Case study

Investigating how art benefits refugee girls and women

Refugee girls and young women are marginalised across multiple strands of their lives. This project explored the literature around arts-based interventions aimed at them. And it found that art helped these refugees make sense of their situation.

Gender-based refugee experiences

Our report takes an overview of the issues affecting refugees before focusing on gender-based concerns. It looks at the relevance of education and training in progressing girl and women refugees’ outcomes. And we discuss the relevance and benefits of arts-based interventions in engaging with the girls and women.


Refugees are forced to leave their homes because of war, conflict or natural disaster. They frequently endure perilous journeys within and across international borders. They undertake risky travel by land, usually on foot, or across open waters in overcrowded, poorly maintained boats run by smugglers and people traffickers. These criminals regularly place refugees in extreme physical danger. They extort money and commit violence against passengers, including sexual assault on women.

The desperate settings within which refugees flee makes them vulnerable. Laws are loose, or absent, and localised rules exist to protect subjects. Smooth transitions within ‘a borderless, interconnected and interdependent world’ (Sidhu and Christie, 2007, p. 12) are a possibility for individuals with the resources. But the experiences of refugees belie notions of a globalised world. They encounter sealed borders that block access to sanctuary and threaten their survival.

Children and education

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) has identified that refugee children's participation in mainstream schooling in many refugee host countries (RHCs) is substantially lower than their settled peers. For girls, the gap is even more significant.

And the gap between refugee girls, their settled peers and refugee boys widens as girls get older. This is often attributed to social and cultural traditions that under-value girls' education and limit their participation in activities outside the home or immediate community setting.

UNHRC has found that children in school are better protected from:

And the UNESCO Institute for Statistics has found that women account for 66% of the 750 million adults without basic literacy skills.

a chasm separates a woman from a pile of books
Design and illustrations: Jeremy Richard

Ethical complexities

In exploring the literature around arts-based interventions aimed at girls and young women, we looked at the ethical complexities and what the girls and women gained from the experience. This is a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) QR Fund project 2021 run by Professor Susan Hogan.


Refugees deal with complex adjustments when they leave their home country. They must adapt to refugee camps and, in some cases, move on into host countries where there are new languages and cultures to navigate. The positive, protective outcomes of arts-based activities are significant in helping refugees make sense of their current situation. They help them deal with their experiences while also recognising and developing their abilities.

The interventions investigated include:

Arts-based work can contribute to a range of areas such as justice and challenging authority over others. It also informs the public, humanitarian agencies and services at the political, social, artistic and emotional levels. The arts-based activities also help demonstrate refugees’ skills and experience through their artwork. This is particularly important in undoing the negative terminology associated with refugees’ passivity and dependency. This negative terminology can produce cycles of exclusion and poor treatment of refugees.

exhalation recorded on a photographic etching plate

Our Arts research

The Digital and Material Artistic Research Centre (DMARC) is the home to artistic research from the disciplines of Performing Arts, Music, Media, Art and Design within the School of Arts.

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