Seminar: '“Refugee Women”, Gender and the Racialised Politics of Protection'

A photo of professor Heaven Crawley

Event details

Thursday 10 November 2022


Title: Saving Brown Women from Brown Men? “Refugee Women”, Gender and the Racialised Politics of Protection

Professor Heaven Crawley, United Nations University - Centre for Policy Research 

Abstract: 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.

Bio: Professor Heaven Crawley FAcSS is Head of Equitable Development and Migration at the UN University in New York and Director of the GCRF-funded MIDEQ Hub which explores relationships between migration, inequalities and development in the context of the Global South. Educated at the Universities of Sussex (1989- 1994) and Oxford (1995-1999), Heaven has more than 30 years' experience of migration research in a wide range of institutional settings (government, voluntary sector, national and international organisations, academia). Her work is underpinned by concerns about the inequalities with which international migration is often associated: global, local and social inequalities that limit human potential and shape decisions to migrate; inequalities in opportunities to move safely, often linked to gender, ethnicity or age; inequalities in access to protection, work and rights; and inequalities in the representation of concerns and interests around migration which often decontextualise migration from broader processes of social, political and economic change. Heaven is also concerned about inequalities in the construction of knowledge around migration processes and outcomes, including the marginalisation scholars living and working in the Global South. She currently lives in Italy.

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