DAY SIX: Displacement: Narratives of Contestations and Negotiations

Tanya Chaudhary’s piece follows from Sunalini Kumar’s as part of a broader discussion on displacement and the disproportionate effects it has on women. In particular, the reorganisation of urban space has gendered effects that lead to the further exclusion of women from public spaces.

Tanya Chaudhary

Featured image above: Author’s own

In the background of consequences of reorganization of urban space, this blog highlights the aftermath of the displacement of the working-class to the periphery. It uses the case study of a peripheral region of Delhi, called Narela, to show that this new site was marked with contestations and conflicts. Narela is located in the northern part of Delhi, situated 30-40 km from the centre of the city (Figure 1).  I discuss one important aspect of displacement, which the field-stories offered – that of ‘Placelessness’ amongst a displaced community and how it is – produced and reproduced at places of residence and work.

Figure 1: Study area
1: Location of places to which industrial relocation took place after 1996 Supreme Court Order of industrial relocation
2: Location of Narela
3: Location of resettled Jhuggis and urban villages in Narela, where workers were interviewed.
Source: Author, Field Study, 2017-19

Resettlement always has its own contestations and there was a restructuring of the social lives of people of the Narela resettled basti (slum) dwellers, especially with the absence of basic infrastructure.

Through the creation of resettlement colonies, albeit through processes of displacement, the ‘urban poor’ was included into the legal/formal ambits of city. However, these ways of inclusion intensified a certain kind of exclusion - struggling for livelihood, basic infrastructure, housing and social dignity. An intense impact on women’s lives was seen resulting in loss of their employment and an added burden of household activities residing in an area with no access to basic resources such as water, electricity, ration or proper housing.
After two decades of resettlement, there is still no access to tap water in all the houses, most houses depend on municipal water tank, mostly fetched by women of the household.
Placelessness post Displacement

The built environment of resettlement colonies with poor housing structure, no proper drainage and sewerage, water facilities, and narrow roads signified poverty and therefore was translated into the ways they were perceived by the already existing local communities (Varga, 2013)[1]. The resettlement colonies were not able to provide these people with a sense of security because of a sense of disorientation and placelessness after displacement. On my pilot field-visit in December 2017, I witnessed a commotion post an episode of brutal violence against an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist, who are always women) worker in Pocket 11, who retaliated and filed a complaint against illegal selling of alcohol in Narela, because the men would spend most of their income there. There were a few women in the resettlement colony with the ASHA worker who went ahead and filed a police complaint. Later during the conversation about this incident with women, respondents of Pocket 11, opened up about alcoholism becoming a household problem for which the ASHA worker and a few others rightly raised their voice.

The women revealed that alcoholism and drugs have made it difficult for them to walk freely in their own neighbourhood streets and use public spaces. It not only had increased financial burden on women of the households but had also pushed young girls to dropout from school and take home-based work, which brought them to the judgement of the community members.

Hence in many cases of harassment or violence the women and young girls get no support from the community members. While narrating the whole incident, a woman mentioned, ‘Everyone was recording the incident but not one came in her support while it is everyone’s problem’. Alcoholism was exacerbated as a problem post resettlement because of a lack of community support to women to speak out against it in contrast with the support of community members they received when they were in ‘Delhi’ (the term used by resettled workers for core areas of Delhi from where they were replaced). Men of Pocket 11 had their own perspective about alcoholism, explaining that they mostly fell off the wagon and gave in to addiction because of loss of earlier employment opportunities and a long duration of struggle while resettling. 

Besides the above factors, the vacant and unregulated spaces in Narela  provided further opportunities to young men for using it to consume alcohol or drugs, which they could not do on the streets of resettlement colonies. The men from the local community also used these spaces for consuming alcohol and hanging out.

The Delhi Development Authority  commercial complexes and community spaces in Narela resettlement colony were public spaces which have become highly masculine spaces while women are usually left with home spaces and streets of resettlement colonies to socialize with no safe spaces around for their mobility.

