Newsletter, International Network on Women fleeing Gender-related Persecution


In This Issue:

I. About This Newsletter

II. Gender-based Persecution as Reported in ...
1. Denmark
2. Finland
3. Ireland
4. Norway
5. South Africa
6. Sweden

III. Resources IV. About the CCR V. Contributors VI. Appendices A. Network/Conference proposal B. Questionnaire

I. About This Newsletter


Over the past three months the Canadian Council for Refugees has been organizing a network of people interested in gender-related persecution, with the view to promoting better protection for women internationally. We are working towards an international conference on the subject to be held in Montreal, Spring 2001.

Our objectives in developing the network are (a) promoting greater awareness of gender-specific elements of persecution and the refugee experience, particularly in countries where there is currently limited sensitivity to these issues; (b) facilitating information-sharing and expertise-sharing among those in different countries working for the recognition of gender-based claims; and (c) developing strategies for action, at local, regional and international levels, to promote recognition of gender-based claims. The network is expected to guide us to inviting potential participants and presenters in the conference, as well as helping us in conference planning, themes, and structure.

The contents of this newsletter have been drawn primarily from the input we have received from the network participants. Through this newsletter we share the information collected, hoping it would trigger more thoughts and input form the readers.

The CCR's initiative for developing the network and holding the conference on gender-based persecution has received lots of support from refugee rights, human rights and women rights INGOs and NGOs. It has also been supported by many scholars and activists interested in this field. We are working hard to invite yet broader participation from all regions of the world and all interested bodies.

As we work towards further developing the network, we look forward to reflecting news and inputs from a broader range of regions in the next issues of this newsletter.

Joining in
You can contribute to this newsletter by:

a) sending us information on the status of gender-related persecution in your region and country. We would be glad to hear from you about whether women in your country can find protection from gender-related persecution and about any current initiative of relevance. You could add to the above list of country reports, by sending us further information about developments in any country.

b) letting us know what you think of the proposed conference - what aspects of it are you interested in and what aspects would you recommend we add to our agenda

c) sharing information and news on relevant publications, conferences, and initiatives

To join the network, and be a part of this collective effort to raise awareness and develop action-strategies on gender-based refugee claims, simply fill in the questionnaire (appendix) and send it to us via email at or, or via mail to:

Canadian Council for Refugees/Conseil canadien pour les réfugiés
6839 Drolet # 302, Montréal, QC, H2S 2T1, Canada

II. Gender-related persecution, as reported in …

This section consists of the reports we have received from network participants on the status of gender-based persecution on six countries, along with the initiatives undertaken by relevant organizations in each of these countries. The objective is to share the inputs and news, rather than providing an extensive overview of the country cases. You are encouraged to contribute to this section by sending updates on gender-related initiatives in your country or adding your perspectives on the following reports.


Women facing gender related persecution will normally get protection in Denmark - although the status will often be a de facto and not a Convention refugee status.

The Danish Refugee Council has focused on the issue of gender related persecution in the last 4-5 years. It hosted a conference in 1997 on the theme. One of the key note speakers was Nurjehan Mawani telling about the Canadian experience. The DRC has cooperated closely with the Danish Women's Council - one of the member organizations of DRC and on several occasions, it has suggested that guidelines should be issued, but the response of the Minister of the Interior has so far been negative.
by Louise Holck , The Danish Refugee Council, Head of the Asylum Department


The Refugee Advice Centre has had only a few cases where the grounds for the asylum claim have been based mostly on sex. Finnish legal praxis has little case-law on the issue at the moment.

Refugee Advice Centre arranged a one-day seminar last year on refugee women and its main speaker was Dr. Heaven Crawley from UK.
by Sari Sirva - Refugee Advice Centre


In Ireland women can get protection from gender-related persecution. The definition of a refugee incorporated into Irish Law through the Irish Refugee Act 1996 states that membership of a social group includes, inter alia, 'membership of a group of persons whose defining characteristic is their belonging to the female or the male sex'. Under section 5 of the said Act, a person's freedom shall be regarded as threatened ' if he/she is likely to be subject to serious assault including that of a sexual nature'.
by Peter O'Mahony, Chief Executive, Irish Refugee Council.

