Refugee Women: Key to the Global Compact on Refugees Logo

Developed by Associate Professor Eileen Pittaway and Dr Linda Bartolomei, Graphics by Damayanthi Muthukumarage, Website by Anja Wendt

Session 1. Structural Barriers impacting on Unregistered and Registered Women’s Refugee-led Organisations

A Definition * B Background * C Tools and Excercises * D Stakeholder Excercises

Aim. The aim of this session is to enable stakeholders to make a realistic assessment of the structural challenges faced by WRLO’s in specific contexts, and to plan ways to accommodate or overcome these.

Suggested time needed to run the full module. The material can be introduced in a presentation of one hour, with an additional hour for participants to practise using the tool.  However, to do it thoroughly, as a basis for strategic planning,  participants will need to do research in their own time, to ensure that they have full and accurate information as a basis for their program design.

While all sessions in the kit are interlinked, this session goes well with Session 2. Addressing Gender Equality and Session 3. Gender-related social barriers which impact on unregistered and registered WRLOs.

Some PowerPoints to use when running this session.

A. Refugee-Led Organisation – A Useful Definition       

Work “in which persons with direct lived experience of forced displacement play a primary leadership role and whose stated objectives and activities are focused on responding to the needs of refugees and/or related communities”. UNHCR: https://www.refworld.org/docid/63e658fc4.html

Refugee-led Artwork

In this resource kit, programs run by refugee women are referred to as women refugee-led organisations (WRLO’s) and acknowledge the excellent work done by women, but also the additional gender-based barriers they can face in achieving this, and ways to address these (Project Report 2022).

B. Background reading on the structural challenges identified in implementing refugee-led work

We first examine the potential of, and challenges to women refugee-led work, with a focus on the key structural issues.  These refer to problems that are a result of the biases embedded in the fabric of social institutions, such as education, family, religion, government, and economic institutions. This applies both in countries of origin, host countries, and in resettlement. These biases create great advantages for some members of society and major disadvantages for others, who may be already marginalized.  They are said to be designed to provide structure, guidance and order in any given society , and are shaped by ideologies and dominant beliefs.  However, they do not deliver social good in an equitable manner and often are deigned to preserve the status quo for the already advantaged.  For example, in every society there are different levels of education, health care, access to the law, to wealth and access to human rights (See Module 3, Session 2, The Power of Privilege). This can particularly impact on refugees, when they are not granted citizenship, work rights, access to good quality education, health services training, income. 

Unregistered and registered refugee-led groups

A major structural impediment to refugee-led organisations, in particular WRLO’s, is lack of the ability to register their organisations in the countries where they have sought refuge and the impact this has on their ability to function effectively.  It can pose major problems to their smooth operation, and to receiving funding from major donors.  They include issues such as not being able to open bank accounts, to rent or hire premises, purchase equipment, legally hire staff and provide proper employment conditions, to advertise their goods and services.  They do not receive the protection of the law to which other businesses may be entitled. 

While many unregistered organisations find ways around some of these barriers, they leave them very vulnerable to exploitation to coercive control, by authorities, sometimes by NGO’s and service providers. They are at risk of arrest due to the fact that they have no legal status, and usually, no work rights.  Women often lack access to the education and training which is necessary to assist small business operators everywhere. Lack of support from men in their communities can pose a major problem. The marketplace is often a dangerous place for women and girls, with an increased risk of gender based violence (GBV), and protections have to be in place to respond to this.

In sites where refugee-led organisation are allowed to register, many of these barriers disappear, but it is still not easy being a minority group dependent on the good will of others. There are reports of some government authorities paying particular attention and harassing registered refugee-led groups, because they are visible. This causes fear and can be a disincentive to registering an organisation, or even to local stakeholders assisting refugees. This is very political and has to be handled with care and diplomacy. These structural issues are beyond the power of refugees to address them alone and need the support for key stakeholders, host, and donor governments to bring about change.

C. Tools and exercises

We suggest that groups wishing to explore the barriers identified in this resource kit complete the tools and exercises with key stakeholders, and if possible with representatives from the refugee communities as well as community leaders.  Once the exercises are completed the data can be compared, and analysed to inform strategic planning, program design, implementation and evaluation when working with registered and unregistered refugee-led organisations.  It will highlight the different challenges faced by women’s refugee-led organisations. These will vary from site to site, dependent on the local socio-political environment.

