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Why we need gender-specific refugee policies in Canada July 12, 2010

Posted by Dominique Millette in refugees, United Nations, women's issues.
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I was reminded of how women are so much more in need of asylum than their male counterparts (who already need it far too much in our world) by the story of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, recently granted a temporary stay of execution by stoning for adultery in Iran.

The stay is temporary. She could still be executed, probably by other means. Apparently, women are more often liable to be stoned, and buried to the chest, deeper than a man would. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that women die more often than their male co-accused from accusations of immorality.

This story highlights the sad fact of the abuse of women on a worldwide scale, in ways even more atrocious than we allow in our own culture. Just today, another story surfaced about a women’s protest against such unfairness in Bangladesh, where a young woman was whipped 101 times after being raped and becoming pregnant. Her rapist was pardoned. The country’s judiciary there has declared such community sentencing, issued from fatwas, as illegal. It doesn’t stop them from being carried out.

Likewise, multitudes of women face domestic violence around the world without any enforcement of already-existing laws. It may be bad here. It’s worse in other countries. The women who suffer from such policies, or from lack of enforcement of any laws meant to protect them, deserve refugee status. This should include women refused any hope of justice for rape, or subject to rape without any hope of state protection. Such a definition could enable women from Haiti, for example, to come to Canada to escape the horrors they face right now.

The issue of state neglect as a violation of human rights is not new. We’ve come a long way since the definition of refugees was first crafted by the U.N. in 1950. Today, for instance, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) recognizes clearly that domestic violence is a form of persecution.

Indeed, when governments fail in their duty to protect citizens, through systemic prejudice such as sexism, anyone who seeks protection in another country is a legitimate refugee. This recognition is especially important not only to the rights of women, but also to sexual minorities. We must be vigilant in ensuring that our governments apply this standard to all incoming refugees who fit the description. And more than that, I would say: we must advertise our countries as havens for those who so desperately need one.