Gender and Power Structures in Refugee Camps: Social Changes Following Refugee Movements

Thursday, July 1, 1999
Heather McLean

This paper develops a framework for examining gender power structures within refugee camps. At this stage there are disproportionately more questions than answers. These questions, however, will guide future research to be undertaken in this area. The paper will provide framework for future research by analysing terminology, raising the questions that need to be asked, and by drawing on some of the literature available on this topic. In terms of methodology, this paper will largely use a discourse and literature analysis approach. For future work in this area, more statistical data would be needed to illustrate social change and indicators reflecting gendered positions in power structures. An empirical approach would also be very appropriate as people's experience and perceptions largely inform gender relations and power structures.


The framework that has been developed through this paper suggests three main hypotheses that need to be tested and proved or disproved by future research. An initial hypothesis is that gender power structures do change as a result of both the initial exodus and subsequent life in refugee camps. The effects of this change, however, must be examined on a case by case basis. A second preliminary hypothesis is that women´s position in the power structure is lowered because of inequities in the camp decision-making process, male domination in control of resources and sexual violence. a third hypothesis is that aid agencies impose artificially constructed structures on refugee populations, because on inaccurate assumptions about social breakdown.

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Gender and Power Structures in Refugee Camps: Social Changes Following Refugee Movements