Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 15, May 2007

Neo Liberal Globalisation,
National Security and Border Control

Impacts on Displaced and Refugee Women

Gillian Vogl
    1. Structural adjustment policies introduced throughout Asia in the last two decades have led to increased social inequality in the region and have resulted in massive displacements of people. In this article, I situate gendered displacement in its neo-liberal global context and explore the complex links between developed and developing countries with regard to displacement and exclusion. An increasing number of people are becoming displaced within their homelands as a result of a multitude of interconnected factors; 80 per cent of these displaced persons and refugees are women and children. Yet they are severely under-represented in refugee determination processes and claims for asylum and settlement.[1] It is thus important to illuminate the gendered commonalities of women's experiences of forced migration. Although globalisation is produced and responds to particular historical and geographic settings in specific ways, women often undergo common gendered experiences with regard to flight and resettlement. While women cannot be constructed as a homogenous group, it is the commonalities between women's experiences of forced migration that are the focus of this article, rather than differences among woman. By very briefly and broadly showing how globalisation interacts with specific gendered, ethno-religious and class relations of domination in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, I highlight the connection between national and international elements with regard to gendered forced migration. The gender blindness of refugee determination processes and the increasing exclusion of those seeking asylum is highlighted by focusing on Australia due to its status as a 'Northern' country within the social divide between North and South and therefore as a likely destination for those seeking asylum.[2]

      Globalisation and its impact on women in the Asia Pacific region
    2. Angela Mitropoulos claims that while globalisation invokes an image of a borderless world due to the increasing free flow of goods from one country to another, globalisation is in reality about borders which are both permeable and exclusionary.[3] Globalisation encompasses elements which are both neo-liberal and neo-conservative, resulting not in a borderless world but rather a capitalist world where borders are either present or not according to the interests of global elites in the North.[4] Neo-liberalism can ideologically be defined by the three economic principles of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation.[5] While the ideology of neo-liberalism has emerged as a commitment to the logic of competitive market forces with aggressive state downsizing and public service reform, there is a gap between the ideology of neo-liberalism and the way it operates on an everyday level. The ideology of neo-liberalism conjures up an image of a world where markets rule free from state regulation; in practice, the implementation of neo-liberal policies has involved increasingly punitive types of state intervention.[6] Neo-conservatism, on the other hand, is defined by an ideology which emphasises the significance of free trade and markets while combining this emphasis with a belief in the regulatory actions of governments.[7] As James Peck argues, globalisation does not involve the simple application of a free market ideology but is also characterised by social conservatism and an increasing obsession with national security and control in terms of law and order and border protection.[8] These dynamics of inclusion and exclusion have resulted in greater social inequality in the South and have led to certain areas of deterioration in the North. They have also led to an increase in conflict and forced migration, along with a blurring of the difference between various categories of migration. As Stephen Castles states, 'North' and 'South' refer to a social divide rather than a geographical divide, with the North referring to developed countries and the South to developing countries.[9]
    3. In places where neo-liberal policies have been implemented, existing gender relations and dynamics have been transformed. In some cases, opportunities have been opened up for some women; in other cases there has been a detrimental impact on particular groups of women. A reduction in social programs, for example, is the most visibly gendered aspect of these policies. Reductions in health services have led to higher maternal mortality. The introduction of school fees in many Southern countries has made education even more inaccessible for the poor, particularly girls. These changes have both increased the impoverishment of women and made it difficult for them to find work. Neo-liberal policies aimed at the eradication of national social safeguards in the South have led to increased inequalities and crises that have impacted on women even more adversely than men, leading to massive gendered displacements.[10]
    4. Rannabir Sammadar claims that women are the most abused refugees and the most unwanted migrants. The sexual victimisation faced by women is the most gender-specific human rights violation of forced migration. These abuses violate both women's rights to their own bodies and to their physical and psychological well-being. Women also do the most low-skilled, least paid, most abused and dishonourable jobs.[11] Economic crisis, which often impedes a girl's ability to get an education, makes the trap of sexual violence in the form of sexual slavery, trafficking and prostitution much harder to escape.[12] Within refugee and displacement camps, women are effectively 'invisible' refugees who are rarely consulted in the planning and design of programmes which impact upon them. Whilst women represent 80 per cent of health care workers in refugee camps, they have little say in the construction of national and international policies regarding migration. Women often do not get a fair share of food, water and shelter allocations, with resources often given to male heads of households.[13]
    5. The current poverty and inequalities which exist in many countries in Asia can be partly attributed to the debt crisis. After the Second World War, Northern investors, including the World Bank, lent money to many Asian countries so that they could build hydroelectric dams, highways, steel mills and power plants. To begin with, the capital for these loans came from Northern investors and governments. During the 1970s, record profits by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) resulted in an overabundance of investment money, with Northern bankers hurriedly making loans to cover interest payments to pay depositors. Frequent large loans were made without forethought as to how countries would repay these loans or the appropriateness and feasibility of these projects to the countries in which they were being carried out. Between 1985 and 1995, an average of ten million people were displaced each year as a result of the building of hydroelectric dams and urban transportation projects.[14] These projects were often unsuccessful or benefited only local elites and Northern-based corporations.
    6. Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the 1980s, interest rates also increased dramatically, nearly doubling between the 1970s and early 1980s.[15] As a result, many countries have been able to pay only the interest on their loans, leaving the principal untouched. This development led to the start of a crisis among developing countries within Asia and the rest of the world. Beginning with Mexico in 1982, many developing countries stated that they would have to default on their payments. As a response to the threat of default, institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began enforcing structural adjustment programs (SAPs) attached to conditions of international grants-in-aid. These programs have required government cutbacks to social services such as health care and education. Countries have also been required to privatise essential services such as water and utilities.[16] SAPs have led to increased poverty and violence and have impacted particularly adversely on women, compounding pre-existing gender inequalities and leading to massive gendered displacements. India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka all provide good examples of how neo-liberal policies have interacted with localised patterns of inequality to worsen the situation of women within these countries.

