‘What we came through to get here’: the educational experiences of Somali women graduates in London

PhD thesis

Spawls, N. 2021. ‘What we came through to get here’: the educational experiences of Somali women graduates in London. PhD thesis Middlesex University Health, Social Care and Education
TypePhD thesis
Title‘What we came through to get here’: the educational experiences of Somali women graduates in London
AuthorsSpawls, N.

This study examines the educational experiences of British–Somali women graduates in London. By using an intersectional feminist approach and applying theories of social and cultural capital, the research examines how the participants experienced their education: the challenges encountered; the resources and strategies that enabled their achievements; and how they navigated and framed their identities through their experiences. The research aims to present a counter-discourse to the focus of early education studies of the 2000s that saw Somali pupils as an underachieving population.
In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 women graduates of Somali origin who had studied at London universities. Analysis of the data revealed that, despite the many disadvantages that they faced, the women were able to achieve during their school years by drawing upon ethnic forms of social capital within their families, specifically their parents’ strong aspirations for their educational success that were motivated by their own incomplete and disrupted experiences of education. Whilst the participants’ entry to higher education and their concomitant goals and desires were perceived as problematising the gender roles expected in their community, they were able to use their engagement in higher education as a form of negotiating capital, as leverage affording them the agency to pursue their own desires in academia and beyond.
Whilst facing structural and discriminatory obstacles during their higher education, the women graduates revealed how their participation in Somali Student Societies and related associational groups with Somali identity at the fore, were significant in shoring up their sense of visibility and belonging at their higher education institution. Further, the women showed that, despite encountering prejudice, including microaggressions, levied against them as Black Muslim women, they had a strong commitment to their Somali background and were engaged in a process of reframing identities and thus the parameters of British–Somali womanhood though their educational success. As such, they can be considered as pathfinders for a new generation of young Somalis having acquired valuable ‘navigational capital’ with new insights into the education system, and with increased visibility and status in a range of professions they can act as inspirational role models to those following in their footsteps.

Sustainable Development Goals4 Quality education
5 Gender equality
10 Reduced inequalities
Middlesex University ThemeCreativity, Culture & Enterprise
Department nameHealth, Social Care and Education
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print22 Jul 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited22 Jul 2022
Accepted27 Sep 2021
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
Permalink -


Download files

Accepted author manuscript
  • 83
    total views
  • 76
    total downloads
  • 0
    views this month
  • 2
    downloads this month

Export as