Gendered Orientalism and Syrian Women Refugees


  • Karen Culcasi


Orientalist discourses have long recirculated the idea that Muslim women are oppressed victims of Islam; an idea that has denigrated Muslims and positioned white, Christians as superior. For Muslim women refugees specifically, the gendered orientalist discourse of victimization has reappeared on both sides of the debate on Syrian refugee resettlement in the US and Europe. Within anti-resettlement circles, the narrative of Muslim women as oppressed victims has been leveraged as a reason to stop their resettlement, because their lifestyles and values are framed as incompatible with liberal, Western societies. Pro-resettlement circles, on the other hand, often position Muslim women’s victimization as a reason to save them by resettling them. In other words, the same cultural essentialism that positions Muslim women as victims has been used to reject and to support Muslim refugee resettlement. Yet the representations of Syrian Muslim women as oppressed victims of Islam exist in stark contrast to the strong, capable, and resilient Syrian women refugees scattered across SWANA, Europe, the US, and elsewhere. Building from postcolonial, feminist literature, in this paper I first focus on the intersections of the gendered orientalism and refugee resettlement discourses, underscoring the commonality of the victim discourse on both sides of the Syrian refugee resettlement debate. I then shift to highlight the disconnect between the victim representation and the life and experiences of Syrian women refugees. This later point draws from my research on Syrian Muslim women refugees in Jordan who have managed seemingly insurmountable obstacles with strength and determination; and they have done so in part through their faith. I situate my discussion of their strength within literature on Islamic feminism and Muslim women’s agency.

Research Papers



How to Cite

Culcasi, K. (2024). Gendered Orientalism and Syrian Women Refugees. Fennia - International Journal of Geography.