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PLoS Med. 2020 Mar 24;17(3):e1003066. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003066. eCollection 2020 Mar.

Exploring sources of insecurity for Ethiopian Oromo and Somali women who have given birth in Kakuma Refugee Camp: A Qualitative Study.

Author information

University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States of America.
Eck Institute of Global Health, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America.
Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana, United States of America.
Community Member, Kakuma Refugee Camp, Turkana, Kenya.
Anthropology Department, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, United States of America.



According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 44,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution. Although refugee camps are designed to provide a safe temporary location for displaced persons, increasing evidence demonstrates that the camps themselves have become stressful and dangerous long-term places-especially for women. However, there is limited literature focused on refugee women's perspectives on their insecurity. This qualitative study sought to better understand the ways in which women experienced insecurity at a refugee camp in Kenya.


Between May 2017 and June 2017, ethnographic semi-structured interviews accompanied by observation were conducted with a snowball sampling of 20 Somali (n = 10) and Ethiopian Oromo (n = 10) women, 18 years and older, who had had at least 1 pregnancy while living in Kakuma Refugee Camp. The interviews were orally translated, transcribed, entered into Dedoose software for coding, and analyzed utilizing an ethnographic approach. Four sources of insecurity became evident: tension between refugees and the host community, intra- or intercultural conflicts, direct abuse and/or neglect by camp staff and security personnel, and unsafe situations in accessing healthcare-both in traveling to healthcare facilities and in the facilities themselves. Potential limitations include nonrandom sampling, the focus on a specific population, the inability to record interviews, and possible subtle errors in translation.


In this study, we observed that women felt insecure in almost every area of the camp, with there being no place in the camp where the women felt safe. As it is well documented that insecure and stressful settings may have deleterious effects on health, understanding the sources of insecurity for women in refugee camps can help to guide services for healthcare in displaced settings. By creating a safer environment for these women in private, in public, and in the process of accessing care in refugee camps, we can improve health for them and their babies.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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