The Irish Council of Civil Liberties is an independent voluntary membership organization that works to defend and promote human rights and civil liberties. The Women's Committee works on human rights issues affecting women. For example, in 1999, the Committee produced a Shadow Report to the Government's Report under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and it made a detailed submission to the Committee on the Constitution on Abortion.

The Women's Committee is currently drafting guidelines (working title: Women and the Refugee Experience: Towards a Statement of Best Practice), in the hope that they will be used by those dealing with female asylum seekers and refugees, such as immigration officials, government officials, legal representatives and medical personnel.

To draft the gender-guidelines, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Women's Committee has consulted widely with asylum seeking and refugee women, NGOs working in this area, legal practitioners, academics and other interested parties. It has also considered the Canadian, Australian and US Guidelines and those drafted in the UK by the Refugee Women's Legal Group. The committee intends to launch their guidelines early May 2000 and thereafter to provide training sessions for government officials etc.

The National Women's Council is putting together an alternative to the Government's Report on the Beijing Platform for Action to which the ICCL Women's Committee will be making a submission. One of the issues the Committee will focus on is refugee and asylum seeking women. Although, the Irish legislation is quite progressive, the Committee is concerned that very few women are recognized as refugees, particularly at first instance.
by Catherine Kenny Governor of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties' Women's Committee


In Norwegian practice, gender-related persecution is recognized as a valid basis for seeking asylum. Guidelines effective from January 15, 1998 specifically mention gender-related persecution, exemplified as situations where women through their actions, omissions and statements violate written and unwritten social rules that affect women particularly, regarding dressing, the right to employment, etc. If violations of these rules are punished with sanctions that can be seen as persecution in accordance with the 1951Convention, asylum should be granted.
by Rune Steen for the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers


In South Africa, refugee rights started to be recognized only at the end of 1993 and the UN and OAU Conventions were signed in 1996. With respect to refugee processes, the Refugee Act was promulgated in 1998. It has yet however to come into effect. It is progressive in many respects and specifically enumerates gender as a social group deserving protection under the 1951 Convention.

As far as progress with respect to recognizing gender related persecution, South Africa has in the past 5 years begun reforming the legislation that governed former immigration processes under the previous apartheid regime.

In the past 2 years a forum of NGOs along with government have formed the 'National Consortium on Refugee Affairs'. It is intended to inform and assist government in the formulation of its policy. As part of this initiative Nahla Valji and Lee Ann de la Hunt created a background document on gender-related persecution, as well as a set of basic guidelines to be utilized by determination officers with respect to any claims by women. (see "Resources" for a summary of these gender guidelines) . Last year the National Consortium published these gender guidelines. However the regulations recently promulgated by the Department of Home Affairs do not reflect a notion of gender-related asylum claims.

Although the Department of Home Affairs is a member of the Forum, it has yet to formally accept or take on board the recommendations and guidelines. There has so far been no case of a woman claiming asylum on the basis of gender-related persecution. This is largely due to the lack of awareness around such a category as a basis for asylum, as well as of South Africa's willingness to recognize such persecution.

With specific reference to practices such as female genital mutilation, which is the most widely practiced in Africa, South Africa should be in an important position as a near port of call for women seeking protection from the practice. It is therefore important that the country develop its own internal mechanisms with regards to the issue of gender-related persecution, as well as make its position known in a wider context.

The reality of the situation however is that prior to 1994 there was in fact no asylum process in this country, and as such attitudes and mechanisms still need to be created and transformed. The likelihood of true gender sensitivity being a concern of the Department of Home Affairs is as yet farfetched.
by Nahla Valji Gender Unit, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
and Lee Anne de la Hunt, for National Consortium on Refugee Affairs


Sweden has chosen not to identify women as a social group. Instead, a new paragraph was introduced into the law in 1997 which was supposed to offer protection to women facing gender-related persecution It has hardly been used.
by Maria Bexelius for Swedish Refugee Advice Center

The issues of protection from gender-based persecution are among the main focuses of Forum for Asylum seekers and Refugees' (FARR) current work (and this is also true of a number of Swedish NGOs). The recent issue of FARR's publication, ARTIKEL 14, covered how gender issues are treated in the asylum procedure in Sweden. It points out that more progress needs to be made. The Swedish Immigration Board is now looking more closely at how gender claims are dealt with.

