The Sydney Feminists
Refugee and Asylum Seeking Women
Australia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. In accordance with this principle refugees have a right to enter Australia if they are seeking asylum or are refugees who fear persecution if they were to return to their homeland.
Sadly, this isn’t the image that has been presented by much of Australian media. Refugees and asylum seekers have frequently been termed as “boat people”, “queue jumpers” and "illegals”. They have also been portrayed overwhelmingly as male, and any criminal acts by male refugees have been sensationalized, negatively “othering” the refugee population and fuelling xenophobia.
What is frequently lost in the conversation are the unique challenges faced by female asylum seekers and refugees. When one does think of a woman holding this status, one normally conjures an image of a victim – a vulnerable and desperate person, frail and weak.
We never hear stories of their amazing bravery, resilience and ingenuity in the face of steep barriers and immense difficulties, both before they left their country, during the harrowing journey and after they reach Australia or one of its offshore detention centres.
Women as a population are oppressed in many ways in every country in the world, and such prejudices and hostilities towards them are often amplified in dire circumstance. Women embarking on the often terrifying journey to a new life in Australia face many challenges, and these are not frequently spoken about in mainstream media or general conversation.
Some quick facts:
Almost 80% of the refugee population is made up of women and children. They are mostly displaced because of war, political/racial violence or natural disasters such as famine.
Almost 50% of survivors of sexual assaults are girls under 18 years old.
At refugee camps, many cannot obtain refugee status because they find it difficult to meet the definition of a refugee. For instance the Refugee Convention asks refugees to document their fear of prosecutions in order to gain refugee status, which is impossible for many women due to language barriers and issues with illiteracy.
[Read more on our RAS Women Information Page]