    7. Like other countries in Asia, India was forced to adopt an SAP by the IMF and World Bank in July 1991. According to Dooly Arora, within India there exists a complex pattern of social relationships where class, caste, religion and community create a mutually dependent and hierarchical set of social relations. It has not been easy for those at the bottom end of the hierarchy to contest economic and political exclusion. Intersecting with all these categories in a crucial way are gender relations, where in many facets of everyday life, women, particularly those in the lower rungs of society, have continued to be exploited.[17] While neo-liberal policies resulting in workplace changes have been positive for some women, the privatisation of workplaces has also led to huge retrenchments leading to unemployment and displacement of many others. The commercialisation of agriculture and the establishment of development programmes have displaced many women who then end up in low paid, unskilled and unsafe employment.[18] Women have also suffered the most from increased poverty brought about as a result of cuts to public expenditure, due to the unequal distribution of goods within their households and also due to their lack of access to societal resources.[19] Displacement caused by development projects has a detrimental impact upon women due to the patriarchal contexts in which they are situated. Women, for instance, are not considered independently under rehabilitation policies set up to help those who have been displaced and thus woman-headed households are often overlooked.[20]

      Factors Leading to Migration from Bangladesh to India
    8. Both women who have been internally displaced and women who have come to India from Bangladesh share common gendered experiences of flight and resettlement. Such experiences also cut across the categories of so-called 'legal' and 'illegal' migrants. Debt default and pro-market policies leading to industrial and agricultural reforms in Bangladesh have resulted in job losses and increasing inequality between the rich and poor. The situation for women has been especially bad, as they are the main victims of poverty due to widespread gender discrimination. Women are particularly discriminated against with regard to access to employment. According to a Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics labour survey carried out in 1995/96, of 40.3 million employed people in Bangladesh, only 7.1 million were women.[21] Women have suffered the most due to privatisation of industries as employers find it easier to fire women as they are generally less well organised as a group and less violent.[22] Farida Khan argues that there have been two forms of violence against women in Bangladesh: long-established forms of violence (which include maltreatment from family members, domestic violence, lack of rights with regard to divorce and custody and a lack of property rights), and violence linked to displacement and globalisation. It is the second type of violence which is of interest in this discussion.[23]
    9. Since economic liberalisation, garment factories have materialised as a major source of employment for women. Within these factories, women have no job security, are paid low wages and work in unsafe conditions. Women have increasingly been subjected to violence outside their homes by supervisors, people on the street and police, and as a result of ethno-religious conflict.[24] Khan claims that there has not been enough preparation for the emergence of women in the public sphere. According to Khan, women have remained invisible within the public sphere and economic liberalisation policies have taken women from the 'protected' private sphere and have exposed them to exploitation and powerlessness in the marketplace, as well as a backlash from more established forms of patriarchy.[25]
    10. While the research which will be discussed below focuses on the persecution of Hindu women in Bangladesh, it is important to note that Hindu nationalists in West Bengal also discriminated against Muslim refugees. Michael Gillan argues that the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) distinguished between migrants who were perceived to be legitimate and those who were not. This distinction was made on an ethno-religious basis with Hindu migrants viewed as legitimate migrants escaping Muslim oppression and Muslim migrants seen as illegitimate refugees.[26]
    11. Within the interviews discussed below, women who migrated from Bangladesh did so under varying circumstances. Both women who provided poverty-induced reasons for leaving Bangladesh and those whose movements were a result of a fear of persecution shared similar experiences with regard to their flight and resettlement. In addition, the interviews suggest that the alleviation of poverty is a motivating force for both internal and cross border migration. Although refugee and internally displaced women do not constitute a homogenous group of women, the following accounts of security and safety highlight gender-specific similarities in women's experiences of forced migration.[27]

