Date of Graduation

Fall 12-13-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS)


College of Arts and Sciences


International Studies

First Advisor

Sarah Burgess


This thesis conducts a close reading of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ “Guidelines on International Protection: Gender-Related Persecution within the context of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees” – a document that explains how legal definitions of refugee status might take into account gender issues. In it, I investigate the relationship between gender identity and the refugee status to understand how gender is constructed in relation to other terms or identity categories that determine whether an individual will be granted asylum. Performing a close reading of this text, I demonstrate that the UNHCR defines gender as a ground that may influence or dictate violence. Defining gender in this way, the text betrays a performative contradiction. On the one hand, the UNHCR treats gender as a recognizable and distinct identity—one that can be separated from other identity categories. On the other hand, their inability to articulate clear terms for describing such a gender identity—to pin down the words with which they might express this bounded gender—suggests that gender is not a stable, confined, or separable identity category. This contradiction is significant because it draws our attention to the ways human rights instruments delineate the language and vocabulary available to people asserting a claim before the law. The analysis conducted in this thesis demonstrates that there is a need to pay close attention to how international human rights instruments open and foreclose an individuals’ ability to account for their experiences and gain a voice in the law.