Associate Professor Eileen Pittaway

My Expertise

Refugees, Refugee women & children, Human Rights

Fields of Research (FoR)

Migration, Social Policy, Gender Specific Studies, Social Work

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Eileen Pittaway is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences, working as part of the Forced Migration Research Network.  She was the Director of the UNSW Centre for Refugee Research from 1999 to 2013, and taught in the Master of Social Development and the Bachelor of Social Work. Her main research area is   Refugee Studies, with a focus on the endemic sexual and gender based violence  to which most refugee women and girls...view more

Eileen Pittaway is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences, working as part of the Forced Migration Research Network.  She was the Director of the UNSW Centre for Refugee Research from 1999 to 2013, and taught in the Master of Social Development and the Bachelor of Social Work. Her main research area is   Refugee Studies, with a focus on the endemic sexual and gender based violence  to which most refugee women and girls are subjected,  and supporting the participation of refugee women in decision making in all areas of their lives, from the local, to the United Nations. In the past two decades decade she has conducted research, provided training to refugees, UN and NGO staff in refugee camps and urban setting in 22 countries and acted as technical advisor and evaluated humanitarian and development projects in Kenya, Thailand, Ethiopia, Bougainville, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka Jordan. Colombia, Uganda, Zambia, Finland and Australia. She was also involved in tsunami relief projects in Sri Lanka. This work has been variously funded by UNHCR, UNFPA, UNIFEM, and the Ford Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the Asia Development Bank, the Australian Research Council and public subscriptions. She was a member of the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council from 1998, until 2015.  Since 2017, she has worked with Dr Linda Bartolomei on a major Australian government  (DFAT) funded project in Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia, Refugee Women - Key to the Global Compact on Refugees. During this time she has also worked as a consultant with UNHCR Geneva. 

In 2001 Eileen was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission for her national and international work with Refugee Women and Children. In 2005 she received a NSW Premiers Award for services to Refugee communities in Australia. In 2011, on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day she was named as one of the100 Australian women who have shaped Australia. In  2012 she was made a member of the Order of Australia for her work with refugees.  



Research Areas

  • the relationship between civil society and the UN
  • International protection for refugee and IDP women and girls using participatory research projects with a focus on ‘women at risk’
  • the ethics of research with refugee populations
  • research with male refugees to explore ways in which to develop effective community based measure for the prevention of violence against refugee women and girls
  • the meaning of social inclusion, social citizenship, identity and integration for resettled refugees
  • rights and risk factors for resettled refugee populations
  • recognising and utilising capacity and capabilities in refugee populations

Current Research Projects

Refugee women at risk: protection and integration in Australia
Eileen Pittaway, Richard Hugman and Linda Bartolomei, ARC Linkage Project LP0776591 (2007-2010) Australia is resettling a significant number of refugee women at risk from protracted refugee situations. Without an adequate body of theory to inform policy and service provision, service providers are struggling to cope with the additional needs of this group. Through consultations with refugee women and service providers, this research explored the experiences of refugee women at risk resettled to Australia, identified potential risk factors which may affect their ability to integrate successfully and developed a risk assessment and response tool to complement settlement service provision. The research will inform policy and service provision and contribute to a theoretical framework which will guide the process of refugee resettlement.

Building on strength to combat violence: Community based approaches to working with refugee families who are experiencing family, domestic violence and child protection problems
Eileen Pittaway and Linda Bartolomei, Australian National Committee on Refugee Women/Research Grant  This project involves working with refugee communities across Australia to determine how they perceive the problems which they are experiencing and solutions which they suggest.  Models of service response are then developed and trailed with the communities.  AMES Victoria and Relationships Australia NSW are also partners in this project.