On asking women about usage of Baraat Ghar (community space) in the resettlement colony of Pocket 8, women said they used it for teaching stitching and embroidery to young girls for a while, but because men and young boys started using it for drugs in the evening or late at night, parents stopped sending the girls. The space is now vacant and is only used by men and young boys. The park in Pocket 4 was used by boys to play or to smoke marijuana which made the space inappropriate for girls and women. The women only felt safe on the streets of the resettlement colonies or inside their homes.

Men occupying park outside the resettlement colony of Metro Vihar, in Narela
while women occupying streets inside the resettlement colony

The women of the resettled household found no work as domestic workers, which they had lost due to resettlement. The households of the local community did not prefer to employ women from the resettlement colony. Aware of this bias, women from the displaced community therefore preferred working in industries or home-based work. Violence associated with the resettlement colonies is inherently linked with the moral geography of Narela, which feeds into the process of how this space is perceived and further conceived. In an interview, Neeldaman Khatri, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Narela, had spoken about pushing for better law and order situation in Narela for assuring safety of women, which otherwise is known for not being safe for women. The violence, illegalities and everyday politics of space were not often resisted by the residents because of severed ties and a lack of solidarity amongst community members after resettlement. The moral panic was not only about the working-class community but also about certain religious and ethnic communities. The locals in Narela believed that the resettled slum dwellers used the place ‘inappropriately’ and their behavior, eating habits, religious practices would harm the meanings associated with the place. The presence of the working class in industry spaces, however, was not met with any tension, because that was assumed to be their place.

The displacement of working-class communities to resettlement colonies in the periphery of Delhi became a part of Delhi’s Resettlement and Rehabilitation Scheme. However, as evident from the above accounts drawing on lived experiences of women, the displacement has not only placed them in a space which harbours resentment, conflict and violence but has also weakened their networks and access to support of their community. Lack of government schools (ibid), accessible public spaces and employment opportunities for educated girls and land uses designed with no coherence, restrict the mobility of girls and make the place unsafe for women. The resettlement had an opportunity to set an example for co-creating safe spaces for working-class women. The failure of planning policies to adequately plan for inclusive spaces is also an inevitable result of the lack of effort to involve communities in the planning process.


[1] Varga, J. J. 2013. Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space: Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914. New York: NYU Press

Author’s Bio

Dr. Tanya Chaudhary is presently working as an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Human Development. She has a PhD in Development Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi and was a recipient of Junior Research/Senior Research Fellowship from UGC during her PhD. Prior to this she had pursued Master’s in Geography from Jawaharlal Nehru University followed by another Masters in Regional Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. She had briefly worked at Town and Country Planning Organisation, Delhi as a Research consultant before joining a full-time PhD course. She has been a PhD exchange student at the Department of Geography, Indiana University Bloomington.

Her research work and publications contributes to the discipline of Urban Studies, Labour Geography, Migration Studies and Gender and Development. At IHD, Delhi she is managing and researching on a project on Tribal Migration from Rajasthan. She has also contributed to other projects on Social Security in the organised sector, UNICEF project on Cash Transfer Scheme for girl child and upcoming Delhi Human Development Report.

DAY SIX: Migration, mobilities and displacement: A view from the ground in Nithari, India

Sunalini Kumar writes about displacement and the disproportionate effects of migration on women in Nithari, a village of thousands of ‘urban villages’ in the industrial suburb of NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Area) in India.

Sunalini Kumar

Featured image credits: Joint Women’s Programme

Nithari village is one of thousands of ‘urban villages’ in the industrial suburb of NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Area), just outside India’s national capital, Delhi. Nithari presents a picture of congestion, overflowing sewage, narrow galis (streets in Hindi) and ramshackle, hastily erected tenements. Nevertheless, over the decades Nithari has become home to thousands of marginalised and poor Indians from North India and beyond.  

In the popular press – both Indian and foreign – economic liberalisation brought prosperity to the country and expanded opportunities for the poor. However, the underbelly of this growth has been devastating especially for those who were suddenly defined as ‘unskilled’. Women form a huge section of the category of the especially vulnerable, ‘unskilled’ poor in a phenomenon termed the ‘feminisation of poverty’ by economists.

