Reciprocal Research towards participation of refugee women and girls
Forced Migration Research Network, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Dr Linda Bartolomei - [email protected]
Honorary Associate Professor Eileen Pittaway - [email protected]
Introduction to the project
Currently being applied in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand (and in a parallel project in Australia). In the past it has been applied projects in over 18 countries across the Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
The current Reciprocal Research based project began in 2018 and will continue until to the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention in 2021.
There is an expectation that further funding from a range of sources will support additional stages.
Reciprocal Research involves a comprehensive participatory consultation methodology and training program which supports work with refugee communities that moves beyond problem identification to the development of collaborative, multi-stakeholder solutions. Since its development in 2003/2004 by Eileen Pittaway and Linda Bartolomei, UNSW, the methodology has been used with diverse refugee communities and other key stakeholders in multiple research sites across 18 countries. In use for over 15 years, the methodology has been already been replicated across multiple projects and sites.
The Reciprocal Research Methodology is currently being used as part of an action research project “Refugee Women and Girls: key to the Global compact on Refugees” co-led by Linda Bartolomei and Eileen Pittway in four countries in Asia and in a parallel project in Australia, to support the implementation of commitments to refugee women in the GCR.
Underpinned by the AGD approach it includes a focus on the barriers to women’s participation across all six of the thematic areas for the GRF. In particular this includes a focus on SGBV as a major barrier to gender equality.
In each country the research team is working closely with UNHCR, local NGOs, refugee women, and refugee men modelling the GCR’s multi-stakeholder approach.
The current project is funded by DFAT over 3.5 years for work with refugee women and other key stakeholders in four countries in Asia. A separately funded parallel project is being undertaken in Australia. The project in Australia is primarily financed through pro-bono contributions by the UNSW team and NGO partners who see the value in supporting the meaningful participation of refugee women not only in identifying problems but also in developing and implementing solutions.
The consultation tools, include a series of comprehensive and freely available training of trainer and session materials, including a training video and a comprehensive matrix based on the AGD framework and 6 co-sponsorship areas (see web links in Further Resources on the right-hand menu).
Main activities of the Good Practice
The multi-stakeholder approach and the meaningful participation of refugees, in particular refugee women and girls crosscut all the objectives of the GCR. Using this consultation methodology, the knowledge and capacities of refugee women, and refugee communities, can be mobilised to support the four objectives of the GCR and the thematic focus of the GRF in 2019.
While this good practice directly addresses GCR Objective 2, Enhancing Refugee Self-reliance, with a particular focus on refugee women’s participation, it has also contributed to the 3 other GCR objectives including expanded access to third- country solutions.
For example, following consultations using this methodology in Kakuma camp in Kenya in 2004/5, increased numbers of refugee women were resettled under the women at risk program, and in 2007, following consultations in the camps in Bangladesh, several countries opened resettlement programs for Rohingya refugees.
The consultation methodology also addresses the Thematic areas identified for the Global Refugee Forum, those of Education, Jobs and Livelihoods, Energy and Infrastructure, Solutions and Protection Capacity. Most importantly it uses a cross-cutting framework based on UNHCR’s Age, Gender and Diversity Policy to explore the major barriers to achieving gender equality experienced by refugee women in each of these areas, in particular, those raised by endemic levels of SGBV and lack of access to participation in decision making and leadership.
The methodology is and has been used in numerous collaborative projects with UNHCR, NGO and CBO partners in many countries including in Australia, Bangladesh, Burundi, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
It is currently being used in this action research project, Refugee Women and Girls: Key to the Global Compact, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and supported by UNHCR, Academic, NGO and CBO partners in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand.
Academic partners are: The Centre for Peace and Justice, BRAC University, Bangladesh, Gender Studies, University of Malaya, Malaysia and Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University, Thailand.
NGO and CBO partners are: AMES, The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, the Australian National Committee on Refugee Women, Asylum Access, the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Karen Women’s Organisation, MSRI, The Border Consortium, Tenaganita and Women’s League of Burma.
The parallel and separately funded project in Australia is further supported by NGOs Diversitat, MDA, MYAN and SSI.
Challenges and how they were overcome
Challenge 1: Refugee communities are often mistrustful of external researchers and consultants. This can be due to feeling over consulted with no tangible outcomes or due to fear that if they participate, they might experience backlash from local authorities. Some women fear backlash from powerful male leaders in their communities (see details in our published paper –“Stop Stealing Our Stories” (https://academic.oup.com/jhrp/article/2/2/229/2188714)
How it was overcome:
- (a) An ethical agreement is negotiated with the refugee participants which gives full control over the outcomes of the consultations to them. The facilitators/researchers promise that no reports, film or photographs will be shared of published without the signed permission of the participants or their nominated representatives.
- (b) If participants indicate that it is not safe for then for any reports to be publicly distributed, publication does not occur (Note this has only happened once in the 15 years of using this methodology)
- (c) Though the methodology has most frequently been used to address the protection concerns of refugee women and girls, and to support their active participation, in order to mitigate any potential risks which might arise from men and boys feeling excluded, and to involve them in solutions, parallel consultations also involve men and boys.
Challenge 2: The methodology works best if the refugee community participants can be involved over a period of 4 to 5 full days. However, particularly for refugees living in urban areas, who can’t afford to lose daily income to participate in consultations, this can present a challenge.
How it was overcome:
- If no funding for wage replacement is available, or the refugee women and men cannot miss work, the methodology offers the flexibility to be conducted as a series of modules over weekends or evenings across several weeks.
Results of the Good Practice
- 2003 - 2008: participatory consultations with refugee women and other stakeholders across Africa and Asia informed the 2006 ExCom Conclusion on Women and Girls at Risk and the 2008 Heightened Risk Identification Tool. This led to increased focus on the protection of and solutions for refugee women at risk
- 2010/2011: the outcomes of the UNHCR Regional Dialogues with 1000 refugee & displaced women & 200 men led to significant increases in funding for gender equality and SGBV programs.
- 2011- 2015: Resulted in Refugee-led community projects in Nairobi and New Delhi
- 2019 – Increased opportunities for refugee participation in Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh (and Australia).
New films which demonstrate the methodology in action in current research sites will be available in December 2019 and the training materials will be progressively updated in 2020 and 2021 as part of the DFAT funded project.