CIC Declaration on refugee protection for women

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. It is posted on the department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

Declaration on refugee protection for women - June 1, 1994


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are twenty million refugees in the world who have been forced to flee their own country to seek protection elsewhere. It is estimated that about 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are women and children.

In response to the Red Book commitment to “expand the criteria for legitimate status to include women fleeing persecution on basis of gender” and to assist in addressing the difficulties faced by refugee women, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has adopted this “Declaration on Refugee Protection for Women.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada - Declaration on refugee protection for women


The principle of non-discrimination, including equality of men and women, is enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By invoking these instruments in its preamble, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees places refugee protection within the context of human rights and assures refugees the widest possible exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination. In Canada, this principle of equality is found in Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizes the right of refugee women to receive international protection on an equal basis with men, particularly from persecution based on gender.

The paragraphs which follow give expression to the Department’s commitments in this area.

Women’s rights are human rights

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, agreeing that “women’s rights are human rights”, is committed to ensuring the protection of those rights for refugees both males and females in a way that recognizes the realities of women’s lives and the nature of the human rights abuses women face.

This commitment is reflected in Canada’s active contribution to and support of such international initiatives as the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (UN World Conference on Human Rights), the Conclusion of the 1993 Executive Committee of the UNHCR on Refugee Protection and Sexual Violence, and the United Nations “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women” adopted in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 48).

This commitment flows from the Government’s recognition that, even in Canada, women may be particular targets of violence and from its commitment to protect women fleeing persecution on the basis of gender.

Women experience persecution differently from men

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is committed to an interpretation of the Convention refugee definition which includes protection from sexual violence and violations of human rights based on gender. We recognize that women may be persecuted on similar grounds, as are men, but that the forms of persecution may be different; moreover, we recognize that women may be subject to persecution simply because they are women.

Barriers to state protection

Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizes that the subordinate position of women throughout the world is an obstacle to recourse against violence, that deprivation of fundamental human rights may be entrenched in social and legal systems, and that, because of domestic responsibilities and financial dependence, women are far less mobile than men. We also recognize that women and children in refugee camps are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

From “gender-neutrality” to “gender-inclusiveness”

Canadians are proud of our non-discriminatory laws and policies. Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizes, however, that in order to meet our policy objectives and our international and domestic commitments, gender-neutrality is not enough. We are committed to policies and procedures that respond affirmatively to the special needs of refugee women, both in Canada and abroad.

Refugee selection abroad

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is committed to the inclusive interpretation of the definition and the gender-sensitive approach contained in the Immigration and Refugee Board Guidelines in assessing applications for resettlement from abroad by refugee women.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizes the need to overcome traditional, male-oriented views of the potential of refugees for “successful establishment” in Canada. Although many refugee women have had limited access to formal education and wage employment and are often responsible for young children, many of them demonstrate great resourcefulness, life skills, and adaptability, which are useful in coping with a new life in Canada.

Gender sensitivity in Canada

The ability to question with sensitivity, awareness of the signs of gender-related persecution, and knowledge of conditions affecting women in source countries, are required of those who deal with refugee women. Citizenship and Immigration Canada is committed to the development of training and direction for all officers in Canada and abroad, for other staff, and for interpreters, to promote this sensitivity, awareness and knowledge. Citizenship and Immigration Canada is also committed to achieving an equitable gender balance in the selection of staff throughout the organization.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognizes that refugee claims by women may be jeopardized because they do not tell of experiences of sexual violence, they may be unwilling to speak of such experiences in front of their husbands, or they may be intimidated by the presence of male officials or interpreters.

Wherever operationally feasible, Citizenship and Immigration Canada will ensure that women making refugee claims have the option of being interviewed by female officers, with the assistance of trained female interpreters.

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