Study to focus on women's pandemic experience

A young Samoan academic is doing research on local women’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim to inform service providers on how to support Samoan women.

Sarah McLean-Orsborn, who is a Phd student at the University of Auckland, is doing research on Samoan women’s experiences during the pandemic and would look at how mental health service providers did their work during the public health crisis.

“Originally I was looking to do my PhD looking to explore Samoan women’s experiences of Depression – this would have built off of my Master’s research which looked to explore mental health service providers’ experiences of working with Samoan women with depression,” she said.

“However during lockdown given what we were all experiencing in terms of disruption and uncertainty to all aspects of our lives, my supervisors proposed we take a look at Samoan women’s experiences of COVID-19. 

“This would look to help explore what is working and what isn’t working for our Samoan women and begin to provide us insight to help us better, support our Samoan women in a time of crises.”

When asked about the experiences of Samoan women during the pandemic, Ms McLean-Orsborn said: “In terms of positive experiences, a lot of our women have said that relationships (family/friends and romantic) have been positively impacted.”

“However, in terms of how COVID-19 has impacted our women so far it has been a mixed bag of experiences from losing their jobs, to losing their housing to losing loved ones and border restrictions meaning they were unable to say goodbye one last time in person or attend a funeral. 

“In some instances, families have been broken up due to work situations and women’s physical and mental wellbeing have been negatively affected.”

The academic hopes to use the information and lived experiences of Samoan women to help better inform service providers on how local women want to be supported and what is and is not working for them.

“I am hoping that with this information we can not only better help our Samoan women in times of crises, but also help them feel comfortable to seek help in general if they need it,” she said.

“This is also an opportunity, hopefully one that is cathartic to our women to be able to voice their experiences good or bad and feel like they are being heard. 

“COVID-19 has meant that for a lot of us, family is not as easily accessible and it has been a lonesome or isolating experience. So I do hope that those who are feeling up to sharing their experiences, do feel a little lighter sharing their experience.”

According to Ms McLean-Orsborn, questionnaires have been her main form of data and she doesn't plan on conducting her interviews until January next year. 

“So responses have been helping to identify areas of literature I should be looking into, as well as helping me prepare for my interview phase,” she added. 

The questionnaire is open to women in Samoa and throughout the diaspora and as of Monday has received questionnaires from Australia, New Zealand, American Samoa, Samoa, U.S.A, Fiji, japan and the U.K.

“I will be conducting 40 interviews with Samoan women to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences,” Ms McLean-Orsborn said.

“The questionnaire is a broad overview of what our Samoan women are facing, but the interviews will allow me to talanoa with my participants to understand better how COVID-19 impacted them.”

“I will also be doing an auto-ethnographic section for my research. I believe that if I am to expect others to open up about their experiences of COVID-19 then it is only fair for me to share my own experiences of COVID-19 from my perspective as a young New Zealand-born Samoan PhD student.”

According to Ms McLean-Orsborn, the majority of the current research around mental health is Western-focused and there is not a lot of information or research done specifically of the Pacific community and Samoans by Samoans.

“I am hoping that this will help to plug that gap so our future medical/health/social service providers of Samoa by providing them literature around pandemic or crises experiences. We know that COVID-19 will have a long lasting, insidious effect for people in our community, so beginning to look at the surface issues now, could hopefully help us later on too,” she said.

“If you know anyone that is interested in partaking or sharing their experiences it would be greatly appreciated as the more voices, will mean more reason for our health services to take the research into consideration!”

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