The role of the voluntary sector for the integration of immigrant women : a case study of the Volunteer Central in Vennesla, Norway
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This thesis explores the role of the Volunteer Central in integration work of immigrant women in Vennesla in Norway, according to subjective experiences of immigrant women and impressions of Norwegian women connected to the organization. The findings are based on a six weeks long field work from February and March 2017. Qualitative methods were employed in the study: ten semi-structured interviews and participant observation in multiple activities. This research is important due to the increased immigration to Norway in recent years, and the challenges it brings with it in terms of integration. Since the voluntary sector has become important in the integration processes of immigrants, it is beneficial and relevant to look at a specific voluntary organization. The thesis show that Volunteer Central in Vennesla contributes positively and significantly to immigrant women’s well-being, social needs and positive experiences in daily life. In Vennesla, the organization does many good and right things. Although they have some challenges – i.e. language barrier, transportation and distance issues, limitations of the volunteers – and they do not target immigrant women as a group, my informants experience numerous benefits from their offers. The activities arranged by this organization are open to Norwegians and immigrants alike. My immigrant informants are highly satisfied with the activities they attend. Their main motivations for and benefits from attending are: learning the language better, meeting people and getting friends, having fun, and understanding Norwegians and Norwegian culture better. There are different understandings of integration both in the literature and from my material, but in the discussion of the thesis three aspects of integration are in focus: shared arenas (meeting places), social capital (bridging and bonding), and ‘the right to be different’ and ‘the right to be same’. These are interrelated to each other, and the Volunteer Central facilitates well for each of them. Some central persons in the organization are analyzed according to the concept of gate-keepers, and are clearly important to several immigrant women. Lastly, the expressions of Norwegian women and immigrant women are linked to the concept of culturalization. This refers to a process where one (unconsciously) emphasize cultural aspects at the expense of other factors, and as such has a one-dimensional, reductionist view of an issue, problem, social group or individual. It is easy to fall into such a trap when we belong to the majority and are in contact with minority women. However, it can be beneficial to avoid seeing individuals as representations of their culture. I have not discovered the best understanding of integration. However, I find that in an increasing multicultural society like Norway – and Vennesla – it is valuable and beneficial to have and accept several different understandings. Moreover, it is healthy and good to see that integration is a process happening between the majority and the minorities where all parties have a responsibility.
Master's thesis Global development and planning UT505 - University of Agder 2017