      Gendered Experiences of Forced Migration
    12. The quotes below are taken from ongoing fieldwork in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the Indian state of West Bengal and its border regions being carried out by Ruchira Ganguly-Scrase. During the time of writing this article, Dr Ganguly-Scrase and the author, along with a number of other researchers, were working collaboratively on a project on gendered experiences of forced migration where my role was to theorise the link between the researchers' ethnographic work and neo liberal globalisation. The Bangladeshi participants in this study are both documented and undocumented immigrants. Their experiences are compared with women who are internally displaced within the state of West Bengal due to poverty. The findings so far suggest that reasons for the migration of Bangladeshi women are political and religious persecution and economic dislocation. The internally displaced women spoke of the poor economic conditions which made them leave their villages. By comparing a number of areas in the lived experiences of these women, including the nature of their home villages, their reasons for flight, and their settlement processes, Ganguly-Scrase found that there are close similarities between female refugees and poverty-induced displaced women.[28]
    13. Both Minati and Sohba, for example, who immigrated to India, share some very gender-specific reasons for leaving Bangladesh. Minati is a forty-year-old Hindu woman who is a legal migrant living in North Bengal. She lives with her twelve-year-old daughter and is employed as a cook in two houses. Minati provided very gender-specific reasons for her flight.

        Things were deteriorating fairly rapidly in the 1980s. The seana [post pubescent 'grown up'] girls in our village were often the target of verbal attack and sexual harassment. Thinking about the future of our daughters we decided to move out.

        Hindu women and grown up girls had to live with a sense of insecurity. We normally avoided venturing alone in places outside our house. Women and girls from our community were constantly under threat. There were incidents of sexual harassment by Muslim youths.

        We did not have much property. We were not physically attacked. But there was a fear of attack always. There were some property disputes with the landed Kayasthas in our village. But we had no such problem.[29]

    14. Sobha, a fifty-year-old, semi-literate undocumented migrant, is a widow with one son and two daughters and came to North Dinajpur in 1980. In addition to 'local Muslims targeting her husband's property,' she left Bangladesh for similar reasons to Minati.

        The women had a feeling of insecurity, the grown up ones in particular. However, nothing untoward happened in our village.

        No specific threat, but we heard of stories from other villages about how Hindu girls were raped and lifted by the Muslims. The women had a strong feeling of insecurity. Some of our Muslim neighbours threatened us the most.[30]

        We could not move freely or perform our religious functions freely. Pūj^#257;s[31] were always low-key affairs. The growing girls were always under the threat of sexual harassment. I have already told you about the land dispute. There were similar problems with a few of the other landed families. The local Muslims looked at our landed property and homestead with great degree of greed.[32]

    15. While all Hindu interviewees seemed to share the same sense of fear and insecurity about being attacked, as the above quotations suggest, not everybody had a direct experience of violence. In addition, women spoke both of fearing Muslims and of incidents where Muslims had protected them. Both Minati and Sobha crossed the border from Bangladesh to Calcutta (now Kolcata) in the Indian State of West Bengal through bribing security staff. Sobha's husband told the border control guard that they were on a temporary tour. While Sobha is a not a legally recognised refugee, she feels safe in comparison to how she felt in Bangladesh.

