Over the past ten years, many individuals and institutions providing humanitarian assistance to refugees have asserted a commitment to increasing the participatory input of refugees, especially women. Refugee research has also begun to stress the practical need for greater refugee input. Also, while still a minor element in refugee studies, inquiry concerning refugee women is on the upswing. However, the uncritical acceptance of liberal participatory democratic ideology presently impedes the drive to increase effective refugee participation, especially on the part of women. It also places an unrealistically narrow and biased constraint on the analysis of women and gender structures in refugee studies. A feminist analysis of liberal democratic philosophy and practice is outlined, and is exemplified by a Canadian instance of representative ethnic rights advocacy. These have a number of implications for how both refugee studies and humanitarian assistance address issues of women, gender and participation, which are outlined in conclusion.