Often illiterate, jobs like babysitting; elder care; and employment in hospitals and factories, which were previously open to them, are now denied under the modern, ‘corporate’ organisation of labour.  

Therefore, urban migration for women is different from the experiences of men who are generally literate and have a higher bargaining status. Migrant women find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of low wages and a sudden decline in status compared to their lives in the village. In Nithari, the Joint Women’s Programme – an autonomous women’s organisation established in 1977 – reports that despite their lower status, migrant women have become the primary breadwinners of their families. This is either due to destitution; domestic violence; or because their male partners are afflicted with physical and mental health issues. However, persistent cultural factors in these communities simply don’t acknowledge the reality of women as workers. Due to these long-term factors, the effects of the 2020-22 COVID-19 pandemic have been especially devastating in Nithari. Padmini Kumar of the JWP shared some examples of migrant women’s distress during the pandemic: 

‘Food on plate’ Image credits to: Padmini Kumar

A migrant labourer from Bihar, Rani was stranded in Nithari with her children. Her husband had gone to another district in search of work and lost contact with the family. With no money in hand Rani would stand in front of the gate of the emergency food ration service organised in the school run by JWP. One of the teachers asked her if she was looking for someone. She started crying and confessed that she and her children had not eaten for three days. They did not have a phone to contact anyone in their village and were staying under a stolen old polythene banner to protect themselves from the hot sun. JWP continued to give her food till the end of lockdown but lost touch with her post-pandemic.  

Omvati was working as a construction labourer along with her son after her husband had died due to a workplace accident. The contractor paid them a small token amount to cremate the body. With grief weighing them down they preferred to go back to their village. But the sudden lockdown had left them with debts and the contractor refused to give them their earlier payments. The single room they had rented needed to be cleared of dues. They were left locked inside the work site, with very little to eat and with no access to a clean toilet. After four days when they ran out of groceries, they started waving their clothes to try to catch the attention of passers-by but due to the lockdown there was hardly anyone in the vicinity. Out of hunger and exhaustion they were found semi-conscious by one of JWP’s community workers. Emergency first aid was given and they were taken to hospital. It was ensured that they were given food every day until the end of the lockdown. Later the JWP volunteers met the contractor to redeem a major part of their wage dues and the family was sent home as per their own wishes. 

There are many such stories in Nithari, like the ones shared above. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing economic fallout of it in India has elevated the ordinary marginalisation of migrant women in Indian cities to widespread destitution. This is a silent crisis that has not received the kind of attention from the government and the media that it needs.

In Nithari, migrant women are in danger of losing what little they had before the pandemic; and yet they remain the fragile pillars, on which their children and others depend. Without sustained intervention by the state, these women will become one of the long-term casualties of the pandemic, without even the formal acknowledgment accorded to other victims. Gendered violence takes many forms; Nithari’s women experience it not only directly, but also in its most insidious form through the uncaring patriarchal state.  

Author’s Bio

Sunalini Kumar is Associate Professor at the School of Global Affairs, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi. She was educated at Delhi University, JNU and Cambridge University. She has previously been Visiting Fellow at CSDS, Delhi and Fulbright Nehru Postdoctoral Fellow at MESAAS, Columbia University.

Sunalini’s research interests centre around urban and regional politics; gender and political theory; and the global south. Her publications are included in Critical Studies in Politics: Sites, Selves, Power (Delhi, Orient Blackswan 2013) and Urbanising Citizenship (Delhi, London and Thousand Oaks, Sage 2013). She is a contributing member of the widely read blog

DAY FIVE: No justice without healing; no healing without justice: Pathways to care for sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia and DRC 

The authors from the Displacements Project draw attention to the different pathways of care that sexual violence victim-survivors take to address their needs. Focus groups were conducted across four sites in DRC and Somalia.