        We are safe and protected. The feeling of subjugation is no longer there. We can sleep at night free of anxiety. We live here with dignity.[33]

    16. Apart from the threat of eviction from the university, Minati also feels safer than when she lived in Bangladesh:

        We feel completely secure here; our neighbours do not give us any trouble. The University however has kept us under the threat of eviction. This is our only worry.[34]

    17. Rina, a recently arrived refugee living in Calcutta, had moved to India to escape poverty. When asked what influenced her decision to leave Bangladesh she claimed that:

        I made it because my husband was no longer there. My brother-in-law had just got married. Then he started creating trouble, he would not feed us. That's why we left. When his father died, then my elder son, I had a sister in law here, so we came to our sister-in-law's house with my mother-in-law. My sister-in-law put us up.[35]

    18. Perbati, an internally displaced woman living in Calcutta, left her village in order to find work and alleviate her poverty:

        Yes, here. Then my husband objected to it, asking, 'why did you come here? You must stay in the village.' But how was I to stay there? How would we survive? I said to him, 'you don't give me any money, what am I to eat?' He told me that as the others eat once a day only, I should do the same. But you tell me how could I do that, especially with the children? I have been living here now for nine years. I came here nine years ago.[36]

    19. Both Rina and Perbati's dependence on men resulted in their inability to survive financially. While Rina moved from India to Bangladesh, Perbati was an internally displaced woman. The above excerpts which outline these interviewed displaced women's own interpretations about their security and safety, highlight the way in which 'illegal' and 'legal' refugees and internally displaced women share many gendered experiences. An unequal distribution of financial resources in the private sphere and a fear of sexual harassment and abuse by conflicting ethno-religious groups in the public sphere provided the reasons for these women's flight. Once they reached India, the displaced women who were forced to flee from Bangladesh had to find employment in order to support their families. Previously, woman, such as Sohba, had only participated in unpaid work at home. However, after moving many of the legal/illegal and internally displaced women, Ganguly-Scrase interviewed, had to take on the role of breadwinner in their families. While the interviewed women', told Ganguly-Scrase about vulnerabilities and confronted threats of violence, Ganguly-Scrase found that migration also led to possibilities of empowerment for both externally and internally displaced women. Both the externally and internally displaced woman experienced an increase in their self esteem as a result of being in a new environment and being able to participate in paid work. For the women, who however, were classified as 'illegal' migrants, their lack of citizenship was experienced with great anxiety.[37] Neo-liberal policies introduced into India and Bangladesh have exacerbated the poverty and gender inequalities already experienced by women.

