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Impact case study

Empowering Female Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Unit(s) of assessment: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management

School: School of Arts and Humanities


Dr Olga Bailey's research examines the importance of the media in understanding processes of migration and the formation of diasporic identities and cultural practices.

Bailey's research findings were used as the basis for strategies to:

  • create networks
  • give refugee and migrant women a voice
  • communicate their ideas and interests in the public sphere.

The overarching impact of Bailey's research has been to influence the development and activities of the African Women's Empowerment Forum (AWEF), a community organisation with an increasingly international mission. Bailey's participative action research has begun to contribute expert knowledge to shape the working practices of public sector organizations.

The creation of an organization for female migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
AWEF aims to give voice to the voiceless and empower women migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to take charge of their lives. Since 2007, when Bailey joined the embryonic organization as a trustee / strategist, she was "pivotal in helping to shape the organization, making it sustainable".  By playing a key role in helping to "strategically position AWEF as a grassroots organization". Bailey shaped the development of AWEF from a charitable and community organization to their registration as a community interest company in 2011. AWEF has had a significant influence on the lives of women in Nottingham from the African diaspora: "They have worked very closely with destitute women asylum seekers and refugees supporting them with law advice, shelter, food and emotional support".

Developing networks and communities for migrant and refugee women
Since 2011, AWEF has championed the creation of an umbrella organization of thirteen refugee community organizations to help charities with community building. AWEF has become increasingly international: for example, AWEF UK has become a member of the Diaspora Volunteering Alliance.

Supporting empowerment and developing communication strategies to give female migrants, refugees and asylum seekers a voice
From 2007 to 2011, Bailey continued to support the group by raising the political awareness of the women involved and their process of self-empowerment.

Bailey developed strategies to help the women involved use their voices: "her knowledge of communication strategy was instrumental in the detailing of the most effective ways of raising awareness for the organization and structuring the operations".

As a result of this self-empowerment, AWEF has extended its resistance beyond the local and into the public sphere by actively engaging with policy-makers, non-governmental organisations and local and national governments to create awareness of the problems faced by asylum seekers. In 2009, the Executive Director Faith Gakanje was invited to Downing Street. She met the prime minister, and presented the views of AWEF and other partner NGOs on the issue of institutional discrimination against asylum seekers.

Research background

Dr Bailey is part of the Globalisation, Migration and Diaspora research cluster, a long-established field of research excellence. She is a founding member of the Centre for the Study of Inequality, Culture and Difference.

Diaspora, migration and media
Bailey's interest in the themes of diaspora and migration date back to the symposium Re-imagining Diasporas, which she organized with colleagues at Liverpool John Moores University in 2003. The event, which opened up critical, interdisciplinary dialogues to re-imagine diasporas, initiated further projects after her arrival at NTU in 2005. These included Bailey's work on the co-edited collection Transnational Lives and the Media (2007) and her chapter within it; her research on Latin migrant women, identity and the media published in the collection Mediated Crossroads (2008); and her role as co-founder of the Diaspora and Migration section of the European Communication Research and Education Association in 2005.

Alternative media and the empowerment of migrants and asylum seekers
These ideas are developed in Bailey's research on ethnic minorities and community media (in Understanding Alternative Media, 2007), and on ethnic minorities, identities and the politics of communication online. Her research findings demonstrate that alternative media are paramount in the communicative landscape of diasporas and migrants.

Bailey's research resulted in an invitation from Maggie O'Neal, principal researcher for the AHRC-funded programme Making the connections: arts, migration and diaspora, to organize a workshop, Destitution and the role of ethnic-minority media in representing asylum seekers (NTU, April 2007) as part of the programme. This event proposed that the media's misrepresentation of asylum seekers is a political issue both because the right of asylum seekers to speak in the public sphere has been denied by mainstream media, and because the media plays a powerful role in shaping common sense views about asylum seekers and refugees.

Participative action research
Bailey's research also explored the political and cultural forms that migrants use as expressions of identity, recognition and empowerment. She developed these ideas through her work with AWEF by engaging in a form of participative action research in which the researcher has a commitment to support social change in the communities with which they engage. This research emphasised how the creation of AWEF was a process of self-empowerment as the organization became a communicative space to develop migrant women's abilities and skills to deal with issues of destitution and exclusion and to make a positive contribution to the community. This formed the basis of further research findings published in Ethnic and racial studies.


  • African Women Empowerment Forum AWEF's website gives evidence of the mission, activities and influence of the organisation.
  • A full testimonial from AWEF's Executive Director corroborating Dr Bailey's involvement in AWEF – and her impact on its development – is available on file. Quotations are taken directly from this testimonial.
  • Equality and Diversity Officer for the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham – This quotation is taken from a testimonial corroborating the significance of AWEF's activities in Nottingham (on file).
  • See evidence of AWEF's involvement in the Diaspora Volunteering Alliance.


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