‘Let’s talk about gender’: gender perspectives on a refugee support charity in the North of England
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Following the important work of women’s rights and feminist groups since the 1980s, actors of refugee protection are now aware that the international refugee protection framework is not gender neutral. Refugees who did not fit the heterosexual male mould installed by the 1951 Refugee Convention had difficulties not only accessing refugee status, but also support services when in exile. Today, both at the international level and in the UK, non-state actors use the concept of gender to highlight the differences in access to support for different groups of refugees, such as women and more recently, LGBTI people. Despite the ubiquity of the concept of gender in the refugee support field, its meaning today remains unclear. In this research project, I looked at the place of gender in refugee support services in the UK through the work of a local organisation that supports asylum seekers and refugees in the North of England. I sought to address the following questions: is gender taken into account in the charity’s services (and how)? Does gender have an impact on the clients’ access to support and the quality of the services given? Inspired by feminist and postcolonial thought, I focused the thesis on the experiences and views of the clients who receive services and the staff and volunteers who provide them. I analysed data from semi-structured interviews with twenty-one participants and from participant observation. The project revealed that in a context where equality is an obligation for charities, talking about (in)equality, identity and difference seems to have become more difficult. However, the analysis of participants’ accounts and discourses showed that a conversation about those themes – ‘about gender’ – remains important and necessary.