      Government Responses to Displacement
    20. The previous sections have focused on migration experiences in South Asia, and the reasons for the displacement of women. In this section, I shift attention to the policies of receiving countries. I choose to focus on Australia's migration policies to highlight the kinds of policies being put into place by some developed countries to deal with the entry of migrants and asylum-seekers. In Australia, as with some other developed countries, such as the UK and Denmark, government responses to displacement have essentially been linked to an increasing obsession with preventing the entry of migrants and asylum-seekers. As Teresa Hayter states, this has resulted in unsustainable levels of repression and suffering for many thousands of innocent people.[38] Despite the huge number of women among migrants and asylum-seekers, the gender-blind nature of Immigration laws and asylum policies means that women are often not acknowledged as an identifiable category in relation to these regulations and policies but are viewed rather as dependants of men.[39]
    21. Australia takes in only 0.5 per cent of the world's refugees, while Asia as a whole takes in more refugees and internally displaced people than any other region across the world.[40] Over the last decade governments across the globe have increasingly focused on national security and more stringent border control policies. These processes will be illustrated through a brief case study of a Sri Lankan Tamil woman applying for asylum in Australia. The increasingly exclusionary nature of these regulations has had a particularly adverse affect upon women.
    22. In Sri Lanka's post-independence phase since 1948, the majority Sinhalese, who constitute 75 per cent of the population, were unwilling to share power with the minority Tamils. This has led to widespread violence between Tamil and Sinhalese. By July 2000, more than 600,000 people were displaced in the war-torn northeast Province, with women and children suffering particular difficulties among this displaced population.[41]
    23. According to Jennifer Hyndman, the civil war in Sri Lanka, while having its foundations in competing Tamil and Sinhalese nationalisms, is also perpetuated by those who are economically marginalised.[42] Unemployed men and women from southern Sri Lanka have joined up as soldiers to earn enough money to support their families. Unemployment among both Tamil and Sinhalese youth has been a crucial contributing element in Sri Lanka's civil war. Neo-liberal policies put in place to attract foreign investment have not eliminated high unemployment rates but have tended only to benefit elites within Sri Lanka. The UNP (United National Party) government elected in 1977 deregulated the market. This government stated that they would endeavour to create a more just society for Tamils. However, within two weeks of being in power, the police burned down a market in Jaffna, which signalled the beginning of increasing violence against Tamils throughout the country. The government did little to stop the violence, while simultaneously providing less protection for the poor. Tamil areas became increasingly excluded from any of the gains brought about by neo-liberal policies.[43] The introduction of trade liberalisation resulting in the shift from a Socialist State to a neo liberal state which came to be defined by export orientated industralisation, while benefiting some, has also led to increased poverty, debt and income disparity, and increased unemployment and malnutrition, particularly among women and children. This has led to increased violence; in 2001, Sri Lanka had the greatest levels of political violence connected to the total powerlessness of the poor.[44] Many from Sri Lanka have sought refuge in other countries, including Australia.
    24. Australia, however, has been increasingly reluctant to be seen to be accepting refugees. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has developed a very firm connection between sovereignty and exclusion in present asylum policies, making statements such as '[w]e have the right to determine who comes here.'[45] In 2001, the World Organisation Against Torture strongly condemned changes to Australian immigration laws which were aimed at narrowing the definition of a refugee, restricting the role of the legal system in determining the rights of asylum seekers, and imposing long prison sentences on people who protected and concealed asylum seekers. The World Organisation Against Torture argues that Australia's non-revisable mandatory detention policy for the unauthorised arrival of asylum seekers has resulted in physical, emotional and social neglect, depriving detainees, particularly children, of development opportunities. According to the World Organisation Against Turture report, Australian immigration laws remain discriminatory and repressive and are not in accordance with international standards and law.[46]
    25. According to Leanne McKay, changes to immigration laws have impacted particularly adversely on women asylum seekers. Recently, it is women and children who have increasingly applied for asylum. Despite this increase, however, there has been no recognition of women as a group with specific needs. Legislation has not included measures which recognise the specifically gendered experiences of women in terms of sexual violence and other gendered forms of persecution and discrimination.[47]
    26. McKay explains that changes to Australia's Migration Legislation Amendment Act 2001(MLAA) have meant that individuals who are denied status as refugees are unable to make further claims individually or as a group. As a consequence, women and their dependent children may be prevented from making claims. Any family who arrives in Australia must put in an application for a Permanent Protection Visa (PPV). Each family member is then recorded as a dependant on the form of the person making the application, usually the male head of the household. Each member can then make his/her claim separately by filling in a section further on in the application. While gender guidelines given to officers at the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) highlight the social and cultural barriers which may prevent women from putting in their own applications or having their experiences recorded on applications, in practice these are often ignored. McKay claims that male heads of the household—and even women themselves—often pay scant attention to the ways in which women's experiences of persecution can amount to a successful claim.[48]
    27. The ways in which women are treated under the MLAA diverges significantly from international regulations which have been put in place to protect refugees. As a result of the MLAA, if a female asylum seeker is not interviewed before the principal applicant's claim is denied, then there is a large possibility that her claim will not be heard at all. In contrast to the application process in Australia, in both Canada and New Zealand all family members must complete individual application forms explaining why they cannot return to the countries from which they have originated. In New Zealand, all family members are interviewed, with women interviewed individually by a female and with a female interpreter if they wish. By taking this approach, all family members are given the opportunity to speak about their experiences.[49]
    28. A recent case where a Sri Lankan woman sought a judicial review of a decision made by the Refugee Review Tribunal and won, as reported on the federal government's website, presents one example where there was an initial failure to adhere to international law and a failure to follow DIMIA's gender guidelines.[50] In the majority of cases listed on the Federal Court website where applicants are appealing against decisions handed down by the Refugee Review Tribunal, the applicants are male. As explained above, males are over-represented in court processes because women are often not acknowledged as an identifiable category in national asylum policies and are consequently often viewed as the companions of male asylum seekers; it is usually males as heads of households who make the claims. Although not typical of the many cases which come up for judicial review, this case provides strong evidence that DIMIA's gender guidelines are not always followed in practice. Indeed, it was precisely this lack of consideration that allowed the Sri Lankan woman to win her judicial review, and for the court to state the need for this case to be reconsidered.[51]
    29. In this case, a woman who was a citizen of Sri Lanka and whose ethnic background was Tamil claimed that she was denied the opportunity to provide a full account of her experiences of persecution in Sri Lanka. She claimed that if she had been allowed to overcome the cultural barriers which prevented her from telling her full story she would have been able to put forward a good claim for asylum. This woman had stated that she would reveal more detail of events which made her leave Sri Lanka if she was allowed to tell her story without any men being present, particularly her husband.[52]
    30. On 8 December 1997, a delegate of the minister made a decision refusing to grant protection visas to the applicant and her husband. The applicants then asked to have this decision reviewed by the Refugee Tribunal.[53] The Tribunal conducted a review on 9 August 2000 at which the woman and her husband gave their stories. The tribunal supported the decision not to grant protection visas to the applicants. Between October 2000 and October 2001, the applicants put in two applications to the Federal Court asking for a review of this decision. These applications were both dismissed. On 22 January 2004, the applicants again applied for review of the Tribunal decision.[54]
    31. At this review, the woman described two events that had occurred in Sri Lanka in 1995. In the first case, the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) members came to her family home and demanded that they be given a particular motorbike. The husband told one of the PLOTE members that they would not be able to handle this motorbike, which angered the men, who left without the motorbike. The second event happened two days later, when the applicants' house was raided by PLOTE. Five men forced their way into the house, with more waiting outside in a vehicle. When the husband asked these men for a permit or for some identification, they reminded him that his brother-in-law had been killed by the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). The woman was separated from her husband and taken into the bedroom by two of the men. They accused her of supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). She was four months pregnant at the time and they told her that she was 'carrying a tiger-cub,' kicked her in the stomach and warned her that she would be killed if she were seen outside. In addition to her original description of what happened in July 1995, the woman also said:

