Dissertation Abstracts

Invisible Among the Marginal: Social Inequalities and Vulnerability to Natural Hazards for Afghan Women and Girls in Tehran Metropolitan Area.

Author: Salem, Ahoo , ahoosalem@gmail.com
Department: Department of Social and Political Sciences
University: Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy
Supervisor: Professor Maurizio Ambrosini
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Afghan , Normal life , Vulnerability , Tehran
Areas of Research: Migration , Disasters , Women in Society


Tehran, the capital city of Iran, is located on one of the highest seismic zones of the world. Although the physical dimensions of earthquake hazards in Tehran have been well studied, little research examines the underlying social patterns and power relations that shape the population's differential vulnerability and coping mechanism in the face of seismic hazards. An integrated vulnerability analysis is proposed to investigate the inter-connected factors that influence people differently; from conditions of normal life to vulnerability and coping capacity in face of disasters.

With the aim of understanding processes behind differential vulnerability of certain groups, this research focuses on a population Afghan women and girls residing in Tehran. Qualitative methods are used for collecting empirical data through deep interviews with thirty respondents living in Tehran’s district 12. The vulnerability paradigm of natural hazards and disasters is used as the basis for an assessment of differential progression of vulnerability for Afghans in Iran. Access to financial, human and social resources are viewed as important indicators of differential levels of vulnerability and coping mechanism; in conditions of normal life as well as in the case of the predicted earthquake of Tehran. Processes of marginalization and upward mobility are used to explain for the impact of social relations and power structures on access patterns and hence choices and decisions of respondents and their households. Synergies and intersections between two demographic factors of gender and migrant status are further investigated.

The research findings show that a combination of social relations and power structures at various levels influence processes of marginalization or upward mobility for Afghans in Iran. Iranian government’s short term focus on repatriation polices along with lack of consideration of the substantial population of first and second generation Afghans in Iran has created conditions of structural discrimination and unequal access to various resources for Afghans and has limited their spaces of agency. These conditions are reinforced by unfavorable treatment of the public, limiting access levels of Afghans to different resources and adding to their marginalization through time. Immigrant networks, centers of civil society and NGO’s play an important role in balancing effects of social inequalities and are important coping mechanisms in lives of Afghans in Iran. However, agency of actors in creating coping mechanisms and improving livelihoods can be limited by social, economic and political conditions. Afghan women and girls face conditions of double discrimination resulted by intersections of “gender” and “migrant status”, which reinforce their marginalization and invisibility and limit their chances of mobility and integration.

As a result, Afghans in Iran have weak livelihoods which represent conditions of everyday hazard and risk. In the longer term, normal life vulnerability of Afghans can be translated into earthquake vulnerability by limiting their options for coping with and recovering from the loss and damage caused by a possible earthquake in Tehran. Moving beyond the direct risk of environmental factors and catastrophic hazards is an important requirement for gaining a holistic understanding of factors underlying earthquake vulnerability in Tehran and enhancing coping mechanisms.