chapter  5
22 Pages

Psychological barriers to fair refugee status determination related to our understanding and expression of gender


This chapter will outline and explore some of the psychological barriers to fair refugee status determinations that are related to our understanding and expression of gender. It will begin with the assumption that gender is a social construction and not to be equated with biological sex. By this I mean that there is no essential, physical structure to gender. Gender describes – and prescribes – the cluster of behaviours that any given society deems to be appropriate for one gender or the other. This is often about the physical presentation of gender through dress codes (e.g. skirts/trousers), how hair is worn (e.g. long/short, more/less complex hair arrangements, the use of decorated clips, covered/uncovered), but also extends to language use, topics of conversation, particular behaviours, and sexuality. The roles of all of these behaviours in maintaining a distinction between who is ‘feminine’ and who is ‘masculine’ vary across cultures, across the world, and across time (Crawley 2001). I will first consider the role and importance of shame in maintaining distinctions between the genders. To understand shame, I will distinguish it from the other related, but distinct, emotions of guilt and humiliation, both of which are common in people seeking asylum, particularly after torture. These emotions are common to all of us, more or less, at different times. However, many people seeking international protection have endured extreme, traumatic experiences, and some of them will develop emotional disorders as a result. The most common of these is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD has a close relationship with shame, dissociation and difficulties in disclosing distressing personal experiences to others – a task which lies at the heart of every individual claim for international protection. Non-disclosure in the asylum system has not received very much research interest from psychologists, but it has been studied widely in the context of therapy, and I will look at this literature for lessons for the asylum system, before turning to the particular difficulties faced by men disclosing sexual violence. I will then deal briefly with asylum claims based on sexuality, given that this is central to the

expression of gender, although again the psychological literature in this area of asylum seeking is sparse. Finally, I will raise the question of whether there are ways in which the gender of the decision-maker can be a barrier to individual claims for international protection.