Nadine Kallas’ MA Thesis Defence

Title: “Understanding the perspectives of Syrian refugee women toward their health and physical activity needs as they become integrated into Canadian society”

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Patricia Vertinsky (Kinesiology)
Committee members: Dr. Andrea Bundon (Kinesiology), Dr. Deirdre Kelly (Educational Studies)
Chair: Dr. Peter Crocker (Kinesiology)

Abstract: The inclusion of migration as a predictor of health is seen as a significant advancement in Canadian health research. However, further investigation concerning the  health outcomes of different  immigrant groups has been suggested, especially refugees whose health statuses may be worse than voluntary migrants who undergo a different migrant selection process (Vang et al., 2015). Physical inactivity has been reported by the female immigrant population as a result of migration stressors and barriers to participation in Western communities. With a specific focus on Syrian refugee women, this study used a feminist interpretive approach to examine their perceptions of health and physical activity needs as they settle into Canadian society. The purpose was to examine how their views and lifestyles have been influenced by their integration into Western culture as well determine the roles of settlement-related support systems in their integration. Using qualitative research methods, Syrian women who have recently settled in the Metro Vancouver region (n=11, <2 years in Canada, 18+ years old) were identified and interviewed. Data was coded using Nvivo software and themes from interview transcripts were established using a hybrid approach to thematic analysis. A number of definitions of health were provided by the women early in the interviews where they attributed the maintenance of health to specific behaviors and qualities. These behaviours were also reflected in actions taken to attain healthy lifestyles. Since coming to Canada the majority of the women reported a better overall state of health despite some experiencing mental health issues. Improvements in health status were primarily linked to an increase in accessibility to resources and healthcare, as well as to their increased physical activity levels in Canada. Social supports provided them with the ability to deal more effectively with their existing struggles as well as empowering them to challenge cultural and gender norms. Participation in formal physical activity pursuits and other forms of community engagement was limited for some women, however, due to the time required to fulfill other settlement needs. My findings suggest that this group of women have demonstrated a degree of resiliency in developing healthy lifestyles but require more time and specific forms of support to achieve their goals.