Reform Attempts

Upon reading some of the experiences of women and the issues that were debated along with the decisions made, a new question arises: how did we get here?  Much of the progress was made through advocacy of refugee women, specifically asylum seeking women, by their lawyers  when it came to changing the laws or in other words "creative advocacy" (Anker 433). Other cases have been through attempts at safe spaces, mirroring that of the larger women's movement, which presents an interesting revelation in the key deviations from that vary movement. Finally, individuals like Kabo Yang are advocating for fellow refugee women.

Safe Spaces 

The implementation of safe spaces has been a large part of the larger feminist movement and has been essential to promoting feminist solidarity and providing a place for women to talk and relate to each other. An attempt at reform or advocacy for refugee women has been the creation of safe spaces for them. An attempt  was done in Lebanon, which is not in the United States as are many components of this exhibit but the concept of the inconsistencies and misconceptions about refugee women are largely highlighted and essential to getting a better perspective on refugee women .

From this implementation, Hala Nasr did research where she investigated how well these spaces worked and found that there was little evidence of the impact of participation in these safe spaces and even found that there are myths in the form of expectations (Nasr 11). These expectations largely stem from the outcomes in the larger feminist movement which are harmful to the refugee stories as they make assumptions. The myths are enlightening to understanding the experiences of refugee women and are ways to improve these spaces.

The myths are:

  1. Common identity - Through the reseach it was found that much of the activities in the groups centered around violence and cultural restriction which is very common for refugees, but it is not always the case. Thus, women who did not relate to these aspects felt isolated as they had a different experience and these were the main focus so their experience is almost set aside (Nasr 18)
  2. Women as allies - Another assumption is that all women are allies and can be trusted. This was broken down completely by the account of one member of the safe space named Farah who talked about how her mother-in-law was the one who controlled her life and enabled Farah's husband to abuse her (Nasr 18). In addition, Farah's privacy was also invaded by women in the same safe space as her because they tried to convince her to return to her husband after she left him (Nasr 19).
  3. Non-hierarchical power relations- Hierarchy exists in the power relations between the participants and the staff of the safe spaces. The way this occurs is through the staff giving opportunities or favoring those who they thought were more deserving as they were 'more committed' (Nasr 19).

Kabo Yang

Yang is an individual who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and later moved to Saint Paul to resettle. She grew up with in a traditionalist household that had many cultural norms that were restrictive in nature to females (Seidman 94).

Her activism is much more contemporary and was sparked when there was a man sharing negativity about Hmong women, which is a group she identifies as. She decided to counter this with positivity on facebook where she uses the hashtag #HmongWomenStannd2Gether, which snowballed into a boom of posts by other women where they shared their story and whether they were married, divorced, or single all to promote identities and stories, a sense of empowerment (Seidman 97). Yang works with Hmong women in particular and focuses on the issues relating to families and traditional expectations. In the larger scheme of things, raising awareness of women such as the Hmong women in a primarily white area and white movement is part of the reason for this exhibit  and she is taking steps to do this in her community.

Creative Advocacy

A way that progress was made for refugee women in the legal sector, specifically asylum cases was through creative advocacy. This essentially would take the vague words of the laws and previous decisions to introduce new ideas and perspectives in the cases of these women. One very important perception is feminism as a political position.

The creative advocacy in this case took a past decision and applied it in a very similar context. The Bolzano-Hernandez decision centered around a man who was obviously part of a right-wing organization in the Salvadoran Civil war but then chose to become neurotransmitter and not participate, which ended up making him a target of threats. The decision said that "that 'political opin-
ion' did not require partisanship, or political party membership, but rather could be constituted by actions, such as refusal to join or support a particular side in a conflict" (Anker 425). This statement was then transformed into feminism becoming a political opinion and refusal in the context of gender was a political opinion. The case where this new application was seen was the Lazo-Majano case where a woman was held as a domestic and sexual slave to a corporal in the army who said he would "denounce her as a gurrilla sympathizer"if she resisted (Anker 426). The final outcome was that her resistance was leaving to a different country and is considered an expression of her own political opinion (Anker 426). 

The drawing of these parallels was so important because the second case is much more gendered in nature and specific to refugee women who many times in the past were considered as having 'personal' issues when in a similar situation. This is so important because now that this perception is brought to light and a solid decision was made, it also specifies feminism as a political opinion that constitutes asylum claim validity.

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