Millions of people (20 Million in 2001) are fleeing every year from their country to another; from a region in the North to a region in the south; from one misery into another one. A particular group among the refugees is the women. In fact, they are quite a big group, since 75-80% of the refugees worldwide are female.
They often have a special motivation to leave their home. At first, they suffer from the same circumstances as men do, but in a different way. War is cruel for both sexes but women are more likely to become a civil victim although not being directly involved in the battles. It’s them who are left alone, who have to take care of children and earnings and it’s their houses and fields that are destroyed by winning or losing troops. And it’s them who are raped.
In fact, sexual violence is one of the main reasons for women leaving their country. And it’s one that men never have experienced. Violence in the family, mass violation, circumcising or forced prostitution are only some examples. Protecting measures from the authorities can rarely be count on. Often enough, the governments and their representatives are those who commit the crime.
The troubles continue when the woman, because of such experiences, tries to apply for asylum in one of the EU countries. If she finally does; as most asylum seekers are male. But once she signs this application she will have to face few understanding: While men who are printing and distributing leaflets, holding political speeches etc. are easily accepted as political refugees, a women hiding escaped prisoners or bringing messages from one political group to another are not. Reason: their activities are seen as part of the private life. This is part of the traditional understanding of gender roles in society: men work in public, women in private. The same goes for sexual violence: it’s mostly seen as a matter of private affairs and not as a type of persecution. If a woman gets tortured and imprisoned because a relative or friend of her is politically active, she will hardly be recognized as refugee because the attack wasn’t directed to herself, they say. And if they seek for asylum because in their country of origin they would be forced to marry or would be circumcised, the judge might think that this is part of a cultural life and therefore not a good enough reason to leave the country. Various examples could be named but we can say it in short: it’s still a men’s world where the well-being of women are not of any interest. It’s men who did the Geneva Convention and it’s now mostly men who decide about recognition or deportation. It’s the men who are abusing women what is seen as normal and natural. Guess, why prostitution increases where soldiers of some “International Forces” are staying and nobody cares. Remember the refugee camps in Rwanda where there were not only few cases where women were raped by European soldiers; remember the human trafficking after the Balkan war that was in a way supported by UN representatives.
What can be done? Gender specific reasons to flee must be added to the Geneva Convention. Every country has to add those reasons to their national rules for immigration as well. But the most important thing is : society must changed. Equality should be in everybody’s mind, not only on the paper. Judges as well as politicians and the rest of us must learn that traditional role issues are not valid.
We demand :
- recognition of sexual violence as form of persecution
- protection of women in refugee camps against sexual violence and discrimination
- addition of “gender discrimination” to the Geneva Convention as one of the recognized reasons to flee
- obligation to prove the (in)ability of governments to protect women against sexual violence must be up to the governments, not to the women
- state and state communities must fight against any forms of sexual violence and discrimination such as
- violation during civil war/investigations etc.
- sexual violence within families
- forced prostitution
- discrimination by law
- persons responsible of for an international organisation and are found misusing their position to abuse women must be prosecuted