“We Feel Powerless”

A Social-Ecological Perspective on Challenges Experienced by Social Workers in Addressing GBV in Ethiopian Refugee Settings





gender-based violence, challenges, social workers, refugee settings, Ethiopia


Gender-based violence (GBV), especially sexual violence with a 90% prevalence rate, is a top concern in humanitarian settings. This qualitative study explored the challenges and experiences of social workers in addressing Gender-based Violence (GBV) in Ethiopian refugee settings. In-depth interviews were conducted with eight social workers between the ages of 26-37 years who have had five to twelve years of experience in GBV prevention among refugees. Data were analyzed thematically using a codebook and Nvivo12 software. Three major themes emerged: power and political interest, institutional barriers, and strategic barriers. The Social-Ecological Model (SEM) was used to guide the discussion of the findings. Most of the challenges experienced by social workers were structural barriers emanating from the unbalanced power relationship and political interest between and within institutions, strategic/policy gaps, and organizational resource limitations. It is imperative that social workers are trained to function in a politically-sensitive practice setting and are prepared to embrace political activism to overcome structural challenges. Adopting anti-oppressive and integrated developmental approaches is recommended to resolve the complex socio-economic and political factors behind the widespread GBV acts in Ethiopian refugee settings.


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