The Canadian Guidelines on Gender-Related Persecution: An Evaluation
International Journal of Refugee Law
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The faces of refugees are overwhelmingly female: women and children represent over 80 per cent of the world's 27 million refugees and displaced people. This was the impetus behind much of the discussion of the rights of refugee women at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. In the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, States agreed to ‘consider recognizing as refugees those women whose claim to refugee status is based upon the well-founded fear of persecution… including persecution through sexual violence or other gender-related persecution’. Additionally, they pledged to ‘[s]upport and promote efforts by States toward the development of criteria and guidelines on responses to persecution specifically aimed at women, by sharing information on States’ initiatives to develop such criteria and guidelines and by monitoring to ensure their fair and consistent application'. The call for countries to adopt consistent standards for admission of women fleeing gender-related persecution was largely based upon the experience of Canada and, more recently, the United States in formulating guidelines for refugee decision-makers. Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) issued ‘Guidelines on Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution’ in 1993, with two goals: to heighten the sensitivity of IRB decision-makers to the unique problems women face seeking international protection, and to provide a method of analysis within which to evaluate a woman's claim to refugee status. They have provided a model for other countries, but should not be viewed as a finished work; indeed, they were expected to be revised as international and domestic women's human rights law changed, and a new version is expected in late 1996. This article briefly outlines the background to the adoption of the Guidelines, and the recognition within the IRB that the refugee experience is largely female. It describes the scope of the Guidelines, and the omissions that have become evident as they have been interpreted, such as the lack of discussion of the unique problems faced by women in proving that no ‘internal flight alternative’ exists. The article further discusses how the Guidelines can be strengthened by the incorporation of references to recent gender-related law, the extent to which States have committed themselves in the Platform for Action to the development of guidelines as a response to the plight of refugee women.