        I shall confess certain secret matters of sensitive issues, if I am called for an interview. I shall prefer a lady case officer to handle my case.[55]

    32. From that time onwards, the woman was so afraid that she did not even go to the hospital for her routine check-up or go shopping. In spite of her very clear comment that she had more details to reveal which she could only do in a more culturally-appropriate situation, the woman was denied an interview. A delegate of the minister rejected her claim for a protection visa. The Tribunal member who was then assigned to deal with the review of the delegate's decision was male. While this member had all the information from the woman's application, he ignored the fact that this woman had said she would reveal more of her ordeal in the absence of any men.[56] While at the Tribunal, the woman gave evidence in the absence of her husband. This evidence, however, was given in the presence of the applicants' migration agent, who was male. This evidence was given through a female interpreter. The woman's migration agent had requested that a female interpreter be made available. However, other than the female interpreter and the applicant, every other person at the Tribunal was male.[57]
    33. During the time that they were applying for protection visas, the husband had also prepared an affidavit to say that there was information that his wife had disclosed that she did not want him to be privy to in accordance with 'the culture of the Sri Lankan people.' The husband wanted to respect the decision of his wife not to reveal that information to him. In the course of the hearing in the court, whenever the contents of the relevant parts of his wife's affidavit were discussed, the husband chose to be absent from the court room.[58]
    34. During the woman's initial application and her appeal to the Refugee tribunal, the gender guidelines were totally ignored. The lawyer defending this woman's right to appeal to the high court stated that:

        From the first applicant's statement accompanying her original application for a protection visa, [it] could not be construed as anything other than giving notice that she had more to say about the July 1995 incident, and that she was sensitive about saying it to a man. At the very least, this should have sounded warnings to the Minister's delegate that there may have been gender-related claims and that there were cultural reasons why the first applicant did not wish to reveal them to a man. Anyone making a serious attempt to comply with the gender guidelines would have arranged to interview the first applicant in a manner that would have been conducive to ascertaining what she wanted to say. As it was, the Minister's delegate dealt briefly with the July 1995 incident in written reasons, without mentioning either the first applicant's claim to have been kicked, or her statement that she had more to say about the incident.[59]

    35. The excerpts above, taken from a federal court case, provide an example of the way the specific experience of women as refugees and asylum seekers and the cultural barriers which may prevent women from speaking about these experiences have been ignored within the refugee determination process, although in this case the federal court affirmed the necessity for gender sensitivity.
    36. The right of asylum seekers to the type of judicial review that the Sri Lankan woman was seeking have been restricted since 2001. Since then, judicial reviews to the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Court have been severely curtailed. At present, as long as it can be seen that the decision-maker (a government official) was acting in good faith, has the authority to make the decision, that the decision relates the subject matter of the legislation, and does not exceed constitutional limits, the decision is considered lawful. The limitations placed on a refugee's right to a review are in breach of Article 16 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a key legal document which states that refugees should have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all contracting states. These limitations apply only to those seeking asylum. No other laws in Australia exempt citizens or other persons from appealing decisions of administrative tribunals to the courts to this degree.[60]

