Comments on the occasion of the tenth anniversary
of the Immigration and Refugee Board Gender Guidelines
March 2003

Ten years ago a young woman from Saudi Arabia came to Rights and Democracy and asked us if we could help. She was hoping to never again feel like a second class citizen and she was hoping that Canada would be the country that would acknowledge her need to be set free. Canada did the right thing and gave her the opportunity to become a full citizen. Ten years down the road discrimination and persecution of women is as serious a problem as it was then. The difficulty in ensuring the implementation of basic principles to ensure women’s human rights and the rise of fundamentalisms means that Canada need to be as vigilant and concerned about gender persecution as ever before.

Ariane Brunet
Women’s Rights Coordinator - Coordinatrice Droits des Femmes
Rights & Democracy - Droits et Démocratie
Tel: (514) 283 6073

Canada was the country that really led the way in terms of the international community granting protection to women fleeing gender persecution. Their leadership was particularly effective in setting an example for the US which issued guidelines shortly thereafter.

Wendy Young
Director of Government Relations, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children
Tel: (703) 560-2621

The Canadian guidelines on gender-related persecution has had a profound influence on women's rights in international refugee law. It has given refugee women a giant step forward on the long road towards gender equality. In the ten years since the guidelines were issued, UNHCR still finds that it plays an enduring role in raising awareness of protection issues specific to women.

Joyce Mends-Cole, UNHCR Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women

I remember the pride and hope I felt for our country when the Gender Guidelines were made public in 1993. Having struggled for years in the local and international women’s movements, I thought Canada was at the cutting edge of social policy, that we were contributing to an important shift in the international refugee paradigm by identifying gender-specific criteria regarding the persecution of women asylum seekers. Women Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution has influenced scholars, policy makers and civil society as they articulate issues particular to women refugees throughout the world; the document is widely cited in the literature on the subject. Most importantly and concretely, the Gender Guidelines have made our country accessible to women who in the past would not have been eligible for asylum in Canada.

While the tenth anniversary of Canada’s Gender Guidelines is cause for celebration, it is also important to acknowledge that these guidelines were long in coming. As early as 1985, the Executive Committee of the UNHCR recognized that states "… in the exercise of their sovereignty, are free to adopt the interpretation that women asylum-seekers who face harsh or inhuman treatment due to their having transgressed the social mores of the society in which they live may be considered as a ‘particular social group… " I am haunted by the thousands of women who were not eligible for refugee status in Canada during this eight year hiatus. It is essential that we always maintain a consciousness of the low priority accorded to women’s rights throughout the world. Ever conscious of the fragility of women’s rights, Canadians must be vigilant regarding the fair and just application of the Gender Guidelines within our country.

Greta Hofmann Nemiroff
President, Sisterhood Is Global Institute
Institut pour la solidarité internationale des femmes
Tel (514) 846-9366

Canada was the first country to heed the UNHCR’s call for governments to issue State guidelines on gender-based claims; it was the first country to develop an impressive body of caselaw granting protection to women fleeing gender-based persecution. Canada’s leadership role on this issue has reverberated around the world. A number of countries ­ including the U.S., U.K. and Australia ­ have followed in Canada’s footsteps by issuing their own national guidelines, while the tribunals of these and other countries have favorably decided gender based claims. While in some countries ­ such as the United States ­ a commitment to the protection of women refugees has wavered, Canada has stayed the course and numerous times reaffirmed its commitment to the principle ­ in both theory and practice.

Karen Musalo
University of California
Hastings College of the Law
San Francisco, California
Tel (415) 565-4720 or (510) 486-1406

In facing the suffering of women fleeing gender-based violence, one comes to realise the importance of measures such as the Canadian Gender Guidelines in protecting refugee women’s rights.

Azam Kamguian
Committee to Defend Women’s Rights in the Middle East

Women in so many parts of the world are experiencing disenfranchisement, poverty, displacement and violence. We are seeing new and emerging forms of gender violence. The situation of Afghan women, among others, shows how necessary it is that war-affected women be empowered and brought to the table to contribute to finding solutions that address the root causes of conflict. The 10th anniversary of the Canadian gender guidelines is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the small but important steps that we can take to listen to women victims of violence and to empower them to take control of their lives, for the benefit of us all. The Canadian Gender Guidelines have served the interests of many Afghan women fleeing from the devastation of 23 years of war and devastation. Instruments such as the Gender Guidelines have proven invaluable tools in keeping the world informed about the egregious violations aimed at Afghan women by the Taliban regime.

Sima Wali
RefWID (Refugee Women in Development)

I have found that the IRB Gender Guidelines have been an excellent tool in advancing refugee cases on behalf of women claimants if applicable. Referencing the guidelines before the IRB aids both the client’s representative and the decision maker to identify and explore gender-based persecution. Also, claimants are often highly traumatized by the gender-based type of persecution suffered and all persons involved in the claim are then sensitized to this suffering.