FARR also has a medical doctor on its board who has worked closely with traumatized women who have been the victims of rape or sexual abuse. Swedish practice has been commented on by researchers Noll & Folkelius in one of the more recent issues of the International Journal of Refugee Law. Gregor Noll is a member of FARR and is just completing his doctoral thesis on the European Union and asylum issues.

In 2001 Sweden will be holding the Presidency of the European Union and will focus on the needs of women asylum seekers as well as children. The Swedish NGOs are currently coordinating their efforts to try and influence the agenda.
by Michael Williams, Forum for Asylum seekers and Refugees (FARR)

Initiatives (cont.)
Since last year, the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights, has been engaged in opinion-moulding activities concerning gender-related issues, especially women asylum-seekers. A seminar was organized on "Gender as a ground for persecution", and a follow-up seminar is planned for this fall.

The SFHR is working on the subject in collaboration with other NGOs such as the Swedish section of Amnesty International, Swedish Refugee Council, Swedish Church and the Swedish Red Cross. During the preparation period for the seminar, the SFHR , together with its partners, are also trying to put the subject on the political agenda through lobbying in the corridors of the Swedish Parliament and in the chambers of the Government. It is noteworthy that recently four oppositional parties raised a question to the government on the issue - Can gender be a ground for persecution? This shows that this is indeed a current topic in Sweden.

The upcoming seminar is probably going to be a workshop within the frames of a two-day conference on human rights. The purpose of the conference is to bring researchers and practitioners together and to discuss and focus on different obstacles and opportunities in the field of human rights. A cross-disciplinary approach is desirable. There are a few issues concerning women's human rights in general and particularly gender persecution that the organizers wish to focus on:

- the possibility of interpreting or include gender persecution in the Geneva convention and thus giving asylum to women seeking protection from violence.

- harmonizing European practice and/or legislation on the subject, especially within the framework of the Dublin Convention when it transforms into an EU directive.

If neither a harmonization is possible, nor an alteration of the Geneva Convention, what possible solutions can be found within national legislation and/or practices that will be as effective?

- to look upon non-state persecution the same way as on state persecution. Fleeing violence is a ground for asylum even if the violence cannot be derived to the behaviour of a state´s representatives.

- to compare national practice and/or guidelines concerning gender as a ground for persecution and thus as a possible prerequisite for asylum.
by Anna Wigenmark and Anita Klum, for The Swedish NGO Foundation for Human Rights


This section highlights a selected number of policy documents and articles which we were able to summarize for the purpose of sharing information in this newsletter (Summaries are provided by CCR volunteer, Soleil Surette). We are working towards putting together a bibliography of relevant manuscripts and internet resources on the CCR website soon (

Most of the guidelines can be accessed from:

National Policy Documents

- Guidelines on Gender Issues for Decision Makers: Refugee and Humanitarian Visa Applicants, Department of Immigration and Multiculturalism Affairs, Australia, July 1996.

In July 1996 the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) issued the Guidelines on Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-related Persecution. The Guidelines apply to the officers employed by the Department who assess refugee claims. The Guidelines recognize that certain forms of persecution may be inflicted exclusively or more commonly on women. Like the Canadian Guidelines and the America Considerations, The Australian Guidelines do not constitute binding law and are administrative directives, aimed at encouraging decision-makers to apply them. The Australian Guidelines are unique in that they apply to both the inland and overseas selection processes (Audrey Macklin, Cross-boarder shopping for ideas: A critical review of United States, Canadian, and Australian approaches to gender-related asylum claims, 1998)

Summary: The guidelines are divided into four sections: Introduction, background, procedures, and assessment of claims. The background begins by listing various international instruments that are relevant to human rights, refugees, and women. It then provides a background on the development and recognition of gender persecution. It examines the various forms refugee protection has taken, including the development of the recognition of the specific experiences of women. Finally, it outlines some of the basic problems encountered by, and when dealing with, women refugee claimants. The third part examines procedural concerns such as the lack of information on women in their country of origin, difficulties that might be encountered during the interview process, things to consider about interpreters, and the need for strict confidentiality especially vis-à-vis an applicant's family,. The final section concerns the assessment of claims and is divided into three subparts. The first part deals with persecution and gender-related persecution. It looks at things like sexual violence, forced abortion, and genital mutilation as persecution by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. It also examines persecution as the result of societal oppression, where there is a denial of economic, political and social choice and where a refusal to obey social mores results in punishments that seem to be excessive. This section also brings attention to the women at risk sub-category available under the offshore humanitarian program. The second part concerns definitions of well-founded fear and also the issue of internal relocation and the problems for women regarding this option. The final subsection deals with the Convention grounds for asylum as they pertain to women. A general comment is made on the importance of imputed grounds, as often it is not the actions of women that precipitate persecution but those that are attributed to them. There is recognition by the Australian Refugee Tribunal of women as a particular social group even though it would be a very broad one.

