Displacement, Statelessness and Questions of Gender Equality under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Saturday, August 1, 2009
Alice Edwards
Peacewomen Comment: 

This resource was submitted as part of the 1325+10 PeaceWomen initiative to compile a repository of papers dealing with a broad range of issues around the implementation of 1325, as part of the Women, Peace and Security: From Resolution to Action Geneva High-Level Consultation 15-16 September 2010, Geneva.

(This background paper, written by Alice Edwards, was prepared for a seminar between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), held at the United Nations in New York, 16-17 July 2009.)


1. Discrimination on the basis of sex and inequality between men and women nullifies and impairs the enjoyment of rights and the full advancement of women and girls worldwide. Displacement arising from armed conflict, persecution and other serious human rights violations can intensify this discrimination and inequality. Sex discrimination and inequality can also be the, or a contributing, cause of displacement and a motivation for flight for many women and it can occur at all stages in the displacement cycle. Although all forcibly displaced persons face protection concerns, ‘women and girls can be exposed to particular protection problems related to their gender, their cultural and socio-economic position, and their legal status.'

2 Displacement, whether internal or international, weakens existing community and family protection mechanisms, and exposes refugee and internally displaced (IDP) women and girls to a range of human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), abuse and exploitation. Similarly, many persons are at risk of statelessness because of gender-based discrimination in nationality laws and women who are already stateless face various protection problems, not least gender-based barriers to the recognition of nationality.

3. Much progress has been made within the United Nations system to advance the rights of displaced and stateless women and girls, including the elaboration of standards, policies and laws at national, regional and international levels. However, much remains to be done. Specifically, this paper is interested in how the fundamental principles of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) apply within these two contexts. The rights to equality between women and men and non-discrimination on the basis of sex as laid down in the CEDAW are essential elements of the international protection regime for asylum-seeking, refugee, internally displaced and stateless women and girls as well as during processes of repatriation, local integration and resettlement. As such, CEDAW complements and reinforces the other parts of this framework, including the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as amended by its 1967 Protocol, the two statelessness conventions and other human rights treaties. This paper is drafted for the purposes of the holding of a joint seminar between the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the Committee) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the hope of advancing collaboration and cooperation between these two entities on these important issues.

3. This paper centres on two main substantive parts: one on displacement and gender equality (Part 3), the other on the right to a nationality, questions of statelessness and gender equality (Part 4). These parts explain the many facets of the gender dimensions of and influences on displacement and statelessness, drawing out the impact of gender inequality on women's access to and enjoyment of their human rights in these contexts and identifying relevant CEDAW provisions at issue and how they apply. In addition to these two main parts, there is also a section that outlines the fundamental principles of the CEDAW (Part 2), as well as a section that reflects upon the institutional questions of how the Committee and the UNHCR may further enhance their collaboration and cooperation on these issues (Part 5). How these fundamental principles specifically apply to displaced and stateless women and girls is synthesised in the Conclusion and Recommendations in Part 6. Finally, the Annex
contains definitions of some of the terminology in this area, such as sex, gender, gender mainstreaming, asylum-seekers, refugees, returnees, local integration, internally displaced persons, and stateless persons.

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Displacement Statelessness Gender Equality CEDAW, Edwards, Aug 2009