Laurie E. Joe
Staff Lawyer, West End Legal Services of Ottawa

I use these guidelines as a way of advocating for women within the system when they have experienced rape, abuse and torture because of their gender in their country of origin. These guidelines assist in validating women’s experience of violence, introducing culturally sensitive approaches and allowing me to bring forward the global issues of women’s persecution with immigration lawyers and refugee board members.

Roya Ghafari
Women, War, Rape and Torture Program Co-ordinator
Sexual Assault Support Centre, Ottawa
Tel. (613) 725 2160

The Canadian Gender Guidelines, like the Gender Guidelines developed in places like Australia, are an important guide for decision makers in an increasingly complex and challenging area. The Guidelines provide critical frameworks in which women’s claims for protection can be understood not as an exception or an anomaly but as the core business of refugee protection. Gender-based persecution cannot be legitimately sidelined when there are clear Guidelines for sophisticated and equitable consideration of cases in the refugee determination process.

Sharon Pickering
Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia

Canadians can be proud of their leadership role in having gender formally recognized as a ground for refugee claims. The Guidelines are a reflection of Canadian values of fairness and inclusiveness, and in keeping with the Geneva Convention. They have made it possible for women fearing persecution to find a safe haven, while laying to rest the doubts and skepticism of ten years ago.

Nurjehan Mawani, CM
Former Chairperson, Immigration and Refugee Board

The Canadian Gender Guidelines started a movement for profound change -- for fairness and equal treatment of women and children-- not only for refugee law, but for human rights more generally. Canadian leadership continues to be crucial in this international arena, especially as the United States starts to reconsider its position on violence against women as a human rights violation and basis for refugee status -- events now only 2 weeks old. The Canadian example for international solidarity -- that international law must reign if we are to have a world of peace, fairness, justice and security-- has never been more important, especially for its southern neighbor.

Deborah Anker
Harvard Law School
Coordinator, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Law Clinic

The Canadian guidelines on gender-related persecution were extremely important to those who truly believe in women’s human rights. They have certainly inspired the Swedish Migration Board to develop a more gender-sensitive approach to people seeking refuge in Sweden. During the last few years, we have developed guidelines regarding women, sexual orientation and torture as a result of the Canadian guidelines.

Åsa Frostfeldt
Asylum and Gender Officer
Swedish Migration Board

On behalf of the Refugee Network of Amnesty International Canada, I would like to provide the following endorsement of the gender guidelines issued by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

AI Canada sends its endorsement to the CCR re: the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the gender guidelines.

AI Canada applauds Canada in introducing guidelines for refugee women making gender based claims. These guidelines have been critical in ensuring that the stories of women are heard in the appropriate manner in their search for protection. We need to be diligent, ensuring that these guidelines are applied to women seeking protection in Canada and at posts abroad.

Heather Thomson
Refugee Network, Steering Committee
Amnesty International Canada

We have found the Canadian Gender Guidelines to be a great step forward for women. We have found the Guidelines to be a great source of inspiration for our work here in Norway in supporting and strengthening the position of refugee women fleeing gender-based persecution.

Rachel Moni Eapen Paul, Centre for Gender Equality, Norway

In 1993, Canada became the first country to issue guidelines on refugee women claimants fleeing gender-related persecution, and in the ten years since then many fortunate women have found a new home in Canada. Some of these women were fleeing domestic violence, female genital mutilation, or other forms of gender-related persecution, and their societies had failed to protect them. Canadian human rights guidelines have helped to save many lives.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Canadian Council for Refugees, awareness has been raised about gender-related persecutions as a basis for refugee protection. The tenth anniversary of these guidelines gives us the opportunity to reflect on the stories of women who have suffered as a result of their gender, and celebrate their strength in establishing new lives here in Canada.

The Honourable Vivienne Poy, The Senate of Canada

Actualization of women’s rights in a developing country such as Nigeria with a multicultural and multi-religious background is an enormous challenge. The tensions generated by political, economic, religious and cultural questions are reflected on the "body" of the woman and other vulnerable groups. The fallouts of under-development like poverty and illiteracy further compound the situation. In this environment, access to justice and basic freedom is limited and institutional indifference common.

A situation where inhuman and degrading sanctions are imposed by state-tolerated related courts for minor offences underscores the point. In cases where a few women are privileged to exercise the exit option by migrating, the demeanor and quality of the welcoming party is significant in fostering hope.

The Gender Guidelines of the IRB Canada have proven strategic in restoring the dignity of the psychically traumatized women who seek succor in Canada. The expressions and manifestations of persecution and oppression of women in developing countries, countries in conflict situations, countries practicing religious fundamentalism, etc are so mutative that predictability is problematic. A system of assessment and evidential evaluation in such a set-up must be elastic and take cognizance of the cultural diversity of the victims. The Gender Guidelines significantly fulfils this role.

It is hoped that interpretation and application of the guidelines will continue to reflect the values enshrined in its introduction and further, leave room for amplification of its scope.

Lilian Ekeanyanwu
Chair, Volunteer Advocacy Group
International Federation of Women Lawyers-Fida