This is the sixteenth installment of the themed series on Border Criminologies network members. The series aims to present our members’ ongoing research, recent publications, new course modules they might be developing, grants and awards, partnerships and collaborations, and questions they have been considering or struggling with.

Post by Brandy Cochrane, PhD Candidate, Monash University.

The concept of security must be expanded past the discussions of state border tactics or the gender-neutral individual introduced by human security. In this post, I discuss security needs identified by refugee and asylum-seeking mothers. Currently in the final stretch of my PhD, I’m working to refocus the conceptualisation of security away from crisis points and onto the routinized insecurity that mothers face in the everyday.

Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith
Shifting the focus away from state security emerges in the 1990s with the concept of human security. It was first defined by the United Nations Human Development Report in 1994 and identifies security and insecurity of an individual based on a variety of needs, which fall into seven categories: personal, political, community, economic, food, health, and environment. The human security language aimed to be gender neutral and therefore all inclusive. However, the ungendered nature of the human security paradigm and the focus on the immediate need for survival with a crisis approach as its foundation fails to encompass the idea of the complex, long-term experiences of refugee and asylum-seeking mothers. 

The conception of everyday security for refugee and asylum-seeking mothers isn’t meant to convey a routine and unchanging monotony. Instead, the focus is on the everyday in changing environments, which is regularly ignored. The women with whom I spoke for my research aren’t considered at the same levels of risk as men because the additional dangers they face fall into the area of what’s often categorised as the private or household realm. As feminists have critiqued within multiple disciplines, these structural and institutionalised issues are routinized and faced daily by women. The everyday, then, isn’t meant to connote normalness or evoke comfort, but instead intended to frame an understanding of the risks and issues faced on a daily basis in a changing environment where concerns are constantly shifting.

Ιn the following table, I characterize the emergent themes that refugee women spoke of during their narratives.

Emergent ThemeCharacterization
Bodily SafetyFreedom from physical and sexual violence, including family violence
Basic NeedsLack of access to food, proper shelter, and good healthcare
Death/SeparationHardship of death/separation from children/partners
Gender InequalitiesOppressions in the form of education disparity, family abuses, societal consequences for divorce, not staying within gender roles
Carework IncreasesStress of additional responsibilities of care for children/partners/family

Education Access

Reduced access to education due to legal status
Lack of Benefits

Strain of reduced monetary benefits linked to legal status

Language BarriersStruggles of residing in a country with non-native language that creates communication issues
Physical RemotenessIsolation of being held/settled in remote communities
Right to WorkBurden of not being legally allowed to work
Health IssuesMental and physical health issues

The ‘everyday security’ issues that emerge for refugee and asylum-seeking mothers fall both into and out of the needs categories that are put forth under the human security framework. The main issues within the needs categories include personal, economic, political, and health needs. Mothers identified issues such as deaths of children and partners, near drownings, economic upset, and political oppression which fit these notions.

However, many of the issues raised by refugee mothers don’t fit into the categories defined by the narrow conception of human security. Human security was primarily designed to meet the needs of male citizens, without considering the needs of women and migrants (and more specifically migrant women). Consequently, their experiences remain inadequately addressed. By examining the convergence of issues and the needs that fall outside of these definitions, we can explore the marginalised voices of security to identify the so-called outliers that may be commonplace in women’s daily lives.

Such issues include structural gender inequalities, education access, death and separation, and mobility. Women also emphasized continuing issues throughout their journeys that were routinized parts of everyday life, such as lack of contact with their families, additional carework in the absence of partners, physical remoteness, language barriers, and stable income.  Hence we are drawn to the discussion of ‘whose security?’ by examining these issues that fall outside of the basic needs paradigms. By reframing the discussion to the everyday, we remove the emphasis from crisis points and the immediate survival focus that’s the basis of human security. An everyday security frame also removes the temporal focus and instead acknowledges that human lives are not just fixed points but instead fluid and ongoing projects.

To take this one step further, everyday security can help us understand the daily devastations that need to be navigated by refugee and asylum-seeking mothers in order to identify what a secure life would look like for them. Beyond the ‘basic crisis and immediate needs’ frame is a call for human flourishing and not just survival. Here we can see space for discussion around education and other aids to human development that simply cannot be addressed by a crisis-only focus.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Cochrane, B. (2016) Research Update: Brandy Cochrane. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/07/research-update-3 (Accessed [date]).