The Displacements Project 

Featured image credits: SIDRA from the Displacements Project website

Decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia have displaced millions within and across borders. This has been exacerbated by natural disasters such as floods, tsunamis, droughts, famine, and even locust infestations. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) have settled in urban and rural areas, in segregated camps, or have been integrated in ‘host’ populations. These conflicts have severely eroded the state’s capacity to provide healthcare as well as administer justice and rule of law, making sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) difficult to address holistically. In the state’s absence, people turn to alternative ‘social connections’ including international and local NGOs, indigenous healers, and community elders.  

Interested in mapping out these social connections, we conducted focus groups separated by gender across four sites in South Kivu, DRC, and five sites near Kismayo and Garowe, Somalia. We asked the participants where people go if they experience deep sadness, persistent physical pain, or SGBV.i  

Participants noted that SGBV was perpetrated at the household/domestic level by spouses or close family members; at the community level by somebody outwith the household yet known in the community; and in DRC, by armed combatants, which leads to severe physical harm, often requiring hospitalisation.  In response, victims turn to different pathways to address their needs. Proximal pathways can include friends, families, or neighbours, who may witness violence, offer material and/or emotional support, although they may also be the perpetrators of violence. This discussion among women about domestic rape in Katogota, DRC demonstrates the complexity of proximal pathways: 

Woman 1: ‘You go to a friend because talking with someone frees you up and makes you feel better.  

Woman 2: ‘I think we should tell the mother who is the president of the church because at least she can’t tell everyone in the village your secret because she is wise and God-fearing.’  

Woman 3: ‘I think it’s best to turn to your parents because they will always be there with you despite your decision.’  

Woman 4:‘A neighbour—’ 

[People in the group yell and interrupt and say telling a neighbour is a bad idea because they will tell everybody your secret.] 

Healthcare pathways include a spectrum from care for life-threatening injury to treatment for things such as STIs. Both DRC and Somalia have access to care for extreme violence. However, due to stigmatisation and costs, there is less uptake for ongoing health support. Through local organisations such as the Mukwege Foundation, DRC has more access to professional psychosocial support, although this is difficult to access in rural peripheries. In both countries, victims access informal emotional support through proximal pathways as well as religious or informal financial groups.  

Justice pathways are the means to seek amends or redress for SGBV harms. In the DRC, international actors are heavily involved in the justice system, yet impunity for armed combatant perpetrators is often the norm.

A woman in Kavumu, DRC made this clear by saying, ‘I would advise them to go to the state, but we know that the state will not give any help.’ In the absence of the state, when domestic or community level sexual violence occurs, informal, customary, or clan-based justice is applied.

In DRC this often means that sexual assault is addressed by family or ethnic leaders resulting in mediated marriages, which are unwelcome to the women victims. In Somalia, clan elders agree on material compensation, known as xeer in Somali, whereby wealth is transferred to families/clans, but not the victims. Participants in both countries said this gendered justice system did not lead to a sense of justice, which exacerbates mental health harm from SGBV. A woman in Kismayo made clear their exasperation with justice when reflecting on a rape case involving a young girl, which went through clan elders:  

When a case like this happens, the traditional leaders take over the case, and the case is not taken up by the rule of law agencies. This needs to change. The perpetrators must get harsh punishment so that it will be a lesson for those who are inclined to do similar horrible crimes. 

Despite the erosion of the state in DRC and Somalia, there are still state and local organisations and institutions providing health, mental health, and justice services. In Somalia, this is ad hoc, and not systematically integrated. In South Kivu, the Panzi Foundation, founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege, administers Panzi Hospital, which incorporates locally-based wraparound economic, medical, psychosocial, and justice support and advocacy, offering a model for post-conflict situations. This ‘one-stop’ model provides free trauma sensitive medical and psychosocial care to victims and families; advocates to state actors and local community leaders; gives legal aid; and provides livelihood training and start-up funding. We contend that supporting healing for SGBV victims requires similarly holistic syncing of pathways of health, mental health, and justice, which must involve the state, international, and indigenous institutions and actors. This necessitates a comprehensive understanding of local milieus, including the cultural logics behind where people actually turn to for care. It is not enough simply to address the barriers to formal systems.   


