This project aims to support gender commitments in the Global Compact on Refugees in different refugee situations, including Malaysia, working closely with local stakeholders.


Working in Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh, the project is being conducted in close partnership with local academics, refugee women and refugee services. To respond effectively to different refugee contexts, the project has taken a slightly different approach in each country, using the research team’s signature Reciprocal Research methodology

Our local partners will take forward the work of the project, to achieve the long-term objectives of increasing refugee women’s participation and ending sexual and gender-based violence

Partners and collaborators

Academic partner: Associate Professor Dr Shanthi Thambiah, Gender Studies Program, University of Malaya.

Organisational partners/ collaborators: Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), Asylum Access Malaysia, Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI), Tenaganita, and UNHCR Malaysia.

“Dr Shanti”with project leaders Eileen Pittaway and Linda Bartolomei Photo G Doney

Initial research consultations

Research consultations were held in Kuala Lumpur July/August 2019, co-led by the UNSW team and Associate Professor Shanthi Thambiah, University of Malaya, with the support of Rachel Tan from APRRN and NGO partners, Tenaganita, MSRI and Asylum Access Malaysia. 

The consultations involved 36 refugee women leaders from 12 different countries, 5 refugee male leaders, UNHCR and NGOs.

A stakeholder workshop on the final day was attended by UNHCR, NGOs, and a number of government representatives including Australia. 

The outcomes from these meetings informed the development of multi-stakeholder strategies for the participation of women and girls in all areas of refugee life and decision making and to address SGBV. These strategies developed from the solutions identified by refugee women in the storyboard activity. 

Short films with key messages from the refugee women were also shown at the Global refugee Forum in December 2019. 

Follow up activities

The UNSW team returned to Kuala Lumpur in January 2020 and, with Rachel Tan (APRRN) and local partners, undertook additional training workshops involving 47 refugee women leaders, 34 NGO staff, five academic and 21 UNHCR representatives. 

Other activities included the launch of the Malaysia Consultations Report, presentations on the gender outcomes of the Global Refugee Forum and a series of focus group interviews with key project partners to review project progress and outcomes and to plan next steps.

The workshops, interviews and other activities identified concrete local strategies, programs and planning to achieve project goals for increasing refugee women’s participation and to address sexual and gender-based violence. These are based on ideas identified by refugee women in the project methodology’s storyboard activity.  The local partners are working closely together and with UNHCR and refuge women leaders to implement these local actions.

COVID impacts and next project stages:

The impacts of COVID19 has compelled some modifications to next project steps. The project was always designed to work in a range of diverse contexts, and to provide remote support to partners,  so the UNSW team obtained approval from our funder DFAT to adapt the project to respond to the current crisis and its impacts on refugee women and girls and their communities. This slightly revised approach provides an opportunity to support and document refugee women-led and local NGO supported gender-sensitive responses in the context of a humanitarian emergency. Given the increased risks of sexual and gender-based violence and in particular heightened risks of domestic violence during COVID restrictions, projects and strategies to reduce and address these risks are being prioritised. 

In Malaysia, NGO partner Tenaganita worked with refugee women in developing and implementing a project that goes to the core project objectives of addressing SGBV and supporting refugee women’s leadership and participation. It involves 16 refugee women leaders from 7 communities leading virtual support groups within their community, meeting 3 times per month. Training for this role was jointly provided by UNSW, UNHCR and NGO partners. The women facilitators with UNHCR and NGOs Tenagantia and MSRI are continuing the project in 2021. 


Consultations were held on the Thai/Myanmar border in August 2019, with 38 women leaders from the nine border camps, plus 2 male leaders, UNHCR and NGOs. The consultations were co-facilitated by local academic partners Sriprapha Petcharamesree and Ratawit Ouaprachanon, (Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University), and supported by Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO), The Border Consortium (TBC) and APRRN. The Final Consultations report was produced in October 2019 and short film segments illustrating key findings and recommendations were shown at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in December 2019. With the advent of COVID restrictions, the project has adapted to provide online training requested by the refugee women’s organisations, and to support four grassroots refugee women’s organisations to run COVID-support projects in the refugee camps.


Learn more

In each country, the project approach has been adapted to suit local needs and context. Given the huge population of refugees in Bangladesh, the research team proposed a multi-stage, multi-stakeholder approach to research consultations.  This involved training service providers (UN, INGOs NGOs CBOs) and refugee women and men leaders to conduct research consultations in multi-stakeholder teams. Altogether, 24 workshops and consultations were conducted between November 2019 and January 2020, involving 226 refugee women, 85 refugee men and 86 UN, INGO and NGO staff. Data analysis workshops in February 2020 with the research facilitators, synthesised and analysed the findings and proposed actions. A report launch and planning on next actions will take place in early 2021. 

Key Bangladesh partners include Centre for Peace and Justice, Brac University (CPJ), APRRN, UNHCR, numerous local and international NGOs, and refugee women and men community leaders. 

Learn more