Somali Women's Experiences in Paid Employment in New Zealand

By Jelle, Hani Abdi; Guerin, Pauline et al. | New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online), June 2006 | Go to article overview

Somali Women's Experiences in Paid Employment in New Zealand


Jelle, Hani Abdi, Guerin, Pauline, Dyer, Suzette, New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)


Abstract

There is growing international interest in the employment issues encountered by refugee and migrant workers. Within the New Zealand context, Somali women migrants experience one of the highest rates of unemployment, yet some are employed. In this paper we present research that explores what a small group of Somali women did to find and maintain paid employment. Interviews were conducted with six Somali women currently engaged in paid employment. These women reported that their clothing and appearance were significant barriers in their initial job search. Most attributed gaining paid employment to their having a New Zealand tertiary qualification and skills recognized by their current employers. Family support and personal time management skills were deemed important features to maintaining employment. At times, these women experienced conflict between their identity as Somali Muslim women with organizational cultures and requirements. We conclude that these barriers can be resolved with sensitivity and communication with employers.

Somali Women's Experiences in Paid Employment in New Zealand

In the past ten years, Somali migration to New Zealand has grown rapidly. Most of the Somali migrants to New Zealand have come as refugees selected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 1993, following an international appeal, New Zealand agreed to accept the first group of 92 Somali refugees through the annual quota refugee programme (Somali Friendship Society, 2002). By 2001, 1,971 Somali were living in New Zealand and 492 in the Waikato Region (Ho, Guerin, Cooper, & Guerin, 2005; Statistics New Zealand, 2002). The Somali community, and Somali women in particular, have encountered problems gaining access to paid employment since their arrival to New Zealand (Guerin, Guerin & Elmi, 2006). Indeed, refugee and migrant employment status has gained considerable international attention over the past 15 years (e.g., Altinkaya, & Omundsen, 1999; Buijs, 1993; Forrest & Johnston, 2000; Holden, 1999; Montgomery, 1991, 1996; Morokvasic, 1993; North, Trlin, & Singh, 1999; Pernice, Trlin, Henderson, & North, 2000; Shih, 2002; Schwarzer, Jerusalem, & Hahn, 1994; Waxman, 2001; Wooden, 1991).

Refugees remain on government welfare-benefits for an average of three years before finding full-time paid employment in New Zealand (The McKenzie Trust, 2004). This situation is exacerbated for the Somali ethnic group generally, and Somali women specifically. As a group, Somali experience unemployment rates four to five times higher than the national average (Guerin, Diiriye, & Guerin, 2004). New Zealand labour force statistics for 2001 reveal that Somali women have the second highest female unemployment rate at 42.9%, a labour force participation rate of 26.9% (compared to 60.1% for the 'all women' category), and 14.8% in paid employment (Guerin, Ho, & Bedford, 2004). These high unemployment and low labour force participation rates for Somali women have been attributed to structural constraints, language barriers, non-transferable skills and qualifications (Guerin, Diiriye, & Guerin, 2004), and differences between religion, culture, and family composition (Guerin, Guerin, Diiriye & Abdi, 2005; Guerin, Guerin, & Elmi, 2006; Kelly, 1989).

Structural constraints affecting refugee employment status have been found to include the resettlement in residential areas removed from industrial or commercial sites, making access to employment more difficult; fewer employment programmes specifically designed for refugees compared to the general public; and a lack of English as-second-language programmes (The McKenzie Trust, 2004). In the 2001 census, 32.2% and 21.4% of Somali women and men respectively could not speak English; however, over half spoke two or more languages (compared with only 5-6% of New Zealanders); a skill that might be transferred to the New Zealand employment environment (Guerin, Guerin, Diiriye, & Abdi, 2004). …

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