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(Un)Governable Subjects: The Limits of Refugee Participation in the Promotion of Gender Equality in Humanitarian Aid
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science.
2014 (English)In: The Journal of Refugee Studies, ISSN 0951-6328, E-ISSN 1471-6925, Vol. 27, no 1, 42-61 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In humanitarian aid to refugees, participatory and community-based approaches are today strongly emphasized as the path towards more efficient protection and assistance. Participation and community mobilization are particularly constructed as a vehicle for the promotion of gender equality. This paper explores how participatory and community-based approaches are used in efforts to promote gender equality in humanitarian aid to Burmese refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh. Refugees in Bangladesh, especially women, are problematized as passive and dependent due to their alleged lack of 'community spirit' and participation. In contrast, the political activism of refugee leaders and women's organizations in Thailand is represented as problematic, illegitimate and unruly. While refugees in Bangladesh do not participate enough, it appears that the refugees in Thailand participate too much. Drawing on interviews with humanitarian workers, this paper examines this paradox through a governmentality perspective, draws out the meanings attached to the concept of participation in humanitarian policy and practice and shows how participation is employed in the government of refugees.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 27, no 1, 42-61 p.
Keyword [en]
Refugees, humanitarian aid, participation, gender equality, dependency, governmentality, Thailand, Bangladesh
National Category
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-88333DOI: 10.1093/jrs/fet001ISI: 000333086800003OAI: diva2:725464
Available from: 2014-06-16 Created: 2014-04-30 Last updated: 2014-11-20Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Governing Refugees through Gender Equality: Care, Control, Emancipation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Governing Refugees through Gender Equality: Care, Control, Emancipation
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In recent decades, international feminist activism and research has had significant success in pushing gender issues onto the international agenda and into global governance institutions and processes. The goal of gender equality is now widely accepted and codified in international legal instruments. While this appears to be a remarkable global success for feminism, widespread gender inequalities persist around the globe. This paradox has led scholars to question the extent to which feminist concepts and goals can retain their transformative potential when they are institutionalized in global governance institutions and processes. This thesis examines the institutionalization of feminist ideas in global governance through an analysis of how, and with what effects, gender equality norms are constructed, interpreted and applied in the global governance of refugees: a field that has thus far received little attention in the growing literature on feminism, gender and global governance. This aim is pursued through a case study of humanitarian aid practices in refugee camps in Bangladesh and Thailand. The study is based on interviews with humanitarian workers in these two contexts, and its theoretical framework is informed by postcolonial feminist theory and Foucauldian thought on power and governing. These analytical perspectives allows the thesis to capture how gender equality norms operate as governing tools, and situate the politics of gender equality in refugee camps in the context of global relations of power and marginalization. The findings of this thesis show that in the global governance of refugees, gender equality is rarely treated as a goal in its own right. The construction, interpretation and application of gender equality norms is mediated and shaped by the dominant governing projects in this field. Gender equality norms are either advocated on the basis of their usefulness as means for the efficient management of refugee situations, or as necessary components of a process of modernization and development of the regions from which refugees originate. These governing projects significantly limit the forms of social change and the forms of agency that are enabled. Nevertheless, gender equality norms do contribute to opening up new opportunities for refugee women and destabilizing local gendered relations of power, and they are appropriated and used by refugees in ways that challenge and go beyond humanitarian agendas.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2014. 113 p.
Statsvetenskapliga institutionens skriftserie, ISSN 0349-0831 ; 2014:3
Global governance, feminism, gender equality, refugees, refugee camps, humanitarian aid, Bangladesh, Thailand, governmentality, postcolonial feminist theory
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
Research subject
Peace and Conflict Research
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-96379 (URN)978-91-7601-150-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-12-12, Hörsal D, Samhällsvetarhuset, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2014-11-21 Created: 2014-11-19 Last updated: 2015-05-26Bibliographically approved

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Olivius, Elisabeth
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