Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Susanne Zwingel

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Alexander Barder

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Markus Thiel

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Vrushali Patil

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


women, refugees, empowerment, aid, NGOs, asylum-seeking, gender, feminism, integration, resettlement, assistance, migration

Date of Defense



The current refugee system and aid structures often reproduce gender hierarchies by representing women refugees as vulnerable and helpless victims. This imagining serves a political purpose. Representing women as silenced visual bodies is an act of power, in which a white Western masculine subjectivity could reinforce its political limits and communicate its identity (Rajaram, 2002). This dissertation project aims to answer the following questions: How do the aid actors in Western Europe construct women refugees and attach meanings to “women’s empowerment” as an end goal? How are these constructions related to global hierarchies (between the West and the rest) or collective identities of superior and inferior? The UK and French are chosen as the areas of focus in this project. I conducted semi-structured interviews with aid workers and engaged in participant observation to analyze the distinct discourses and strategies for addressing refugee women’s empowerment. The project analyzes that aid organizations in the UK address refugee women’s empowerment in the following general themes; (1) creating and regulating space, (2) service, aid delivery, and protection, (3) collaboration and inclusion, and lastly, (4) public visibility and authorship, whereas French aid organizations focus on the following general themes; (1) legal protection and identification of vulnerabilities, (2) service delivery and professionalism, (3) advocacy and awareness-raising and lastly, (4) integration to France and sensibilization to French values. The research concludes that British aid structures are more participatory as refugee women are given opportunities for enhancing their authentic representation and authorship. Empowerment is defined as providing necessary tools for women to be autonomous in the long term and break away from dependencies on aid structures. As for French organizations, empowerment predominantly means assisting refugee women to acquire legal status and access constitutional rights. Women refugees in French aid structures are more likely to be dependent on aid professionals, which might harm their autonomy and agency in the long run.



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