    37. While refugee situations are often presented as a string of isolated and disconnected humanitarian emergencies,[61] Castles states that the situations are in fact connected and a fundamental part of globalisation and cannot be studied as isolated situations.[62] Particular groups or situations are connected to a wider social, political and economic context, as this paper highlights. Castles states that by considering the broader structural causes of forced migration, one can generate explanations both for why forced migration has risen in the South and why Northern countries have responded similarly to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers.[63]
    38. Women as internally displaced people and as illegal and legal refugees share gendered experiences of forced migration. Forced migration is linked to the implementation of neo-liberal structural adjustment policies into Asia by Northern elites. Yet, the north has responded to this increasing displacement with more exclusionary and punitive forms of governance. In both international and national policies, women are often constituted as the companions or dependants of refugee men rather than as refugees in their own right. To adequately address the needs of displaced and refugee women, their diversity and diverse experiences need to be recognised. The gendered similarities between women's experiences also need recognition. The gender-blind way in which immigration laws and refugee policies are constituted needs to be challenged. To be effective, policies need to recognise not only the gendered dimensions of forced migration, but also its neo-liberal causes.


      [1] Carolina Rodriguez Bello, 'Refugees and internally displaced,' Women's Human Rights Net, 2003, URL:, site accessed 21 August 2005.

      [2] Many of the arguments in this paper have been strengthened through discussions and joint conference papers with Ruchira Ganguly Scrase, Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt and Roberta Julian with whom I have been working on developing a collaborative project on gender and forced migration since November 2004. I would like to thank Amarjit Kaur for reading and providing me with feedback on the first draft of this paper. In addition, I would like to thank the three referees who reviewed an earlier version of this paper for their very thorough and constructive feedback.

      [3] Angela Mitropoulos, 'Habeas Corpus,' in Arena Magazine 55 (2001): 52–54, p. 54.

      [4] Manfred B. Steger, 'Ideologies of globalisation,' in Journal of Political Ideologies 10(1) (2005):11–30, p. 17.

      [5] Hans–Peter Martin & Harald Schumann, The global trap, Sydney: Pluto Press, 1998, p. 109.

      [6] Neil Brenner & Nik Theodore, 'Cities and the geographies of "actually existing neo liberalism",' in Antipode (2002): 349–79, p. 352.

      [7] Steger, 'Ideologies of globalisation,' p. 17.

      [8] James Peck, 'Geography and public policy: constructions of neo liberalism,' in Progress in Human Geography 28 (2004):392–405.

      [9] Stephen Castles, 'Towards a sociology of forced migration and social transformation,' in Sociology 37(1) (2003):13–34, p. 17.

      [10] Alison Jaggar, 'A feminist critique of the alleged Southern debt. (Highlights from the 9th Symposium of the IAPH),' in Hypatia 17(4) (2002):119–42, p. 123.

      [11] Ranabir Sammadar, The Marginal Nation: Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1999, p. 40.

      [12] Victoria Britain, 'The impact of war on women,' in Race and Class 44(4) (2003):41–51, p. 44.

      [13] Sammadar, The Marginal Nation, p 40; Rodriguez, 'Refugees and internally displaced.'

      [14] Robert Polak, 'Social justice and the global economy: new challenges for social work in the 21st century,' in Social Work 2 (2004): 282–83, p. 281.

      [15] Polak, 'Social justice and the global economy,' p. 283.

      [16] Polak, 'Social justice and the global economy,' p. 283.

      [17] Dooly Arora, 'Structural adjustment programs and gender concerns in India,' in Journal of Contemporary Asia 29(3) (1999):328–61, p. 330.

      [18] Arora, 'Structural adjustment programs and gender concerns,' pp. 338–40.

      [19] Arora, 'Structural adjustment programs and gender concerns,' p. 345.

      [20] Arora, 'Structural adjustment programs and gender concerns,' p. 347.

      [21] Mohammed Naruzzaman, 'Neo liberal economic reforms, the rich and the poor in Bangladesh,' in Journal of Contemporary Asia 34(1) (2004):33–54, p. 51.

      [22] Naruzzaman, 'Neo liberal Economic Reforms,' pp. 39, 44, 48 & 51.

      [23] Farida Khan, 'Gender violence and development discourse in Bangladesh,' in International Social Science Journal 57(184) (2005):219–30, pp. 221–22.

      [24] Khan, 'Gender violence and development discourse,' p. 24.

      [25] Khan, 'Gender violence and development discourse,' p. 29.

