Sandra Iman Pertek

The role of religion in forced migrant experiences of sexual and gender-based violence

Supervisors: Jenny Phillimore and Lisa Goodson

Sandra’s PhD research project explores the experiences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) at the intersection of religion and displacement by examining the influences of religion on the SGBV experiences of forced migrant women fleeing war-torn countries and poverty. Evidence suggests that religion travels with forced migrants at every stage of their journeys and SGBV survivors deploy inherent coping mechanisms to make sense of their experiences. Yet, little is known about refugee SGBV survivors' religious and spiritual dimension of their experiences, including the intersection of religion with other factors in shaping vulnerability to violence, as well as the association of religion with resilience in coping with, and healing from, complex trauma. Also, little is known about whether the religious processes accompanying SGBV survivors are accounted for by service providers, for instance in their psychosocial programmes in humanitarian contexts.

Exploring the nexus between SGBV, religion and displacement is vital, not only to understand better forced migrants' multiple experiences of violence and their needs but to recognise and build upon their inner capacities and resources that support their resilience and recovery, and where possible mitigate the adverse effects of negative religious coping. A deeper understanding of the role of religion in forced migrant SGBV experiences has a potential to support the development of responses that would better meet survivors' needs, especially by recognising, and adequately responding to, the sources of exploitative relationships. This research project aims to sensitise the humanitarian community about the role of religion, faith and spirituality in survivors' experiences and encourage the integration of intersectional analysis of vulnerability and resilience, inclusive of religious factors, into their SGBV interventions.

Through social constructivist and intersectional approach, Sandra draws upon mixed research methods, primarily qualitative and secondarily quantitative tools and data collected in Turkey and Tunisia with forced migrant survivors and service providers. She examines the role of religion in shaping forced migrant survivors’ vulnerability and resilience and how service providers account for the role of religion in their interventions to support survivors.  


  • MSc Social Development Practice, Specialisation: Gender in Policy and Planning, University College London, Development Planning Unit
  • BA Interdisciplinary European Studies, University of Warsaw, The Centre for Europe
  • NVQ level 2 in Counselling Skills, Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body, Institute of Islamic Counselling, London, UK

Research Interests

  • Forced migration, SGBV and religion
  • The development, migration, and humanitarian nexus
  • Gender and development, intersectionality and social justice
  • Protection, mental health and psychosocial support
  • Religion and development


Sandra Pertek is gender and social development practitioner with over 10 years of experience across settings and regions. She is currently a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Birmingham and part of a research initiative - SEREDA (sexual and gender-based violence in the refugee crisis: from displacement to arrival). She worked on several research projects, recently leading the Forced Migration, SGBV and COVID-19 study. She consulted governmental and non-governmental organizations including Home Office UK, GIZ and Islamic Development Bank, and previously served as Senior Policy Adviser on Gender at Islamic Relief Worldwide, where she spearheaded a gender mainstreaming strategy into policy and international aid programmes. She holds an MSc in Social Development Practice from University College London and a BA in European Studies from the University of Warsaw.

Teaching responsibilities

  • Forced Migration and Religion, Migration; Superdiversity, Policy and Practice Module
  • SGBV in Conflict; Gender, World Politics Module
  • Gender Mainstreaming in Humanitarian Action; Sex, death and (in)security module

Professional memberships

  • GBV Area of Responsibility (UN Protection Cluster)
  • Gender and Development Network UK
  • Joint Learning Initiatives on Faith and Local Communities    

Conference papers

  • Faith and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS): Integration and Implications for Humanitarian Action”, June 2020, Queens Margaret University, Institute for Global Health and Development, Psychosocial Wellbeing, Integration and Protection Cluster
  • Engaging with faith perspectives on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), toward a faith inclusive approach in programming”, June 2020, University of Birmingham, Development Studies Association conference
  • Religion, resilience and trauma in the experiences of sexual exploitation across the refugee and migrant journeys”, January 2020, University of Sheffield, national anti-trafficking organisations, faith actors and University consortia
  • Faith in refugee & migrant women’s experiences of sexual exploitation”, December 2019, Brussels, Five Years After the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against “Modern Slavery”, European Parliament, EPP group, S&D group, COMECE and Don Bosco International.
  • Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum, Cape Town, South Africa, 2019, presenting my preliminary research findings (Do you have faith? Religion in experiences of intersectional violence against refugee and migrant women)
  • PGR Annual Conference, Fresh perspectives in Social Research, 2019, presented preliminary research findings (Religionin SGBV experiences of refugees; gaps and challenges)
  • Annual Conference of International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM), Greece, July 2018, presented SEREDA’s working paper.


Blog posts

Book chapters

  • Pertek, S. (forthcoming) “Deconstructing Islamic perspectives on sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), toward a faith inclusive approach” in Khan, I. & Cheema, A. (forthcoming) Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities. Practical Action Publishing.
  • Pertek, S.I., Almugahed, N. and Fida, N. (2020) Integrating gender-based violence and child protection, an exploration of Islamic Relief’s approaches in Kraft, K. and Wilkinson, O.J. (2020) International Development and Local Faith Actors: Ideological and Cultural Encounters. Routledge.


  • Phillimore, J., Pertek S.I., Alidou, L. (2019) Sexual and gender-based violence and social justice: parity of participation for forced migrant survivors in the UK? July 2019 Siirtolaisuus / Siirtolaisuusinstituutti (Finnish Journal of Institute of Migration)


Contact details

Twitter: @sandrapertek