Ci. A tool to identify locally appropriate definitions and potential solutions to structural barriers

The tool is a situational analysis exercise, designed to assist key stakeholders, including refugee groups, NGOs, INGOs, UN personnel and donors to clearly identify local barriers faced by RLOs and WRLOs, and potential solutions.  It will help identify which model of refugee participation is realistic and viable in any given place, provide evidence for strategic planning and advocacy, and guide program design, implementation, and evaluation. 

Are Refugee-led Groups:Yes,  No, PartiallyIf not what, if anything, can be done to change this?
allowed to be incorporated legally?  
given de facto acceptance from local authorities?  
able to directly receive funding, have their own bank accounts?  
able to work in partnership with a local or international NGO who is willing to auspice the funds on their behalf?  
allowed by authorities to hold meetings?  
granted work rights?  
given de facto acceptance of their work status from local authorities?  
Do WRLO’s have the same or different challenges. If different, please list themWho could helpWhat can be done to address this?
Do Local NGO’s have sufficient guidance/training to support refugee participation from:Yes,  No, PartiallyIf not what if anything can be done to change this?
local representatives of National and International NGO’s  
local authorities  
Local UN Agency representatives  
Do they have a Human Rights approach to their work  
Do they have a gender sensitive approach to their work  
Do INGO’s and UN Staff have sufficient guidance/training to support lead and participation from:Yes,  No, PartiallyIf not what if anything can be done to change this?
Local representatives of National NGO’s  
Local authorities  
Local UN Agency representatives  
Do they have a Human Rights approach to their work  
Ado they have a gender sensitive approach to their work  
In the projects that they fund do key donors:Yes, No, PartiallyIf not what if anything can be done to change this?
Require an analysis of the impacts of GBV  
Actively support a human rights and community-development focused criteria  
Actively support women refugee participation and refugee-led work.  
Actively support a gender equality focused criterion  
Have a rigorous evaluation framework for the programs they fund which examines these criteria.  
Understand that most of the WRLOs strengths are in the community development approaches that take time in order to build trust, establish equal partnerships or participatory approaches that meaningfully engage other community members.  
Show willingness, and the flexibility needed to accommodate this process?  

Cii. A tool exploring the benefits and risks in registering a RLO

Participants may not have all the information to complete this tool and will have to do some research. This could include consulting with local experts and seeking legal advice. It would be better to discuss the information needed to do this exercise with participants, and set it as a homework task.

What are the benefits of registering a RLO in this country?What steps need to be taken for this to happen?Is a positive outcome likely in this site?If Yes, which stakeholders can support this?If no, can the problems be circumvented?  (eg Auspice role by local NGO?)
A B C Etc     
Are there additional benefits for WRLO’s?As AboveAs AboveAs AboveAs Above
A B C Etc    
What are the risks associated with an RLO applying for registration in this countryAs AboveAs AboveAs AboveAs Above
A B C Etc    
What are the risks associated with a WRLO applying for registration in this countryAs AboveAs AboveAs AboveAs Above

D. Exercise to be undertaken with refugee groups, and other key stakeholders to gain their insights

To ensure that local knowledge and experience is used as a basis for completing the checklist, it is suggested that these tools above are completed with various groups of stakeholders. Their answers are then combined and analysed for compatibility and to identify differences which need to be addressed.

Di  A less formal exercise – Storyboarding

A less formal way of analysing the situation and also suitable for situations where some of the participants might be pre-literate, is the Storyboarding Exercise.

If Storyboarding is used, ask these six questions:

  1. What are the biggest barriers to refugee-led work which the women’s groups in xx site experience?
  2. What are the impacts of these barriers on the women’s groups?
  3. Which local stakeholders might be able to help to change this?
  4. What do the women need to be able to move forward and run their own organisations?
  5. What actions can realistically and safely be taken to support WRLO’s?
  6. What are the hoped for outcomes if this happens?

The facilitators of the groups would then combine the feedback and fill in the checklist above.