Authors’ bio 

This blog comes from the recently published article, ‘Pathways to care: IDPs seeking health support and justice for sexual and gender-based violence through social connections’. The co-authors—Clayton Boeyink, Mohamed A Ali-Salad, Esther Wanyema Baruti, Ahmed S. Bile, Jean-Benoît Falisse, Leonard Muzee Kazamwali, Said A. Mohamoud, Henry Ngongo Muganza, Denise Mapendo Mukwege, Amina Jama Mahmud—are based at the Somali Institute for Development and Research Analysis in Somalia, the Université Evangélique en Afrique/Centre d’Excellence Denis Mukwege in DRC, and the University of Edinburgh and are collaborating on a ESRC/Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project aiming to help Somali and Congolese displaced people to access healthcare associated with protracted displacement, conflict, and sexual and gender-based violence ( 

A special thanks to research assistants supporting data collection in DRC: Arcene Kisanga, Naomie Amina Mirindi, and Blandine Mushagalusa Ndamuso; and in Somalia: Mohamud Adan Ahmed, Omar Yusuf Ahmed, Mohammed Fahim Bishar, Muna Mohamed Hersi, Anisa Said Kulmiye, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, and Amina Mohamed Nor. 

DAY FIVE: “It’s not just the war that displaces these people”: care and containment for displaced survivors of sexual and gender-based violence 

This piece is based on the DiSoCo project, which looks at improving healthcare for internally displaced people in Somalia and DRC,and Somali and Congolese refugees in Kenya and South Africa. The authors reflect on their interviewees’ stories on sexual and gender-based violence and the repercussions on those who report these stories.

Rina Ghafoerkhan, Elise Griede, Laura Jeffery, Lucy Lowe, David Nieuwe Weme

Featured image credits: SIDRA Institute

… she actually complained to the camp leaders. And there was an NGO, that NGO helped her, she went to the police station and the guy was caught and, you know, he stayed in jail for two days. And since then, that’s when the abuse started. He rapes her constantly. As a punishment. So, you have the rule of law that is not doing its job. The government’s not doing their job, you have the NGO, of course they do help, but then they don’t look at the consequences. You’re not addressing the issue. And that’s why women don’t come forth, because it’s easier. Maybe it happens to you once. And if you keep quiet, then it stops. But then you talk and you get punished.  

These are the words of an internally displaced teenager in Somalia. They reflect the experiences of many displaced women too scared to report experiences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) because of the repercussions experienced by those who do. Her account was shared with researchers on the DiSoCo project, which aims to improve healthcare for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and amongst Somali and Congolese refugees in Kenya and South Africa.  

Both Somalia and the DRC have been involved in decades-long protracted conflicts, and Somali and Congolese people have faced prolonged exposure to numerous human rights violations, including torture, sexual violence and repeated and often protracted displacement. During interviews, many people emphasised the stigma surrounding SGBV, sometimes as an even greater concern than physical or mental health, due to the social significance of female virginity and chastity. Several interviewees discussed concerns about the lasting impact that public knowledge of assault might have for survivors’ futures, such as being deemed unsuitable for marriage.

As a result, they suggested, a priority of many survivors and their families is to conceal the assault, in an attempt to avoid the shame and dishonour that often haunts survivors.  

Our interviewees discussed this process of concealment and containment as a response to stigma occurring on multiple levels. Firstly, several interviewees articulated that victims’ fears about other people’s responses might disincentivise victims from disclosing sexual violence to others, but that this containment might also result in social isolation. Secondly, in relation to containment within the household, interviewees noted that victims and their families might seek to restrict knowledge about the incident to a select group or even remove the entire household from the social setting by moving away. Both Somali and Congolese interviewees mentioned cases of people relocating – displacing or re-displacing themselves – in order to evade the stigma surrounding what had happened to them. One Congolese interviewee responded that: 

In some cases, they isolate themselves or they will be forced to go into exile, another village or into the city where again they don’t have the support system. So it’s not just the war that displaces these people…  

Thus, in displacement contexts in which social support networks have already been severed, household containment has the potential to compound pre-existing social isolation. 

