The Male Refugee Paradigm in American Asylum Law and What Can Be Done to Change it

Women around the world are subjected to distinctive forms of abuse and persecution such as domestic violence, genital mutilation, honor killings, rape, and sexual slavery. These female victims are sometimes able to escape their own countries and seek asylum in the United States. They face so many challenges in their home countries, yet when they escape, they face another almost insurmountable challenge – qualifying for asylum in the United States as a woman facing gender-specific persecution. The law governing gender-based asylum claims reflects both substantive and procedural biases against refugee women that stem from male-centered legal standards and a misplaced respect for oppressive cultures. In order for female refugees to receive fair treatment under asylum law and for their needs to be addressed at the same level as men’s needs, there need to be mechanisms to overcome misdirected cultural deference, a broader definition of “persecution,” and a statutorily protected group for gender in asylum law.