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 2. Understanding Gender Equality

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

Aim of the session

The aim of the session is to provide a baseline we can use when discussing gender equality in the context of refugee women and girls.

Suggested timing for session

The basic material can be covered in 2 hours, with the use of two short exercises.  A more thorough coverage and analysis can take 4 hours, using additional exercises provided, or through accessing some of the excellent gender equality training to be found online.

Some PowerPoints to use when running this session

A. Gender Equality – A Useful Definition

“Gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female.

Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a women’s issue but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.”

UNWomen: https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm

5 - Gender Equality

The purpose of this session is to establish common grounds for next session, Gender based social barriers to WRLOs, so, we are working from a common definition. If participants are already well versed in Gender Equality, a brief refresher of key concepts should be enough to progress straight to Session 3.  The exercises in this session are designed for people who have not been trained on gender equality. It also pairs well with the sessions in Module 2.

B.  Background reading on Gender Equality 

Gender Equality is a major plank of the gender commitments of the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) – yet is not clearly defined.  In this session, we examine definitions of gender equality that apply to all women, including those in host countries, local NGOs, INGOs and women globally. While many of these are structural and embedded in social institutions, in this section we will focus on the impact these have on individual women.

In the context of these resources, we have defined Gender Equality as equal access to human rights, resources and opportunities, including economic participation and decision-making regardless of gender. It means respecting all people without discrimination. Gender Inequality is discrimination on the based on given or chosen sexual identity and gender, when one is routinely privileged or prioritised over another. These inequalities include uneven access to education, lack of employment equality, livelihoods, job segregation, lack of legal protections, lack of bodily autonomy, poor medical care, lack of religious freedom and lack of political representation to name just some.

Many men also do not enjoy all of their rights and we must also fight for equal human rights for everyone. Gender equality does not require that girls and boys or women and men are the same, or that they be treated exactly alike. It does require that they have equal access to resources, have their needs addressed and can access their rights. This will vary based on gender differences. However, research and statistics from around the world have provided solid evidence that women have unequal access to all these rights, and their needs are often subsumed. Gender inequality is experienced differently across cultures, often linked to religion and ideology. It also adversely affects members of the LGBTQI+ communities and non-binary people. 

The additional needs of refugee women and girls often mirror the experiences of many women and girls in host communities (Parcesepe et al. 2016). The majority of refugees are in the Global South, where women suffer disproportionately from the impact of poverty (Badiora 2017). Girls generally have less access to education, resources and paid employment than their male counterparts, and less freedom of choice about their lives; these inequalities are entrenched in patriarchal social structures (UNFPA 2015; Omotoso and Fajimbola 2017). In the Global North, women are also more likely to live in poverty than men. This is a clear case of structural inequality that must be addressed at a global level before it can become the norm in refugee situations.

Further reading: https://www.cigionline.org/publications/rhetoric-reality-achieving-gender-equality-refugee-women-and-girls /

C. A tool to identify locally appropriate ways promoting gender equality with potential solutions to barriers


Gender norms and inequality are maintained by social, cultural, economic, religious, legal and political systems.

a. Identify the differences between men/boys and women/girls in the following areas:

  1. Culture
  2. Religion
  3. Law
  4. Access to resources
  5. Politics and decision making
  6. Access to power

Include examples from your own experience or from other situations you are aware of.

b. Suggest ways in which this could be changed.

D. Exercises to do with community groups and other stakeholders

D i. The same exercise (above) can be used when working with stakeholders community groups and service provider networks to gain their insights.

Consider what the gender issues were, what impact they have on the local situation and the relative power of stakeholders to address them.

D ii. Exercise 2

In small groups, share a story from your own experience where gender inequality has been a significant factor.  It can be a story from your personal life, or the story of someone you know or have heard about.

Consider what the gender issues were and what impact they had on the situation. How might these be changed?