Women and Social Work, 30(4), 447-460. doi:10.1177/0886109915572845

Darychuk, A., & Jackson, S. (2015). Understanding community resilience through the accounts of women living in West Bank Refugee Camps. Affilia, 30(4), 447-460.

Denzongpa, K., & Nichols, T. (2020). We Can't Step Back: Women Specially horizontal ellipsis A Narrative Case Study on Resilience, Independence, and Leadership of a Bhutanese Refugee Woman. Affilia-Journal of Women and Social Work, 35(1), 129-145. doi:10.1177/0886109919871266

Dubus, N. (2018). Arriving old: A qualitative study of elder refugee women’s self-perceptions of the first year of resettlement. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 61(4), 393-410. doi:10.1080/01634372.2018.1457124

Eggerman, M., & Panter-Brick, C. (2010). Suffering, hope, and entrapment: Resilience and cultural values in Afghanistan. Social Science & Medicine, 71(1), 71-83. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.023

El-Radi, R. (2015). The Resettlement Experiences of Southern Sudanese Women Refugees in Minnesota. (Ph.D.), University of Minnesota, Ann Arbor.

Eriksson, M., & Lindström, B. (2006). Antonovsky’s sense of coherence scale and the relation with health: a systematic review. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 60(5), 376-381. doi:10.1136/jech.2005.041616

Eytan, A., Durieux-Paillard, S., Whitaker-Clinch, B., Loutan, L., & Bovier, P. A. (2007). Transcultural validity of a structured diagnostic interview to screen for major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder among refugees. J Nerv Ment Dis, 195(9), 723-728. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e318142c9f6

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American psychologist, 56(3), 218. doi:10.1037//0003-066x.56.3.218

Freedman, J. (2016). Sexual and gender-based violence against refugee women: a hidden aspect of the refugee" crisis". Reproductive Health Matters, 24(47), 18-26. doi:10.1016/j.rhm.2016.05.003

Gakuba, T. O., Sall, M., Fokou, G., Kouakou, C., Amalaman, M., & Kone, S. (2015). Mental health and resilience of young african women refugees in urban context (Abidjan-ivory coast and Dakar-Senegal) Women's Mental Health: Resistance and Resilience in Community and Society (pp. 185-200).

Grandi, F. (2017). Achieving Gender Equality and addressing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Global Compact on Refugees. Retrieved from

Hajdukowski-Ahmed, M. (2013). Not born a refugee woman: Contesting identities, rethinking practices (Vol. 24): Berghahn Books.

Hales, S. (2003). The resilience of seven Hmong refugee women as told in story and Paj Ntaub story cloth. Gonzaga University, Ann Arbor.

Hobfoll, S. E. (2001). The influence of culture, community, and the nested‐self in the stress process: Advancing conservation of resources theory. Applied psychology, 50(3), 337-421. doi:10.1111/1464-0597.00062

Holscher, D., Sathiparsad, R., & Mujawamariya, C. (2012). Interpreting Refugee Women's Life Stories: Towards A Human Capabilities Framework For Social Work With Cross-Border Migrants. The Social Work Practitioner-Researcher/Die Maatskaplikewerk Navorser-Praktisyn, 24(1), 48-65.

Hutchinson, M., & Dorsett, P. (2012). What does the literature say about resilience in refugee people? Implications for practice. Journal of Social Inclusion, 3(2), 55-78. doi:10.36251/josi.55

Hynie, M. (2018). The Social Determinants of Refugee Mental Health in the Post-Migration Context: A Critical Review. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 63(5), 297-303.

Keygnaert, I., Vettenburg, N., & Temmerman, M. (2012). Hidden violence is silent rape: sexual and gender-based violence in refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in Belgium and the Netherlands. Culture, health & sexuality, 14(5), 505-520.

Kirmayer, L. J., Sehdev, M., & Isaac, C. (2009). Community resilience: Models, metaphors and measures. International Journal of Indigenous Health, 5(1), 62.

Lau, W. (2013). From trauma to resilience: A mixed methods study of negative and positive mental health in young Australian refugees from different cultures. (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)), RMIT University.

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1987). Transactional theory and research on emotions and coping. European Journal of personality, 1(3), 141-169. doi:10.1002/per.2410010304

Lee, Y., Lee, M., & Park, S. (2017). Mental health status of North Korean refugees in South Korea and risk and protective factors: a 10-year review of the literature. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8(Suppl 2), 1-13. doi:10.1080/20008198.2017.1369833

Lenette, C., Brough, M., & Cox, L. (2013). Everyday resilience: Narratives of single refugee women with children. Qualitative Social Work, 12(5), 637-653. doi:10.1177/1473325012449684

Lenette, M. D. C. (2011). Narratives of complexity: an ethnographic exploration of resilience and wellbeing among single refugee women in Brisbane. Queensland University of Technology.