Beyond resettlement to sustainable solutions. Improving the protection of refugee women and girls at risk and other vulnerable groups– Trialling community involvement in the expanded use of the UNHCR Heightened Risk Assessment Tool - Jordan
Eileen Pittaway and Linda Bartolomei, Department of Immigration and Citizenship/Displaced Persons Program research grant. This project will develop and trial an innovative community based response to the protection of women and girls at risk. What is unique about the model is that it will draw on the knowledge, skills and capacity of the refugee population to enable them to them to plan and provide services for their own community. It will also evaluate the usefulness of the Heightened Risk Identification Tool in responding to the needs of vulnerable refugees.  It will be developed and implemented in partnership with The Community Development, Gender Equality and Children’s Services Section (CDGECS) and UNHCR Amman.  The project is based on the principles of human rights, community development and has a focus on livelihoods and sustainable outcomes. Jordan is the UNHCR preferred site for this trial. The model developed will include guidance notes and training materials so that it can be replicated in other refugee sites.

Survivors, Protectors Providers, Dialogues with Refugee and IDP Women and girls in 7 countries
As part of the UNHCR Commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the refugee convention, CRR has been commissioned by UNHCR Geneva to conduct consultations with Refugee and  IDP women and girls in India, Jordan, Colombia, Zambia, Uganda, Thailand and Finland, to determine their protection needs.  These will inform the pledges which the High Commissioner has asked governments to make at the High Level Ministerial meeting in December.  Eileen Pittaway and Linda Bartolomei will be working with refugee women to make presentations at UN meetings in June and December 2011 on this project. The results will inform a Book, “The Global Situation of Refugee Women and Girls”.

An evaluation of community detention on unaccompanied minors in Australia
Funded by DIAC and undertaken under the direction of the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) UNSW. Working with SPRC, Eileen will supervise the CRR team who will undertake the qualitative aspects of this project working with the DIAC client groups to evaluate the benefits of community based detention as an alternative to staying in detention centres.

An International Conference to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Refugee Convention
In June 2011 Eileen will host a large international conference, co-sponsored by UNHCR and the Refugee Council of Australia, DIAC and a number of other community based organisation.  This follows a very successful 50th anniversary conference also held at UNSW in 2001.  The outcomes of the conference will be taken directly to as series of UNHCR meeting in Geneva.  Interns from the Master of Social development and the Bachelor of Social Work will assist with the conference and attend the meetings in Geneva.

Postgraduate Research Supervision

Areas of Supervision
Refugees, refugee policy, violence against women, United Nations, human rights, community development, civil society and the UN

Recent Postgraduate Research Completions    

  • Chrisanta Kanini Muli, PhD Social Work, 2009, Poverty, gender & community development: The lived experiences of slum-dwelling women in Nairobi
  • Charlotte Smedley, PhD Social Work, 2009, Enduring social representations of disability
  • Linda Albina Bartolomei, PhD Social Work, 2010, Struggling against the silences: Exploring rights based responses to the rape and sexual abuse of refugee women and girls

Current Postgraduate Research Supervision   

  • Rebecca Eckert, PhD Social Work, Private actors and Australian climate policy
  • Anna Ginty, PhD Politics & International Relations, The maladapted migrant': Climate change adaptation and migration
  • Diane Gosden, PhD Social Work, Australian asylum seeker and refugee policy: A contested area
  • Aileen Crowe, PhD Social Work, Social exclusion and social isolation of refugees in Australia


Teaching areas
Co-ordination and teaching in the Master Programs of International Social Development, and Refugees and Forced Migration. Her specialities are the Politics of International aid and the relationship between civil society and the United Nations. Eileen also co-convenes the CRR Internship program which takes students from across the University and visiting scholars on supervised field trips to United Nations meetings in New York and Geneva, International Conferences, and to work on projects in refugee camps and sites in several countries.

Current teaching
SOCW4006 Social Policy 2
SOCF5107 Professional Practice Project
SOCW7852 Politics of International Aid
SOCW7885 Social Development Internship

Affiliation and Memberships

Current affiliation and memberships

  • Director, Centre for Refugee Research at UNSW
  • Life member, Management Committee, Asia Pacific Women's Watch (APWW), a major Regional Women’s Non Government Organisation
  • Council Member, Asian Women's Human Rights Council
  • Chairperson,  ANCORW Co-operative
  • Member, Australian Refugee Rights Alliance