Thirdly, strategies for containment at a community level via social institutions include transforming the violation into an ‘appropriate’ sexual interaction through marriage, seeking reparations in the form of compensation, or initiating retributive justice. Similarly, our research partners in Somalia found that a commonplace principal response to sexual violence is families and extended clan networks seeking compensation from the offending parties to the victim’s family (Boeyink et al. 2022, p8). This implies a framing of sexual violence not only as a mental health concern and physical assault for which the victim might warrant medical attention, but also crucially as a (dis)honour for which the victim’s family should be compensated.  

Prevalent norms surrounding sex and gender are crucial to understanding how victims, their families, and local communities react to experiences of sexual violence. Displaced populations face parallel challenges in accessing all forms of care because displacement ruptures and fragments support networks. This is compounded in cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), where perceptions of gender, violence, and sex among displaced and host communities are entangled with practices of care.

Our interviewees highlighted that gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and the availability of local support networks together inform the forms of social harm and potential care experienced by survivors of sexual violence. Without viable and accessible support and care, survivors of SGBV can be subject to repeat displacement, revealing the highly gendered, but often concealed, nature of forced migration. 

Authors’ Bio 

This blogpost draws on a journal article in preparation for publication. Its co-authors – Rina Ghafoerkhan, Elise Griede, Laura Jeffery, Lucy Lowe, David Nieuwe Weme – are based at ARQ International in the Netherlands and the University of Edinburgh in the UK. The co-authors are collaborating on a UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) research project aiming to help Somali and Congolese displaced people to access appropriate healthcare for chronic mental health conditions associated with protracted displacement, conflict, and sexual and gender-based violence. For more information about the project, please visit our website at and twitter @gcrf_disoco 


DAY FOUR: Sacrificeable bodies: gender-based violence against LGBTIQ+ people and displacement

Within debates around displacement, gender-based violence is conflated with violence against cisgender and heterosexual women. In this piece, Tina Dixson argues for the need to meaningfully engage with LGBTIQ+ communities’ experiences of displacement.

Tina Dixson (formerly co-founder Forcibly Displaced People Network)

Featured image credits: Renee Dixson

Sexual and gender-based violence are manifestations of power and an enforcement of the patriarchal order where rigid and harmful gender norms and binaries permeate relationships, and racial hierarchies are created. Perpetrators, mostly men, use their power and control to create a world where all women exist to serve their needs, and where toxic masculinity allows no divergence from a rigid sex binary. Violence is inflicted on LGBTIQ+ communities as a tool of punishment for defying this patriarchal order.

Yet in the context of displacement, gender-based violence is often conceptualised as violence against women, meaning those who are cisgender and heterosexual.

Queer and trans refugee women are rarely seen as legitimate victims of displacement. Their experiences are marginalised and their gender and sexuality are deemed private or irrelevant, if not the very cause of their displacement. In describing drivers of displacement of LGBTIQ+ people in their Age, Gender and Diversity policy, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) writes that violence against this community happens “due to their sex, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity”. In other words, a victim is blamed for causing violence by simply being who they are, and not because violence is inflicted by the racist, homophobic and transphobic patriarchy.

There is evidence that LGBTIQ+ people experience familial (eg. forced marriages, ‘honor’ killings), societal (eg. conversion practices, stoning or ‘social cleansing’) and state violence (eg. imprisonment, perpetrator impunity or death penalty), which are drivers of displacement. Despite this violence continuing throughout their displacement  and in settlement, LGBTIQ+ refugees exist in the “zone of nonbeing”.

Françoise Vergès writes that “trans people, queer people, male and female sex workers are simply bodies to rape, traffic, torture, kill”. They are sacrificeable. They are blamed for the violence they endure. Their extinction becomes the norm.  