Maung, J. C. (2019). Burmese Refugee Women in Resettlement: Narratives of Strength, Resilience, and Posttraumatic Growth. (10837659 Ph.D.), University of Missouri - Kansas City, Ann Arbor. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I database.

McCubbin, H. I., & Patterson, J. M. (1983). The family stress process: The double ABCX model of adjustment and adaptation. Marriage & family review, 6(1-2), 7-37. doi:10.1300/J002v06n01_02

Meleis, A. I., Sawyer, L. M., Im, E.-O., Messias, D. K. H., & Schumacher, K. (2000). Experiencing transitions: an emerging middle-range theory. Advances in Nursing Science, 23(1), 12-28. doi:10.1097/00012272-200009000-00006

Meyer, I. H. (2015). Resilience in the study of minority stress and health of sexual and gender minorities. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(3), 209. doi:10.1037/sgd0000132

Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., & Altman, D. G. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. Annals of internal medicine, 151(4), 264-269. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000097

Moio, J. A. (2008). Resiliency and recovery: An exploration of meaning and personal agency for women survivors of state sponsored torture. (Ph.D.), University of California, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor.

Mrayan, S. A. (2016). Female refugees' resilience and coping mechanisms at the Za'atari Camp- Jordan. Arkansas State University, Ann Arbor.

Munt, S. R. (2012). Journeys of resilience: The emotional geographies of refugee women. Gender, Place and Culture, 19(5), 555-577. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2011.610098

Nashwan, A., Cummings, S. M., & Gagnon, K. (2017). Older female Iraqi refugees in the United States: Voices of struggle and strength. International Social Work. doi:10.1177/0020872817742699

Ni, H., Li, C., & Zhao, J. (2014). Cultural consideration of resilience for Chinese immigrant children and adolescents. North American Journal of Medicine and Science, 7(3). doi:10.7156/najms.2014.0703112]

Norris, F. H., Stevens, S. P., Pfefferbaum, B., Wyche, K. F., & Pfefferbaum, R. L. (2008). Community resilience as a metaphor, theory, set of capacities, and strategy for disaster readiness. American journal of community psychology, 41(1-2), 127-150. doi:10.1007/s10464-007-9156-6

Nussbaum, M. (2000). Women's capabilities and social justice. Journal of Human Development, 1(2), 219-247. doi:10.1080/713678045

O’Mahony, J. M., Donnelly, T. T., Bouchal, S. R., & Este, D. (2013). Cultural background and socioeconomic influence of immigrant and refugee women coping with postpartum depression. Journal of immigrant and minority health, 15(2), 300-314.

Olff, M., Langeland, W., Draijer, N., & Gersons, B. P. (2007). Gender differences in posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological bulletin, 133(2), 183. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.2.183

Panter‐Brick, C., Hadfield, K., Dajani, R., Eggerman, M., Ager, A., & Ungar, M. (2017). Resilience in context: A brief and culturally grounded measure for Syrian refugee and Jordanian host‐community adolescents. Child development.

Papadopoulos, R. K. (2007). Refugees, trauma and adversity-activated development. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 9(3), 301-312. doi:10.1080/13642530701496930

Pearce, E., McMurray, K., Walsh, C. A., & Malek, L. (2017). Searching for Tomorrow-South Sudanese Women Reconstructing Resilience through Photovoice. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 18(2), 369-389. doi:10.1007/s12134-016-0500-2

Pham, B. H. (2017). A phenomenological study of East African refugee mothers' experiences of trauma and how it affects parenting. Paper presented at the Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.

Pulvirenti, M., & Mason, G. (2011). Resilience and survival: Refugee women and violence. Current Issues Crim. Just., 23, 37.

Ross-Sheriff, F. (2006). Afghan women in exile and repatriation - Passive victims or social actors? Affilia-Journal of Women and Social Work, 21(2), 206-219. doi:10.1177/0886109905285782

Schubert, C. C., & Punamäki, R.-L. (2011). Mental health among torture survivors: cultural background, refugee status and gender. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 65(3), 175-182. doi:10.3109/08039488.2010.514943

Schweitzer, R., Melville, F., Steel, Z., & Lacherez, P. (2006). Trauma, post‐migration living difficulties, and social support as predictors of psychological adjustment in resettled Sudanese refugees. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40(2), 179-188. doi:10.1080/j.1440-1614.2006.01766.x

Sesay, M. K. (2015). Contributing factors to the development of positive responses to the adversity endured by sierra leonean refugee women living in the united kingdom. (Ph.D.), University of Essex (United Kingdom), Ann Arbor.