- Immigration and Naturalization Service Gender Guidelines Considerations for Asylum Officers Adjudicating Asylum Claims from Women, Memorandum of 26 May 1995 from Phyllis Coven, Office of International Affairs, to all INS Asylum Officers and Headquarters Coordinators.

Summary: The document begins by sketching a quick outline of what the memorandum grew out of the American case law that drew attention to the need for recognition of gender persecution, the various international instruments and recommendations by the UN, and the Canadian Gender Persecution Guidelines. It includes an analysis of when harm amounts to persecution, and enumerates some of the types of harm that are unique to or generally befall women. The paper also outlines procedural issues such as using interpreters, privacy issues for women, cultural differences and body language during the interview process, and the general aim of gender guidelines. It examines how women experience the Convention reasons for persecution. It examines the category of gender as meaning 'membership in a particular social group' and how this has not been clear. The 2nd Circuit court has ruled that it is too broad, while the 3rd Circuit court has not, though no ruling has declared that persecution occurs solely based on gender. However, gender in conjunction with other characteristics can define membership in a particular social group. Another point of interest in the memorandum that is raised is that acts of violence committed by an agent of the state for private reasons do not qualify the victim for refugee status unless they can demonstrate that the harm they face is on account of a Convention characteristic and that the state cannot or will not interfere. The last section of the manual outlines the need for basic training and monitoring in order to attempt to establish consistency in judgments.

- Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution: UPDATE, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa, Canada, 25 Nov. 1996. On International Women's Day 1993, the Immigration and Refugee Board released Guidelines on Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution. The "Canadian Guidelines" can be said to have emerged from a complex process of interaction with domestic Canadian groups, an international institution (UNHCR), international law and transnational issue networks. (Kuttner, Stephanie, Crossing New Boundaries and Gender-Related Persecution , M.Phil thesis, 1997).

Summary: The guidelines seek to address four issues that are brought forward by gender-related refugee claims: (1) how well do the five Convention refugee definitions apply to women making gender persecution claims? (2) What does it take to have gender violence constitute persecution in a jurisprudential manner? (3) What evidentiary issues need to be examined in gender-related claims? (4) What are the problems that women face at their refugee determination hearing? Women refugee claimants can be classed into four broad categories: They fear persecution on the same grounds as men; they fear persecution because of the actions and/or views of family members; the persecution is the result of severe discrimination on grounds of gender or acts of violence by the authorities or private citizens whom the state cannot or will not protect against; or they fail to conform to or transgress the social norms acceptable for women in their country of origin. The guidelines also set out the definition of 'membership in a social group' based on the Ward case: (1) groups defined by an innate or unchangeable characteristic (2) groups whose members voluntarily associate for reasons so fundamental to their human dignity that they should not be forced to forsake the association (3) groups associated by the former voluntary status, unalterable due to its historical permanence. The universality of violence against women is irrelevant when determining whether gender-specific crimes constitute forms of persecution. What is important is whether the violence, feared or experienced, is a violation of a human right on Convention grounds, and whether that violence is a result of the failure of state protection. Claims cannot be rejected because the woman comes from a country where oppression and violence are generalized and the fear of persecution is not particularized. This guideline also provides a framework of analysis for evaluating gender persecution claims.

Non-Governmental Policy Documents:
- Refugee Women's Legal Group (RWLG) Gender Guidelines for the Determination of Asylum Claims in the UK, The Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA), United Kingdom, July 1998. The Refugee Women's Legal Group is a British NGO. The purpose of the guidelines as cited on the inside cover is to "enable interviewers and decision makers to apply the refugee convention in a way which embraces the totality of human experiences and to assert and affirm the rights of women to effective international protection under UK law." The guidelines are not formally embraced by the UK government.

