Violence against Refugee Women: Gender Oppression, Canadian Policy, and the International Struggle for Human Rights

By Moussa, Helene | Resources for Feminist Research, Annual 1998 | Go to article overview

Violence against Refugee Women: Gender Oppression, Canadian Policy, and the International Struggle for Human Rights


Moussa, Helene, Resources for Feminist Research


Helene Moussa

Refugee and Migration Service World Council of Churches Geneva, Switzerland

This paper examines the nature of violence against women who are refugees, and the ways in which this violence restricts their freedom and mobility, security and well-being. It argues that to understand the nature and impact of violence against refugee women, one must also understand how gender relations inform the social, economic, cultural and political realities in their countries of origin, as well as in the countries where they seek asylum. The author develops this understanding by looking at the systems that contribute to the gender-related violence and oppression prepetrated against refugee women, and shows how Canadian refugee policies both hinder and protect refugee women's interests.

Dans cet article, l'auteure examine la nature de la violence faite aux femmes refugiees, ainsi que les facons dont cette forme de violence limitent leur liberte, leur mobilite, leur securite et leur bien-etre. L'auteure avance l'argument suivant: qu'afin de comprendre la nature et l'impacte de la violence faite aux femmes refugiees, il est egalement necessaire de comprendre comment les relations genrees affectent les realites sociale, economique, culturelle et politique autant dans leurs pays d'origine que dans le pays dans lequel elles cherchent un refuge. C'est en examinant les systemes qui contribuent a la violence genree et a l'oppression infligee aux femmes refugiees ainsi qu'en demontrant comment les politiques canadiennes pour refugie(e)s entravent et protegent les interets des femmes refugiees que l'auteure arrive a cette conclusion.

Introduction

Since the 1985 United Nations Women's Decade Conference in Nairobi, international women's groups, particularly those from the South, have been organizing women at the grassroots and national levels to raise public consciousness on the issue of gender oppression, and lobbying governments to recognize violence against women as both a form of gender oppression and a human rights issue. In 1990, when the United Nations announced that its World Conference on Human Rights would be held in Vienna in June 1993, women's organizations were quick to note that women's issues were not even named on the agenda. By the time of the conference, women's organizations had a petition with half a million names from 124 countries demanding that gender violence be recognized as a violation of human rights. Even though the 150 governments represented at the conference had been lobbied at home, it was not until the conference took place that the international women's organizations succeeded in winning their demand that the government delegates address women's rights at every level of their debates. In addition, women, including refugee women, testified at the Global Tribunal on Violations of Human Rights, held in conjunction with the conference. Based on their testimonies, the following types of violence and violations of human rights that women around the world suffer were identified: persecution for political participation; violation of social and economic rights; sexual violence committed against women in war-torn countries; violence against women in the family; and violation of women's bodily integrity (Reilly, 1994, pp. 2-3).

Another accomplishment of the conference, which was a direct result of the intensive feminist networking and lobbying between 1985 and 1993, was the adoption of principles and actions to eradicate gender oppression. Paragraph 18 of the final Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action affirmed that,

The human rights of women and the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of human rights....Gender-based violence and all forms of sexual harassment and exploitation, including those resulting from cultural prejudice and international trafficking, are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated. …

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