Women, gender and exile in Europe during the modern period

Spanish refugees at the Cerbère frontier post, January 1939.


During the modern period, exiles were for a long time essentially masculine figures in representations. Yet the study of forced migration, whether of a political, religious, or sexual nature, shows that from the early nineteenth century onwards, women were also part of the phenomenon of exile, which we understand here in a broad manner as all forms of forced expatriation. While feminine exile figures were rare during the nineteenth century, the widespread nature of such mobility beginning in the early twentieth century also involved women, who little by little demanded access to functions of representation within exile groups, thereby upsetting the gendered norms of political commitment. After the adoption of the Geneva Convention in 1951, the first legal text to provide an international definition for refugees, women won recognition for their particular role in the phenomenon of exile and asylum. It was only in 1985 that the High Commissioner for Refugees held the first forum on women refugees, thereby emphasizing their uniqueness.