Summary: The guidelines are divided into five sections. The first section constructs a framework for understanding the need for gender guidelines in the refugee determination process. It addresses such concerns as how women's experiences differ from men's especially in a political context and how this leads to the marginalization of women since much of the case law is based on men's experience. It also examines the distinction made between the words sex and gender, and between women being persecuted as women and being persecuted because they are women. Women being persecuted as women refers to forms of persecution that are gender specific such as forced abortions or female genital mutilations. The second, women being persecuted because they are women, examines the causal relationship between gender and persecution. Finally, this section lists the pertinent international instruments for dealing with this subject. The second section examines the meaning of 'serious harm' and lists what should qualify. The third section deals with the failure of state protection, both directly as the persecutor and indirectly by being unwilling or unable to protect women who seek help. It touches upon such things as whether it is always reasonable for women to attempt to seek state protection and the role that gender can play in an internal flight alternative. The fourth illustrates how the Convention grounds can be applied to women and why imputed or attributed grounds are important. The guidelines make the point that while persecution cannot create a particular social group it can be evidence of the perception of one. The final section provides a look at possible procedural and evidential issues and some suggestions for dealing with them.

- Valji, Nahla and De La Hunt, Lee Anne, Gender Guidelines for Asylum Determination, South Africa: National Consortium of Refugee Affairs, 1999.

Summary: The guidelines begin with a substantial outline of gender asylum issues and a chronological list of foreign and international gender policy instruments. The next part deals with definitions of related terms, including gender and persecution. The experience of female refugees is defined as falling into four categories patterned on the Canadian guidelines. The next segment suggests an outline for interview sessions: including alternative means of providing testimony, and the need for gender and cultural sensitivity. The assessment of claims is the next issue and it outlines the need for a greater understanding of political persecution, and such things as what qualifies as 'well-founded' fear of persecution, and fear of serious harm in cases of non-Convention persecution. A very important part of these guidelines is the section that addresses the arguments against the inclusion of gender as a social group. The first is that of cultural relativism: the argument here is that "the right to safety, dignity of life, and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are not culturally derived, but stem from the common humanity of the individual" (p.18). The second argument concerning 'floodgates' points out that even if gender was recognized everywhere as a social group, it afford women the opportunity to apply for refugee status, but it would not oblige any state to receive them. Likewise, most potential refugee claimants face many substantial social and economic barriers in their countries of origin that prevent them from leaving. Also unique to these guidelines are recommendations on refugee reception centres that are often as bad for women as the situations they are fleeing from. The conclusion advanced by the authors of the guidelines is that South Africa is in a position to take a leading role in the area of refugee policy. Finally, they offer gender guidelines for officials interviewing asylum seekers.

Books & Articles:
Understanding Domestic Violence as Torture, in Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives. Rebecca Cook (ed.). , University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

This article is an argument for recognition of gender-based violence as an independent human rights violation. The author addresses several key issues surrounding the definition of torture and demonstrates the parallels to domestic abuse (such as the interaction between the victim of domestic abuse and the victimizer often being similar to the Stockholm syndrome that victims of torture experience). She argues that the purpose of gender-based violence is to maintain the subordinate position of the victim and of women as a group, just as torture is meant to intimidate both the individual and the section of society that he/she represents. She also looks at the physical and psychological similarities between torture and domestic abuse, and at how the nature of domestic violence fits into international definitions of torture. She argues that both are alternative systems of social control that are outside of the jurisdiction of the state but are often condoned by it. The author questions whether the idea of domestic violence being a "private" matter and not a "public" one is a valid distinction to make.

- Foster, Pamela, The Gender Guidelines: From the Margins to the Centre, Canadian Woman Studies, Fall 1999, pp.45-50.

Pamela Foster offers a thoughtful critique of the Canadian Gender Guidelines in this paper. She touches on some of the broad themes currently informing refugee discourse such as the unequal power relations between the claimant and the asylum state, and the stereotyping of especially women 'refugees' as not only vulnerable (true) but also as helpless (false). Her contention is that the Gender Guidelines do not address these issues and in some cases reinforce the stereotypes and might inhibit women in general from being granted asylum and also distort their chances of successful integration. Women under these conditions are less likely to be seen as likely successful integrators then male refugees.

- Mason, Elisa, The protection concerns of refugee women: A bibliography, Texas Journal of Women and the Law, fall 1999, vol. 9. pp. 96-118.

