chapter  7
18 Pages

Where are the women?


The recognition of gender-based persecution as a central aspect of refugee law developed quickly beginning in the last quarter of the twentieth

century. In her cornerstone study, Susan Forbes Martin (2004) traces the emergence of the global recognition of the plight of refugee women to the first World Conference on Women, hosted by the United Nations in Mexico City in 1975. During this conference, a ‘World Plan of Action’ was adopted, giving attention to refugee women (Martin 2004). A decade later, UNHCR adopted Conclusion No. 39 in 1985 that first addressed the notion that women might be considered a ‘social group’ for the purposes of refugee adjudication (Edwards 2003; UNHCR 1985). In 1991, UNHCR issued its Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women (UNHCR 1991). In 1993, Canada was the first country to introduce gender guidelines in its refugee determination processes (Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board Chairperson 1993). Just two years later, in 1995, the United States became the second country to adopt national gender guidelines for asylum determinations (United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services 1995). In 2002, UNHCR released more comprehensive guidelines on gender-related persecution (UNHCR 2002). These are but a few of the key milestones that have facilitated women’s ability to seek and gain asylum, particularly those who are fleeing gender-based persecution. Advances in gender equality in asylum law and policy in the United States are in many ways a victory for asylum seekers and their advocates. Progress for refugee women has had its share of setbacks too. In the United States for example, legal decisions such as Matter of A-K (24 I&N Dec. 296 (BIA 2007)) and Matter of A-T (24 I&N Dec. 275 (BIA 2007)) (although now overturned) halted the acceptance of asylum claims for adults who argued that if deported, their United States citizen daughters would be subject to female genital cutting or for those who claimed genital cutting as a form of past persecution. Moreover, draconian immigration laws, such as the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986 ([IRCA] Pub. L. 99-603) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 ([IIRIRA] H.R. 3610; Pub.L. 104-208; 110 Stat. 3009-546.), have impeded the rights of all asylum seekers. However, even in the face of these permanent or temporary obstacles, legal recognition that women experience persecution unique to their gender is now mainstreamed into refugee adjudication. It is within this context that my own contribution to the field of gender and refugee studies began.