The Information Needs and Associated Communicative Behaviors of Female Afghan Refugees in the San Francisco Bay Area

More than fifty civil wars occurred at any given time during the last two decades of the twentieth century. At least half of the recent wars, whether from civil strife or invasions, had more than 100,000 refugees each with the majority being female. During this time, Afghanistan has had the largest refugee population in the world. As forced migrants flee from danger and resettle in their new country, they face many situations in which they experience gaps in understanding and must create new sense to move forward. Yet little scholarly research has systematically examined the information needs and associated communicative behaviors of female refugees from their perspectives, even with its relevance to service providers in the international community. The primary purpose of this study is to provide insight into the sense-making of female refugees related to their information environment during premigration, flight, resettlement, and adjustment. Specifically, this investigation adapts Dervin's Sense-Making theory and method to examine (a) how refugee women make sense of their important situations in which they lacked information, (b) the specific gaps (or information needs), and (c) their use of associated communicative behaviors in their attempts to construct sense and bridge gaps in knowledge. The women's sense-making of their material conditions is offered as an addition to Dervin's model. The sample for this interpretive, qualitative, and ethnographic research was drawn from Afghan refugee women living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, home of the largest Afghan community in the United States. The study was conducted through forty in-depth Sense-Making interviews, using a modified format and averaging two hours each; a focus group; participant observation in the community for more than two years; and consultation with key cultural informants. The results provide contextually rich detail of the refugee women's unique lived experiences. Their discourses are analyzed using Dervin's Sense-Making-Triangle of situations-gaps-uses to understand the categories of movement and sources of information the females use to make sense. Underlying structural gaps are suggested. The role of point persons is explored as a way for refugees to bridge information gaps. Detailed recommendations for service providers are given.