In 2010, the United Kingdom created an “Action Plan” and committed to “make the asylum system as gender-sensitive as possible so that women and girls who have been persecuted through violence and/or discrimination can have every opportunity to make their case and to have their asylum application considered as fairly as possible.” Now, a new report from Asylum Aid, titled “I feel like as a woman I’m not welcome,” provides a comprehensive gender-based analysis of the “law, policy, and practice” of the UK asylum system.
The report basically finds that the UK is not doing enough to help female asylum seekers: “[D]espite numerous domestic commitments to improve the gender-sensitivity of the asylum system, the government’s repeated refusals to sign up to binding European legal standards makes it more difficult for women asylum seekers to enforce their rights in the UK.” Also, “there is very little consideration of gender in existing legislation” and the phrase “particular social group” is not being interpreted in a “gender-sensitive manner.”
The report also criticizes the UK Border Agency for its failure “to provide sufficient, timely, and understandable gender relevant information to asylum seekers.” As a result, asylum seekers often do not know that certain facts are relevant to their claim. Female asylum seekers interviewed for the report described their interviews with the Border Agency as “very traumatic” and gave examples of being asked inappropriate questions.
The report concludes, “It is hoped that by providing a broad overview of the UK asylum system from a gender perspective, this report will assist policy and decision-makers in thinking strategically about how to improve the gender-sensitivity of the system.”
It seems to me that the basic problem is that international law is not designed with the problems of women in mind. As the report notes, while woman face the same types of harm as men, they are also subjected to harm which is gender-specific, including female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced sterilization, forced abortion, domestic violence, and rape. These types of harm are not covered by the Refugee Convention. Until the law is changed to reflect the specific types of harm that many women face, female asylum seekers will continue to face difficulties.