Past affiliation and memberships 

  • United Nations Non Governmental Committee (CONGO) International Committee to organise the special sitting of the UN General Assembly, June 2000
  • Chair, National Feasibility Study into a Peak Body for Women's Organisations for Dr Carmen Lawrence, then Minister for Health and for Women’s Affairs
  • New Visions Forum, Evatt Foundation, Labour party think tank
  • Bureau of Immigration and Population Research NSW Reference Group
  • Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Multicultural Access Unit Advisory Committee
  • Refugee Advice and Casework Management Committee
  • Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) Women in Development Committee
  • NSW Grant In Aid Co-operative Board
  • Australian Migrant Education Services (AMES) Women's Task Force
  • Australian Commonwealth Government Refugee Resettlement Working group

Other Information

Eileen’s human rights and advocacy related research and activities include:

  1. Member of the twelve person Asian Women’s Human Rights Council since 1993  with accreditation to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). Activities undertaken in this role include:
    • Attending meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women and UNHCR Pre Excom and Excom meetings.
    • Convening 3 Human Rights Tribunals in Australia, and assisting in 5 others in Asia and Africa.
    • Taking an active role in the entire “Beijing” (UN Fourth World Conference on Women) process she worked with the refugee caucus throughout the process and we were successful in introducing several paragraphs of language addressing rape in conflict situations into the Beijing Platform for Action.
    • Attending occasional meetings of the Gender Caucus for the International Criminal Court
    • Member of the CONGO advisory committee which took an active role in organising NGO input into the special sitting of the General Assembly to evaluate the Beijing Platform for Action.
    • Attending the 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the ten year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, again advocating for the rights of refugee women. At this meeting, the focus of our work was recognition and implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325, which focuses on gender issues in situations of conflict and post conflict and the inclusion of women in all stages of peace building and decision making
  2. Editor, the Australian Journal of Human Rights since 2002
  3. Co-chair, Asia Pacific Women’s Watch for 7 years. She is now an honorary life member. Activities include:
    • Monitoring of the Beijing Process and associated Human Rights instruments, such as CEDAW, and outcomes of international meetings such as the World Conference against Racism.
    • Development of a successful training package for lobbying at the United Nations for the non government sector which has been delivered on over 30 occasions in various venues in Australia, Asia, South Africa and New York. This work has been funded by bodies such as UNIFEM, the Ford Foundation, the Japan Foundation, and the Asia Development bank.
  4. Called to participate as an “Expert’ at United Nations meetings a number of times, and have been commissioned to give papers at three of these –on refugee women in 1991, including Monitoring and Modalities for the Evaluation of Commitments made by Asia Pacific Governments to implement the Beijing Platform for Action 1996 and on Refugee Protection in 2008
  5. Outcomes of her work with Linda Bartolomei for the project ‘Women at Risk in camps’ in Kenya and on the Thai Burma Border have been the generation of New International Law on the Protection of refugee women and girls, situational analysis and risk assessment tools. This includes the identification of compounded risk factors, and protection responses for women who have experienced multiple incidences of sexual and domestic violence in refugee situation, and who are in danger of further abuse.

They were called to use these tools in Sri Lanka, following the 2004 tsunami, when a high incidence of rape and sexual violence occurred in IDP camps and temporary shelters. Eileen continued to work with the Women’s groups in Sri Lanka, with UNFPA and with the Sri Lankan government to develop a policy response to this issue and implement a gendered response in disaster situations until mid 2006. Clear parallels can be drawn between the experience of women in post disaster and women in post conflict situations and refugee camps.

6. Based on this experience, working with supportive governments in New York at the CSW meeting, they were able to draft and introduce a resolution addressing gender issues in the tsunami, ECOSOC Resolution number E/CN.6/2005/L.6 March 2005. It was adopted by consensus by all government.

7. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 human rights documentation training, advocacy training and technical assistance was provided to the Women’s League of Burma. This has assisted them to produce two book, Shattering Silences, and Systems of Impunity, and a number of published advocacy documents (See ). Eileen also assisted them to present their issues at the United Nations Economic and Social Council of the Asia Pacific, September 2004, and at the 49th sitting of Commission for the Status of Women, 2005.


My Qualifications

Phd (Refugee Policy and Management), MBA (Social Policy and Administration), Grad. Dip. Social Administration, Grad. Dip. Education Studies, Dip. Social Welfare.

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