Shaikh, A., & Kauppi, C. (2010). Deconstructing resilience: Myriad conceptualizations and interpretations.

Sherwood, K., & Liebling-Kalifani, H. (2012). A grounded theory investigation into the experiences of african women refugees: Effects on resilience and identity and implications for service provision. Journal of International Women's Studies, 13(1), 72-94.

Shishehgar, S., Gholizadeh, L., DiGiacomo, M., Green, A., & Davidson, P. M. (2017). Health and socio-cultural experiences of refugee women: An integrative review. J Immigr Minor Health, 19(4), 959-973.

Singh, J. (2013). Critical appraisal skills programme. Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics, 4(1), 76.

Siriwardhana, C., Ali, S. S., Roberts, B., & Stewart, R. (2014). A systematic review of resilience and mental health outcomes of conflict-driven adult forced migrants. Conflict and Health, 8(1), 13. doi:10.1186/1752-1505-8-13

Smit, R., & Rugunanan, P. (2015). Transnational forced migration and negotiating emotional well-being: the case of women refugees in South Africa. Social Dynamics-a Journal of African Studies, 41(1), 184-203. doi:10.1080/02533952.2015.1029749

Sossou, M.-A., Craig, C. D., Ogren, H., & Schnak, M. (2008). A qualitative study of resilience factors of Bosnian refugee women resettled in the southern United States. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 17(4), 365-385.

Strümpfer, D. (2001). Psychometric properties of an instrument to measure resilience in adults. South African Journal of Psychology, 31(1), 36-44. doi:10.1177/008124630103100107

Tang, K. H., & Dos Santos, L. M. (2017). A Brief Discussion and Application of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis in the Field of Health Science and Public Health. International Journal of Learning and Development, 7(3), 123-132. doi:10.5296/ijld.v7i3.11494

Tolin, D. F., & Foa, E. B. (2006). Sex differences in trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder: a quantitative review of 25 years of research. Psychological bulletin, 132(6), 959. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.6.959

Tsai, L. P., Barr, J. A., & Welch, A. (2017). Single mothering as experienced by Burundian refugees in Australia: a qualitative inquiry. BMC nursing, 16(1), 70.

UN General Assembly. (1951). Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, United Nations. Retrieved from

Ungar, M. (2011). The social ecology of resilience: addressing contextual and cultural ambiguity of a nascent construct. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81(1), 1. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2010.01067.

UNHCR. (2019). Global trends: Foreced displacement in 2018. Retrieved from

Vesely, C. K., Letiecq, B. L., & Goodman, R. D. (2017). Immigrant Family Resilience in Context: Using a Community-Based Approach to Build a New Conceptual Model. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 9(1), 93-110. doi:10.1111/jftr.12177

Vromans, L., Schweitzer, R. D., Brough, M., Correa-Velez, I., Murray, K., & Lenette, C. (2018). Psychometric Properties of the Multidimensional Loss Scale with Refugee Women-at-Risk Recently Arrived in Australia. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 1-7. doi:10.1007/s10903-018-0750-5.

Walsh, F. (2015). Strengthening family resilience: Guilford Publications.

Welsh, E. A., & Brodsky, A. E. (2010). After Every Darkness Is Light: Resilient Afghan Women Coping With Violence and Immigration. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 1(3), 163-174. doi:10.1037/a0020922

Windle, G., Bennett, K. M., & Noyes, J. (2011). A methodological review of resilience measurement scales. Health and quality of life outcomes, 9(1), 8. doi:10.1186/1477-7525-9-8

Wohler, Y., & Dantas, J. A. (2017). Barriers accessing Mental Health services among culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) immigrant women in Australia: Policy implications. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 19(3), 697-701. doi:10.1007/s10903-016-0402-6

Yotebieng, K. A., Syvertsen, J. L., & Awah, P. (2018). ‘Is Wellbeing Possible when You Are Out of Place?’: Ethnographic Insight into Resilience among Urban Refugees in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Journal of Refugee Studies.

Zhou, H., Wan, J., & Jia, H. (2010). Resilience to natural hazards: a geographic perspective. Natural Hazards, 53(1), 21-41. doi:10.1007/s11069-009-9407-y

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.