Forced Marriage and the Exoticization of Gendered Harms in United States Asylum Law

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, 2010, 19 (4)
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While claims of forced marriage or pressure to marry represent only a tiny portion of refugee claims overall, they provide an illuminating sliver reflecting the major recurring themes in gender and sexuality claims from recent decades. Refusal to marry is a flashpoint for expressing non-conformity with expected gender roles for heterosexual women, lesbians and gay men. This paper presents results from our study of 168 refugee decisions from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States where part of the claim for refugee protection concerned actual or threatened forced marriage. In the present discussion, we highlight our findings from the cases from the United States while detailed findings regarding the broader international data set are published elsewhere. We find that the United States is far behind Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom in terms of analyzing gender-related persecution. In addition to not finding a single case with a straightforward holding that forced marriage in and of itself could constitute persecution, we also did not find any engagement with international human rights standards. Of the few cases that were successful on a substantive basis, we found that the underlying facts reflect an extreme exoticization of the women involved.
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