The collection covers a wide range of references, in English and French, to different aspects of legal and physical protection of refugee women. The References are organized under major themes, Protection Issues and Responses; Women as Asylum Seekers; and Bibliographies. The last section lists relevant Internet Sources.


The Canadian Council for Refugees is a non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. The membership is made up of organizations involved in refugee sponsorship and protection and newcomer settlement. The Council serves the networking, information-exchange and advocacy needs of its membership.

As part of its ongoing activities, the CCR organizes regular conferences and meetings and facilitates information-exchange and networking. As directed by the membership, the CCR promotes the rights of refugees and the successful integration of newcomers in Canada, through public education, dialogue with governments and media work. The CCR has about 150 members. Among the CCR's information-exchange initiatives is a very successful listserv, with over 400 subscribers, a significant number of whom are from outside Canada.

The CCR has a strong history of promoting respect for the rights of women refugees and recognition of the differences between men and women refugees. This work is coordinated through our Gender Issues Core Group. In 1992-1994 the CCR played a key role, through advocacy and the organization of consultations, in the events leading to the adoption by the Immigration and Refugee Board of its gender guidelines, the Declaration on Refugee Protection for Women by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the Consultations on gender issues and refugees. Since then the CCR has continued to monitor the treatment by Canada of women claiming refugee status on the basis of gender and to promote recognition of gender-based claims in the refugee selection system overseas. The CCR has also prepared gender analyses of the immigration legislative review in 1998 and of the immigration white paper in 1999. The CCR recently played a lead role in the seminar in El Salvador, held in February 2000 in the context of the Regional Conference on Migration (the "Puebla Process", bringing together North and Central America).

V. Contributors

More than 70 organizations and individuals have supported the CCR's initiative and expressed their interest in being a part of the network. We are grateful to all of you who have helped with making contacts with various groups and individuals and/or provided us with information about issues of protection from gender-based in various parts of the world. We look forward to further input.

James Hathaway, The University of Michigan Law School
Nurjehan Mawani, former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board
Arthur Helton, Senior Fellow for Refugee Studies and Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations (for identification purposes)
Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women
Asma Jahangir, former Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Sima Wali, President, RefWID.

- Ariane Brunet, for International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Canada)
- Leanne Macmillan, from Amnesty International (London)
- Audrey Macklin, from Dalhousie University (Canada)
- Wendy Young, for Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (USA)
- Deborah Anker and Nancy Kelly, for Refugee Law Center (USA)
- Karen Musalo, University of California (USA)
- Sharryn Aiken, Centre for Refugee Studies, York University (Canada)
- Greta Hofmann Nemiroff, for Sisterhood Is Global Institute
- Malathi de Alwis, International Center for Ethnic Studies/Women's Coalition for Peace (Sri Lanka).
- Nastaran Mosavi, for Ockenden International (Iran)
- Lee Ann de la Hunt, for The National Consortium on Refugee Affairs (Pretoria, South Africa)
- Kohki Abe, Kanagawa University, Faculty of Law (Japan)
- Elizabeth Ferris, World Council of Churches (Geneva)
- Widney Brown, for Women's Rights Division, Human Rights Watch (USA)
- Marguerite Garling, UNIFEM/AFWIC, UNIFEM Regional Office for the Horn, Eastern and Central Africa




According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who is outside his or her country, who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and whom the state is unwilling or unable to protect. The definition does not mention gender and has traditionally tended to be interpreted in a way that does not take account of women's experiences of persecution.

It is increasingly being recognized that the forms of persecution experienced by women are often different from those experienced by men, and that women are persecuted because of their gender. The evidence that women may be able to bring forward to support their refugee claim may also be different - and more difficult to provide - than that available to men. These differences need to be fully taken into account if women's human rights are to be respected.

In 1993 Canada became the first country to issue guidelines on refugee women claimants fleeing gender-related persecution. Since then, the recognition of gender-based violence has become relatively well established in Canada's refugee determination system and other countries (notably U.S. and Australia) have adopted their own guidelines, or have changed legislation to recognize gender-based persecution (e.g. Sweden) or have advanced the issue through jurisprudence (e.g. British House of Lords decision). There have also been setbacks such as the recent US Board of Immigration Appeals R-A- which overturned a positive decision in the case of a Guatemalan woman fleeing domestic violence.

