Saving brown women from brown men? “Refugee Women”, gender and the racialised politics of protection

This article was originally published in the Refugee Survey Quarterly. The original article can be found here.

White feminist scholarship in the Global North has drawn attention to the challenges facing women seeking protection under international refugee law (IRL). Whilst these efforts have improved outcomes for some women, they have largely failed to reconfigure the ways in which gendered experiences of persecution are conceptualised and represented. Drawing on postcolonial feminist scholarship, this article suggests that white feminist scholars have been largely complicit in a script that essentialises the experiences of women originating from the Global South. Where gender is taken into account, women from the Global South are typically understood and represented through a neo-imperial frame as disempowered, helpless “victims”, or as “Exotic Others” who need to be rescued from their “backward” cultures. The framing of “Refugee Women” as a homogenous and undifferentiated category ignores the complex intersections of race and gender shaping both women’s experiences and the racialised politics of protection. Moreover, because white feminist approaches have a colonial “blind spot”, they ignore the ways in which the international refugee regime is deeply entangled with the history of colonialism. In so doing, they replicate and reinforce racialised representations of Black and Muslim men as perpetrators of violence against women.