Gendering the ‘Refugee Crisis’ Conference

In collaboration with the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at the Open University, CTDC has organised a half-day conference, on December 11, 2015. The conference offered a pressing critical reflection on the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe. In light of recent heated debates and widespread coverage of Europe’s border controls and the flow of refugees, the event offered a space to critically think through the gendered politics of refugee and forced migration, and its intersections with nationalism, geopolitics, and global patterns of inequality. In exploring the gendered dimensions of refugee and migrant life, and the differential experiences of women migrants, this event aims to facilitate a pertinent conversation between feminist activism and refugee struggles transnationally, while highlighting the existence and experiences of refugees outside of Europe.

The event included a number of different speakers, practitioners, academics and a woman refugee. Nasma, the refugee from Syria, opened the day with her personal experience and journey. Nasma’s experience highlighted the gendered aspects of refugee hood and migration, as she stated in her talk: ‘we had to leave Syria because we feared for our lives. We were threatened that women in our community will be raped by regime supporters.’ She also highlighted the difficulties she is facing in the UK, as a Muslim woman wearing the hijab. Her visibility as a Muslim makes her prone to anti-Muslim threats and abuse.

Academics at the conference also highlighted different experiences of women refugees and migrants. For instance, Dr Umut Erel explored experiences of motherhood among women migrants in the UK, while Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh problematized notions of sorority and sisterhood among refugee women. Looking at Sahrawi refugee women’s experiences, Elena exposed how the International Community plays a role in creating a model of a ‘good’ refugee, among refugee communities. Dr Ruba Salih talked about first generation women Palestinian refugees, who experienced the 1948 mass expulsion of Palestinians. Ruba explored untraditional and unconventional ways women express their memories of the expulsion. Ruba highlights the embodiment of refugee women and shows their experiences as women, and not only refugees. Professor Heaven Crawley showed us how in some cases the focus of women refugees as abused and fleeing violence, creates a negative image of the refugee man, who is automatically and unjustifiably portrayed as a perpetrator.

CTDC directors, Dr Nour Abu Assab and Dr Nof Nasser Eddin, presented research findings from the field on the experiences of Syrian refugee women and Palestinian refugee women. Nof’s presentation looked at Palestinian refugee situation from a gendered perspective and how women’s experiences are different from men’s experiences because of their gender identities. Nour’s presentation highlighted the importance of looking at the experiences of refugees outside European borders, especially that the largest numbers of refugees in fact reside in neighbouring countries. Both papers, demonstrated that it is problematic to think of refugees coming into Europe from the Middle East, and forget the extent to which the Middle East has historically provided a haven to several flows of refugees, such as the Circassians, European Jewish immigrants, Chechens, Armenians, and Bosnians, among others. The

papers showed that the Middle East has also witnessed internal waves of migration and refuge, for social, political, economic and security reasons. Due to the occupation, the Palestinians have been displaced within Palestine, and have sought refuge in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. The Iraqis following the so-called war of liberation sought refuge in Jordan and Syria and other countries. The Syrians are currently seeking refuge in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon and even in Gaza.

The event concluded with a screening of a short documentary film produced by CTDC, in collaboration with the Hope Projects, Anti-Type Films and 12.01 Project. The film shed light on the experiences of women asylum seekers in the UK. The event was sold out and was very popular and received positive feedback from attendees and speakers. Video sessions from the conference will be made available online to give the chance to share it with those who could not attend.

16 Days of Activism

CTDC has participated in the 16 Days of activism campaign aiming to raise awareness about violence against all women, including trans and lesbian women. 1morecup in collaboration with Mosaic and in partnership with Royal Norwegian Embassy in Beirut, Intersos, Centre for Transnational Development and Collaboration, Mawjoudin We Exist and Mesahat for Sexual and Gender Diversity, produced two video products narrating the stories of two women, who experiences sexual and gender based violence in Lebanon.

Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) are still a problem all women face, including gender conforming and gender non-conforming women. Trans and lesbian women face multiple discriminations, not only because of they are women but also because of their gender identity and sexual orientation. The videos aim to show first hand experiences of two women, aiming to raise awareness about the severity of the issues they face.

16 Days of Activism: II

16 Days of Activism: I

Women Asylum Seekers in the UK – Short Film

In collaboration with Hope Projects in Birmingham, Anti-Type Films and the Twelve 01 Project, CTDC has produced a short documentary film about women asylum seekers in the UK and the challenges they face awaiting their case to be determined. The film is based on interviews with women asylum seekers, academics and practitioners.

It highlights many of the issues women face including destitution, sex work and lack of material resources. Research for this film demonstrated that the issue of destitution is particularly challenging and showed that asylum law indirectly encourages women to have children, while waiting for their asylum, in order for them to not become destitute. This film also shows that the experience of women asylum seekers is different from men asylum seekers, and that it is particularly challenging for women, if they come to the UK as dependent on a male relative or partner.

The film does not only explore the processes of asylum and how it affects women negatively, but it also shows how women also face other challenges, which are in most cases not talked about within conversations about asylum. For example, women feel a disconnect from their countries, communities, and families of origin, when in the UK, especially when their asylum process takes sometimes up to ten years, if not more.

The film is available on the centre’s YouTube Channel.

Training Workshop for Syrian Women in Reyhanlı

Funded by the UN Democracy Fund, CTDC has provided a training course on women’s rights issues to Zeytuna Project implemented by MANDAT International targeting Syrian refugee women in Reyhanlı. The training course covered topics including the international discourse on women’s rights, local discourses on women’s rights, the construction of gender and sexuality, sexual violence and the importance of women mobilisation. The workshop included around 40 women, over a period of two days. Following the workshop, women attendees in Reyhanlı formed a women’s committee to provide support to each other and to raise awareness about gender and women’s issues. The workshop was run in a participatory manner, which allowed women safe space to talk and to share their experiences. CTDC is planning to issue a report based on some of the information and experiences shared by women attendees, to shed light on the suffering of Syrian women refugees in the south of Turkey.

Training Workshop for Syrian Women in Reyhanlı

Reclaim the Night – Coventry

In March 2015, CTDC has contributed to organising and sponsoring Reclaim the Night Event in Coventry. Reclaim the Night is a women-led event fighting for the right of all women to be out on the street and in public spaces without fear or threat of violence. The event took place on Saturday 7 March 2015, the women-only march took place around the centre of Coventry, starting from Broadgate, and ending with a women-only rally and celebration at Transport House on Short Street.

The event aimed to provide a women’s only safe space, where readings and poetry took place by women and for women. The tradition of reclaim the night started in the UK on November 12, 1977, and they were a protest by women against sexual harassment. Ever since, reclaim the night has been organised by women all across the UK, and in many other countries.