Alice Edwards of the University of Nottingham (about whose work we've blogged previously here) has just released a new UNHCR background paper entitled Displacement, Statelessness, and Questions of Gender Equality under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which she drafted for a joint seminar between UNHCR and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women that took place in July. As I've discussed previously (here, here, and here), "displacement arising from armed conflict, persecution and other serious human rights violations can intensify [gender] discrimination and inequality." These two principles, equality and non-discrimination, lie at the heart of CEDAW and form the framework of analysis for the paper.
Edwards notes that international treaties protecting refugees and the stateless fail to include explicit prohibitions on gender discrimination and inequality, and offers CEDAW's provisions as a complement to these laws. Not only is CEDAW more comprehensive in the scope of its protections of gender equality, but it also applies to more women than the narrower forced migration treaties. CEDAW's affirmative obligations to eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices as well as social and cultural norms and stereotypes that discriminate against women ensure that violence and inequality will be addressed within both the public and private sphere. This is important for displaced and stateless women, who suffer significant discrimination within the home.
Edwards explains that gender inequality and discrimination can be a cause of migration, an obstacle to freedom of movement for women attempting to flee, a risk factor for food insecurity in camp situations, and a limitation on women's ability to find a durable solution, be it integration, resettlement, or return. Moreover, the stresses of forced displacement frequently exacerbate the risks of sexual and gender-based violence. The citizenship laws of many countries directly or indirectly discriminate against women in ways that leave them more vulnerable to statelessness then men.
Edwards' suggestions for reform? She explains the benefit of the independent monitoring role of the CEDAW committee in the context of forced migration, given that the Refugee Convention has no periodic reporting requirement and that UNHCR is often unable to act completely independently of local authorities where it needs to protect forced migrants within a state's borders. Edwards then lays out several mechanisms through which UNHCR and the CEDAW Committee can collaborate to protect the rights of displaced and stateless women. Well worth a read!