The Fourth World Conference on Women (the Beijing Conference) in 1995 recognized the problem of violence against women and called for action against this violence. Under Strategic Objective E.5, the Platform for Action calls for consideration to be given to recognizing as refugees women whose claim to refugee status is based on a well-founded fear of persecution "including persecution through sexual violence or other gender-related persecution" (147 (h)).

Seeking refugee status is one important way in which women fleeing gender-related violence can protect themselves. Making refugee determination systems gender-sensitive contributes to the international efforts to combat gender-based violence. NGOs play a crucial role in advocating for changes in this area and have made significant contributions in many countries. However, their efforts are relatively unconnected and in some countries little attention has been paid to the subject. Likewise, others inside and outside government who are interested in ensuring that women are protected have relatively few opportunities to exchange information, review together the effectiveness of measures adopted and strategize about next steps. Given Canada's leadership role in this area, Canadian NGOs are well-placed to coordinate an initiative to put a spotlight on gender-related claims and connect NGOs and others interested in advancing international recognition of claims based on gender-related violence.


The Canadian Council for Refugees proposes to develop an international network of organizations committed to ensuring protection for women fleeing gender-related persecution and to host an international conference in Canada (proposed for spring 2001).


1. To create an international network of NGOs advocating for the recognition of gender-based refugee claims.

2. To increase awareness among NGOs (those fighting gender-based violence, as well as refugee advocates) in as wide a number of countries as possible of the need to recognize gender-based refugee claims.

3. To offer a forum for others (decision-makers, academics, policy-makers, representatives of inter-governmental organizations, etc) to gather information and network around the issue of protecting women fleeing gender-based persecution.


- An international network of people and organizations active in the field will be formed (via internet) as a way of gathering information on the gender-persecution issues and initiatives in as many countries as possible. The network will also be a tool for assessing needs, exchanging ideas and reflecting various viewpoints on the subject.

- Potential contributors and/or participants in the conference, as well as possible themes and formats of the conference will be decided collectively based on the information gathered through the network. (While not everyone on the network will necessarily be able to participate in the conference, we expect our participants to number in the hundreds)

>- A number of distinguished individuals will be invited to lend their names in support of this initiative, as honorary patrons.

- An international advisory committee, consisting of known scholars and activists, with representation from as many regions as possible, will be formed and asked for their advice, throughout the project, on various aspects of the development of the network and the conference. The honorary patrons and international advisory committee will be identified and recruited through networking.

- A steering committee, consisting of a selected number of interested CCR members, will give input throughout the project.

- An international conference will be held in Montreal in the spring of 2001.

The conference will be primarily directed at representatives of NGOs, from as wide a range of countries as possible, and not simply Western countries. The conference will also include strong participation from women who have fled gender-related persecution.

The conference will also be designed to attract refugee decision-makers, academics, policy-makers, representatives of inter-governmental organizations, etc. Non NGOs would be welcome to host complementary sessions aimed at their sector, in conjunction with the conference.

The conference will include:

- plenary sessions

- workshops

- an NGO networking session with a focus on follow up action

- other sectors (e.g. academics, decision-makers) could also plan their own special sessions.

Themes to include:
- worldwide context of gender-related violence and efforts to combat it.
- successes and failures in different countries' approaches to protecting women fleeing gender-related persecution.
- resettlement of women fleeing gender-related persecution (including evaluation of the women at risk program).
- refugee definition issues
- particular issues relating to refugees from domestic violence
- hearing room and other procedural issues
- documentation issues
- impact of gender on decision-making cases involving sexual orientation and children
- issues of racism and North/South relations as they relate to protection on the basis of gender-related persecution





- Is your organization (or persons affiliated with your organization) interested in this project? If so, what aspect(s) of the conference are you interested in? And what aspect(s) would you recommend that we include in our agenda?

- Can women in your country find protection from gender-based persecution? What are the initiatives of relevance?

- Who else can you recommend we contact, as potential interested parties, from your country or region?

- Do you have any other suggestions for us?

Your feedback will guide us in our invitations to potential contributors, and help make this important initiative as broad and rich as possible.



Contact information (including email, if any)

6830 Drolet, # 302, Montréal (Québec) H2S 2T1 CANADA

Afsaneh Hojabri
Phone: (514) 369-8943
Fax: (514) 277-1447

Janet Dench
Executive Director Project Coordinator
Phone: (514) 277-7223
Fax: (514) 277-1447