Women asylum seekers to get greater consideration

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The Independent Online

Women asylum seekers who claim to have been persecuted for working as prostitutes or holding feminist views are to be given greater consideration, under new guidance to be used in the courts.

Women asylum seekers who claim to have been persecuted for working as prostitutes or holding feminist views are to be given greater consideration, under new guidance to be used in the courts.

Judges have been told they must stop thinking of a typical refugee as a man belonging to a political party.

Instead women who have been persecuted because they are lesbians, have suffered genital mutilation or forced to work as prostitutes must also have their claims properly assessed, under the "gender guidelines" published by the Government yesterday.

These issues, says the guidance, have been neglected by judges or they have only been considered from a "framework of male experiences."

Judges must allow women asylum-seekers the chance to fully present any evidence of their persecution.

An asylum seeker may not have told her husband about the abuses she has suffered. In that situation she should be offered the opportunity to tell the court of her experiences in the absence of her husband, the guidance says.

Since the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees women and men have been granted asylum in the United Kingdom if they can show they have been persecuted or are in fear of persecution. Historically, most of these claims have come from men and there is concern that the claims of some women have been over-looked.

The guidelines also recognise that women who do not abide by strict dress codes or fail to observe draconian laws relating to the females' place in society can face persecution.

However, the gender guidelines, launched yesterday by the Human Rights barrister, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, will not mean that any woman who has been the victim of domestic violence abroad can get a refugee status in Britain because they will still have to prove they have been persecuted.

Judges are reminded: "The experiences of women in their country of origin often differ from those of men, for example women's political protest, activism and resistance may manifest itself in different ways. This may alter the nature of their asylum claims, their ability to produce evidence relating to their claim, both oral and documentary, and the appropriate procedures to be used in determining their asylum claims."

Catriona Jarvis, one of the judges who helped draw up the new guidelines said: "The conception of the refugee is a single man who is active in party politics. This will be an opening of the eyes."