Skip to Navigation

UN Women publishes report on the legal rights of female asylum seekers in the EU

Date of Publication: 
22 May 2017
Report finds women face numerous legal challenges to prove their suitability for refugee status

UN Women publishes report on the legal rights of female asylum seekers in the EU

22 May 2017

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) earlier this month released a report on the legal rights of female asylum seekers in the EU.

Report coverYou can read the 58-page report here.

The report was prepared by a team of international lawyers and it considers the position of women's and girls' right to asylum under international and EU law and how it is applied in practice. The report sets out the general legal framework, highlights some recent developments and deficiencies, and provides suggestions on how the deficiencies could be remedied.

Section 3 of the report outlines the relevance of gender and gender-based persecution in determining refugee status, and includes a look at a selection of legislation and jurisprudence.

Despite the fact that women and girls claiming asylum in the EU are victims of gender-based violence (such as sexual abuse and exploitation, early and forced marriage, honour crimes, female genital mutilation and trafficking), the report finds they face numerous legal challenges to prove their suitability for refugee status.

As UN Women highlights in the report, there is no common definition of gender-based persecution throughout the EU, and the report finds that gender-sensitivity of the EU member states' asylum systems varies depending on local legislation, associated guidelines, experience and practice.

UN Women's Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Ingibjorg Gisladottir, writes in the report's foreword: "As the cases in this report demonstrate, judges in EU member states are applying restrictive interpretations of existing national and international legislation and deciding that even though women have faced torture, threats of assassination, forced marriage, sexual abuse and been the victims of trafficking, these forms of gender-based persecution do not qualify them for asylum. As there is no agreed definition of gender-based persecution in the EU, the courts can rule that applicants are not eligible for asylum because the persecution that they face is not based on race, religion, nationality, social grouping or political beliefs – the five grounds for asylum included in the 1951 Refugee Convention."

Gisladottir is also concerned that women represent less than a third of all asylum applicants in the EU, though women and children were the majority of those who attempted to reach EU shores in 2016: "This unequal recourse to asylum suggests that women are less confident in their applications, face more challenges in presenting a full case, have less access to gender-appropriate information and services, and are being restricted by cultural norms."

In addition to legal problems, UN Women says female asylum seekers in the EU also face a lack of gender sensitive conditions in reception centres, insufficient access to psychological and trauma counselling, lack of reproductive and sexual healthcare, insufficient awareness of legal rights and administrative procedure, difficulty in giving evidence on gender based violence, and responsibility for children and the elderly.

UN Women says that a firmer legal and political commitment within the EU, and other major countries of asylum, to protect women who have survived gender-based persecution is needed.