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Support, empower and change: A qualitative study of the Young Women’s Empowerment Centers’ support and advocacy work

Research project Girls and young women are overrepresented in the statistics over mental ill-health among youth, but also as victims of intimate partner violence. The young women empowerment centers (tjejjourer) are part of the Swedish women’s shelters movement and perform an extensive voluntary work for young women’s physical and mental well-being and against young women’s exposure to gender-based violence.

Therefore, this study aims to give insight into young women’s self-organizing for their own and other girls’ health and against gendered violence, focusing on the possibilities and difficulties involved in voluntary peer-to-peer support.

Head of project

Hanna Bäckström
Postdoctoral fellow (on leave)
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period:

2020-10-01 2022-09-30

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Epidemiology and Global Health

Research area

Public health and health care science

Project description

The Young Women Empowerment Centers (tjejjourer) are part of the Swedish women’s shelter movement and perform an extensive voluntary support for young women’s health and work against violence in close relationships among youth. Simultaneously, many centers work strategically and politically for gender equality and for young women’s health.

This project will study young female volunteers’ experiences of giving support and advice to help-seekers, as well as the organization, strategies, and problem definitions of three local centers.

Read more here

The aim is to study the centers’ support- and advocacy work as a both interpersonal and societal practice, focusing on the social relations that their activities generate as well as the organizations’ and volunteers’ support strategies. The study will be conducted through interviews, participatory observations, and document analyses. The study will offer knowledge about young women’s self-organizing for their own and other women’s health and against intimate partner violence, within a hitherto understudied part of the Swedish women’s shelter movement.

This project is a qualitative study of the support work for girls and young women performed within a part of the Swedish women’s shelter movement, the Young Women Empowerment Centers (YWEC). The YWEC perform direct support to young women and girls subjected to violence or sexual assault, but they also welcome help-seekers to talk about for example mental ill-health, social relationships, family issues or reproductive health. They also work preventively and politically for young women’s health. The aim is to study the centers’ support- and advocacy work as a both interpersonal and societal practice, focusing on the social relations that their activities generate as well as the organizations’ and volunteers’ support strategies.

The study comprises of an ethnographic part and a document analysis, to highlight social relations and everyday practices as well as organisational narratives and discourse. Interviews and participatory observations in training programmes for new volunteers will be conducted, as well as a document analysis of the participating centers’ strategy documents, external communication and educational material.

Grounded in an analysis of personal and organisational narratives, the study will address the young female volunteers’ experiences of supporting their peers through helpline services, as well as the organisations’ support strategies and underlying assumptions about young women’s well-being and violence against (young) women. The project will also examine the volunteers’ experiences of giving support based on a feminist analysis of power. In addition, the study will explore the organisations’ and volunteers’ intertwined strategies for individual care work and societal change.

Previous research on victim support and women’s shelters have demonstrated that there is a risk that the support enables/includes a disciplinary aspect, based on norms related to e.g. class, ethnicity and sexuality.

The study will therefore highlight possible power asymmetries between supporters and help-seekers, but also possibilities for feminist solidarities and care. In addition, the study will develop a theoretical understanding of the centers’ combination of practical support on an individual level and their political feminist commitment for societal change.