      [26] Michael Gillan, 'Refugees or infiltrators? the Bharatiya Janata Party and "illegal" migration from Bangladesh,' in Asian Studies Review 26(1) (2002):73–95, pp. 73–74.

      [27] Ruchira Ganguly-Scrase, 'Infiltrators, illegals and undesirables: gender and forced migration in South Asia,' in TASA 2005 Conference Proceedings: Community, Place, Change, ed. Roberta Julian, Reannan Rottier & Rob White, St Lucia: Australian Sociological Association CD Rom, 2005.

      [28] These excerpts are from interviews with displaced and refugee women who live on the outskirts of Calcutta, India. The interviews are part of fieldwork carried out by Dr Ruchira Ganguly Scrase in January 2005. The interviews were conducted in Bengali and translated by Ruchira Ganguly Scrase. The ethics committee clearance number is HEO4/313.

      [29] Interview with Minati, January 2005. Kayasthas refer to upper caste Hindus.

      [30] Interview with Sobha, January 2005.

      [31] PŪjā refers to an act of showing reverence to a God, through prayer, songs or ritual.

      [32] Interview with Sobha, Calcutta, West Bengal, January 2005.

      [33] Interview with Sobha, Calcutta, West Bengal, January 2005.

      [34] Interview with Minati, Calcutta, West Bengal, January 2005.

      [35] Interview with Rina, Calcutta, West Bengal, January 2005.

      [36] Interview with Perbati, Calcutta, West Bengal, January 2005.

      [37] Ganguly-Scrase, 'Infiltrators, illegals and undesirables,' p. 4.

      [38] Teresa Hayter , 'No borders: the case against immigration controls,' in Feminist Review 73 (2003):6–18, p. 7.

      [39] Susanne Binder & Jelana Tošji , 'Refugees as a particular form of transnational migrations and social transformations: socio anthropological and gender aspects,' in Current Sociology 53(4) (2005):607–24.

      [40] 'William Maley, A global refugees crisis,' in Refugees and the Myth of a Borderless World, ed. Jean-Pierre Fonteyne, Greg Fry, James Jupp & Thuy Do, Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2002, URL:, site accessed 23 February 2005, p. 2.

      [41] Jennifer Hyndman, 'Aid conflict and migration: the Canada-Sri Lanka connection,' in Canadian Geographer 47(3) (2003):251–68, p. 253.

      [42] Hyndman, 'Aid conflict and migration,' p. 253.

      [43] Oxfam Sri Lanka and the Asian Development Bank, Oxfam Community Abroad, 2001, URL:, site accessed 26th May 2006.

      [44] Oxfam Sri Lanka and the Asian Development Bank, Oxfam Community Abroad.

      [45] Michael Humphrey 'Humanitarianism, terrorism and the transnational border,' in Social Analysis 46(1) (2002):118–24, p. 119.

      [46] World Organisation Against Torture, 2001, URL:, site accessed 3 September 2005.

      [47] Leanne McKay, 'Women asylum seekers in Australia: discrimination and the Migration Legislation Amendment Act (No 6) 2001 (Cth),' in Melbourne Journal of International Law 4(2) (2003):439–68, pp. 444 & 439.

      [48] McKay, 'Women asylum seekers in Australia,' pp. 444–45.

      [49] McKay, 'Women asylum seekers in Australia,' p. 447–49.

      [50] Federal Court of Australia, Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641 (24 November 2005), URL:, site accessed 4 January 2006.

      [51] The Refugee Review Tribunal Decisions Digest, 1 (9 January 2006), URL:, site accessed 6 June 2006.

      [52] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641.

      [53] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641. Applicants in this case refer to people who are applying to the court to have their cases reviewed.

      [54] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641.

      [55] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641.

      [56] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641.

      [57] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641.

      [58] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641.

      [59] Applicants M16 in 2004 v Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs [2005] FCA 1641.

      [60] Alice Edwards, 'Tampering with refugee protection: the case of Australia,' in International Journal of Refugee Law 15(2) (2003):192–211, p. 209.

      [61] Castles, 'Towards a sociology of forced migration and social transformation,' p. 21.

      [62] Castles, 'Towards a sociology of forced migration and social transformation,' p. 30.

      [63] Castles, 'Towards a sociology of forced migration and social transformation,' p. 27.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

This page has been optimised for 800x600
and is best viewed in either Netscape 2 or above, or Explorer 2 or above.
From February 2008, this paper has been republished in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific from the following URL:

HTML last modified 19 March 2008 1431 by Carolyn Brewer.

© Copyright