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).

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)).

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE, 4 - 6 May 2001, Montréal
The Canadian Council for Refugees hosted an international conference with the goal of promoting recognition of gender-related persecution as a basis for refugee protection. The conference brought together refugee women, refugee rights groups, refugee decision-makers, academics, government representatives, UNHCR and others interested in ensuring that women fleeing gender-based persecution receive protection.

Summary report of the conference

Conference proceedings order form



Gender-based persecution:  Immigration and Refugee Board decisions, Summaries taken from Reflex - July 1999

Women Refugee Claimants fleeing Gender-Related Persecution: Guidelines, Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board

Asylum Gender Guidelines (Immigration Appelate Authority, UK, Nov. 2000)

Gender Guidelines for Asylum Determination, researched for the National Consortium on Refugee Affairs, South Africa 

Position on the Interpretation of Article 1 of the Refugee Convention, European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), September 2000

Consultation on refugee women claimants, 25 March 1993, Montréal

Recent publication:
Gender Asylum Law in Different Countries: DECISIONS AND GUIDELINES
by Women Refugees Program of RLC: Mimi Liu and Laura
Information available from Refugee Law Center


Center for Gender and Refugee Studies
University of California, Hastings College of Law
Contains summaries of US gender asylum cases, US and other case law and legal documents, including various gender guidelines, potential expert witnesses, links, etc.

Refugee Women's Legal Group
RWLG is a UK group established by individuals and organisations concerned about the impact of changes in immigration law on refugee women in the UK.  The site contains links to resources.

Refugee Caselaw Site
University of Michigan Law School
Contains indexed selected recent court decisions that interpret the legal definition of a "refugee."  Cases that specifically raise gender as a ground of claim are indexed under 5.5.1 ("Hathaway number").

Women's Human Rights Resources
Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
The Refugee and Immigration Law page on this site offers sections on articles, documents and links.