The Refugee Women’s Strategy Group (RWSG) is a group of refugee and asylum seeking women, whose aim is to ensure that the voices of refugee women are heard. Supported by Scottish Refugee Council and funded by Comic Relief, RWSG work together to represent the views of refugee and asylum seeking women in Scotland to key decision makers and service providers to influence the policy and practices that affect their lives.
There is a strong need for a more gender sensitive asylum system. According to Asylum Aid and the Scottish Refugee Council women’s asylum claims are almost twice as likely to be overturned on appeal than the average, women wait longer than men for their asylum claims to be resolved, and women with children wait even longer.
RWSG report that, “women described the [asylum] process as ‘unfair and inconsistent’ and felt that there was a need to ‘improve understanding of women’s experiences and the need for a different approach’. Women talked about the need for regional screening, a safe environment for women to talk about their experiences, childcare for substantive interviews and a need for Home Office staff to understand the difficulties that women have in disclosing experiences of gender based violence.”
RWSG’s priorities have therefore included: working to ensure that the asylum process is gender sensitive; improving access to sexual violence services for asylum seeking women; addressing the barriers to employment for refugee women; and, facilitating information provision to women in the asylum process.
Katherine Gilmour, Violence against Women Development Officer of the Church of Scotland comments that, “RWSG is a vital resource for anyone looking for information on the experiences and needs of asylum seeking and refugee women in Scotland. We believe strongly that ‘nothing about us without us is for us’ and that any attempt to improve the asylum seeking process in the UK must centre the voices and lived experiences of women who have been through or are currently involved in the process, particularly survivors of gender based violence. We are very lucky to have such an established group in Scotland and we would urge everyone to promote RWSG, share their work and stories and use their knowledge to inform your own work.”
The group has been actively involved in the development of Scotland’s new refugee integration strategy, New Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland’s Communities 2014-2017, published in December 2013 by the Scottish Government, Scottish Refugee Council and COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership.
The Refugee Women’s Strategy Group have also developed vital projects including One Step Closer, a course to build confidence and improve employability skills of refugee and asylum seeking women; and Speak for Yourself, an initiative that engaged over 100 refugee and asylum seeking women to find out what key issues are affecting their lives such as barriers to integration and health concerns. In 2013, Making asylum work for women was launched, outlining key recommendations for a fair and gender just asylum system.
Their most recent publication is a guide to Claiming Asylum: What women need to know.