A Gendered Protection for the ‘Victims’ of War
Media reports of widespread rape and sexual violence during recent confl icts (such as that in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC]) have brought public attention to the question of war and gendered violence. But less attention is often paid to the question of how to protect the victims of such violence, including those who are displaced or exiled as a result of confl ict. The issues of gender-related persecution and violence against women have been put onto the international agenda, largely thanks to lobbying by feminist NGOs and transnational networks. In the Beijing Platform for Action, the section on women and armed confl ict includes a strategic objective to provide protection and assistance to refugee women. There is a question, however, of how successfully this agenda setting has translated into effective policy-making and policies that will increase the protection of women who are displaced as a result of confl icts. For nearly twenty years, since the early 1990s, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has identifi ed ‘refugee women’ as a policy priority, and yet despite this prioritization of concerns with women refugees and gender issues in the asylum and refugee process, ‘implementation continues to be slow and ad hoc’ (Baines 2004: 1). This implementation failure can be attributed to the diffi culty of transmission of the goals of gender-sensitivity through all of the various bureaus and representatives of a large bureaucratic organization such as the UNHCR, but also, and more importantly to an unwillingness of those within the organization to really engage with the gendered causes and effects of displacement and with the roots of violence suffered by refugee women. This chapter will examine the way in which the concept of gender has been adopted within the UNHCR and the processes that have been put in place to mainstream gender within refugee protection activities. As a traveling concept, the meaning of gender mainstreaming will change in each institutional setting, and the success of implementation will also be dependent on institutional characteristics (see the introduction to this volume). The path dependencies created by institutionalization of norms mean that it is often diffi cult to introduce a real
change in thinking in these institutions, for example, in order to interrogate the construction of gendered identities and norms relating to war, peace and security. In this chapter we will consider the way in which this concept of gender mainstreaming has ‘traveled’ into the sphere of refugee protection. How far has the concept of gender mainstreaming really been integrated into refugee protection activities? And has this concept been modifi ed as it has traveled into an international organization? How far has mainstreaming managed to move policies to protect women beyond a mere focus on vulnerable groups, and to integrate a gendered understanding of the global processes that produce refugees, and of the protection needs of these refugees? As other chapters in the book also show, we will argue that too often ‘gender’ in these circumstances is interpreted as meaning ‘women,’ and that this equation takes away the real power of gender mainstreaming as it was originally conceived by feminist activists.