A refugee woman is any woman who meets the eligibility criteria under the applicable refugee definition, as provided for in international or regional refugee instruments, under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and/or in national legislation.
Although international and regional refugee law, including European Union refugee law, does not explicitly refer to ‘gender’ as a ground of persecution, it is widely accepted that it can influence, or dictate, the type of persecution or harm suffered and the reasons for this treatment. The EU definition of persons recognised as in need of international protection (albeit not as refugees but as beneficiaries of ‘subsidiary protection’), if properly interpreted, therefore covers gender-related claims.
Violence against women is one of the major forms of persecution experienced by women in the context of refugee status and asylum. It may include the threat of female genital mutilation, forced/early marriage, threat of violence and/or so-called honour crimes, trafficking in women, rape and other forms of sexual assault, serious forms of domestic violence, the imposition of the death penalty or other physical punishments existing in discriminatory justice systems, forced sterilisation, political or religious persecution for holding feminist or other views, and the persecutory consequences of failing to conform to gender-prescribed social norms and mores. Therefore, asylum procedures that do not take into account the special situation or needs of women can impede a comprehensive determination of their claims.
(1) United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR (2006). Master Glossary of Terms Rev.1. Available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/42ce7d444.html; (2) European Council Directive on 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004 on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted, arts. 2(f) and 15. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4157e75e4.html; (3) CEDAW Committee (2014). General Recommendation No 32 on the gender related dimensions of refugee status, asylum, nationality and statelessness of women. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CEDAW/Pages/Recommendations.aspx