While gender-based violence marks the everyday for LGBTIQ+ people, especially those who are displaced, paradoxically they are excluded from how displacement is imagined. In writing about sexual and gender-based violence against refugee women, Jane Freedman categorises women who are traveling alone in the following heteronormative way: “women are travelling alone because they are single, or because they have lost their husbands during the war”. This indifference to experiences of gender-based violence against LGBTIQ+ people spans from community organisations to the UN. In 2011, I was an NGO delegate presenting a shadow report on the human rights violations against of lesbian, bisexual and trans women in Ukraine in front of the Committee operating under the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. A day before, a Committee member from Brazil approached me during breakfast in my hotel. ‘Lead with stories, explain the impacts violence and discrimination has on women, only then mention their sexuality, and only in passing’ she said to me. Thinking about violence inflicted on these women (and very soon myself), we cannot and should not separate their gender from their sexuality. Both constitute the experience of violence.

Years after and now in my own displacement, UN rhetoric has not changed. In 2017, I was invited to join a Gender Audit team, led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Forced Migration Research Network, to take part in the development of the Global Compact on Refugees. What offered a unique opportunity to finally make LGBTIQ+ displacement visible became an experience of silencing. Many countries never mentioned this cohort. When Western countries did, this was seen as an imposition of their values and issues that are not relevant to some bigger cause. It is no surprise that this issue became one of the first to be dropped during the negotiations process. It did not matter where you were in the room as an LGBTIQ+ refugee. You were always not the right kind of a refugee.

As a result, the final text of the Global Compact on Refugees not only omits any references to these communities but importantly creates a normative understanding of concepts such as ‘vulnerable groups in displacements’, ‘survivors of gender-based violence’, ‘specific needs in displacement’ and so on. It moves away from allowing to fit yourself in as an LGBTIQ+ refugee when your experience is mentioned as ‘other status’ in a long list of diversity characteristics to a complete silencing and fixed definitions. For example, persons with specific needs are defined as: “children, including those who are unaccompanied or separated; women at risk; survivors of torture, trauma, trafficking in persons, sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse or harmful practices; those with medical needs; persons with disabilities; those who are illiterate; adolescents and youth; and older persons”. You do not have access to words, let alone protection.

Trying to bring attention to the issues of LGBTIQ+ displacement and the extent of gender-based violence inflicted, you always hit a brick wall. Within mainstream feminism in a country such as Australia, most morning teas, report launches and parliament events during the 16 days of activism will neglect to meaningfully engage with anything other than whiteness, heterosexuality, cisgenderism and citizenship.

Within displacement activism, again heteronormativity will prevail. Still so much research on displacement that always claims to offer new and comprehensive ways of looking at this issue neglects including sexuality and gender as inherent and constituent parts of one’s selfhood, one’s displacement journey, and most importantly one’s feeling of safety and belonging. Neither acknowledges that homo- and transphobia are a feminist issue and are in turn an anti-racism and decolonial issue, and that neither of these social justice struggles can be completed in isolation.

Where LGBTIQ+ displacement is mentioned, it is either reduced to an anomaly (something so rare that it is not worthy of attention) or racialised communities are being blamed for their ‘backwardness’ when it comes to LGBTIQ+ equality.

What is missing is an honest reflection on the impact of colonisation and the importation of homophobia and transphobia onto communities who used to celebrate and honour sexual and gender diversity.

Mikki Kendall writes that “entitlement, intolerance, homophobia, misogyny, aggression and sexual violence inside and outside marginalised communities are the antisocial behaviours that patriarchal systems create” regardless of the countries location. Instead of achieving safety, marginalisation is being perpetuated.  For as long as we think of some as more deserving of protection than others simply because of who they are, violence and domination will prevail and we will not achieve justice for anyone.


You can learn more on how to work inclusively and meet the needs of LGBTIQ+ forcibly displaced people by passing this free training:

Author’s Bio

Tina Dixson is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University researching the lived experiences and construction of narratives on queer and trans women’s forced displacement and violence. Tina’s research focuses on trauma theory, gender studies, migration studies and queer theory. She has contributed to a range of work on LGBTIQ+ displacement within Australia and internationally.

In 2012 Tina and her partner Renee Dixson became displaced due to their LGBTIQ+ human rights work in Ukraine and settled in Australia. Tina co-founded Forcibly Displaced People Network, the first registered LGBTIQ+ refugee-led organisation in Australia, with her partner Renee Dixson in 2020. When Tina stepped down from her role with the Network, Renee Dixson became the current chair.