Category Archives: Gender-based and sexual violence: the current state of the humanitarian sector

“Do no harm”: the challenge of transactional sex in humanitarian operations

J.-K. Westendorf

Jasmine-Kim Westendorf Senior Lecturer in International Relations at La Trobe University (Australia)

Based on testimonies gathered in different theatres of humanitarian operations, Jasmine-Kim Westendorf analyses the political, as well as the concrete, conditions that facilitate abuses. The author focuses on “transactional sex”, which is particularly complex to combat as it is so ingrained in the power imbalance between humanitarians and beneficiaries. Read the article

Sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian organisations in Cameroon: methods for identification and logics of obstruction

J. É. Mba

Jean Émile Mba Doctoral student in political science at the University of Ngaoundéré (Cameroon)

Staff turnover, breaches of confidentiality within the organisations responsible for gathering complaints and attempts at a cover-up by refugee-camp authorities all reflect the difficulty of implementing measures against sexual abuse in fragile contexts. This is the case in Cameroon where Jean Émile Mba takes us to learn about the valiant efforts but also limitations of the methods put in place to combat abuse by humanitarian workers. Read the article

Confronting sexual violence in Quebec’s international cooperation organisations

I. Auclair


J. St-Georges


S. Maltais


S. Brière


A. Delorme

Isabelle Auclair, Jade St-Georges, Stéphanie Maltais and Sophie Brière Université Laval (Québec)

Anne Delorme Fund Director for the Act Together for Inclusion Fund at the NGO Equitas (Canada)

How do Quebec’s international cooperation organisations (ICOs) deal with gender-based and sexual violence? Basing their reasoning on a survey carried out in 2018 among forty of these ICOs, the five authors believe that the scope and ultimately the incentive value of the measures put in place are more than variable. Read the article

Sexual abuse perpetrated by humanitarian workers: from moral relativism to competitive victimhood

F. Duroch


E. Noyer

Françoise Duroch Humanitarian Issues and Practices Research Unit, Médecins Sans Frontières, Geneva Operations Centre (Switzerland)

Emmanuel Noyer Abuse and Behavior Unit, Médecins Sans Frontières, Geneva Operations Centre (Switzerland)

Drawing on the example of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Françoise Duroch and Emmanuel Noyer review the measures taken by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) to combat sexual violence. The authors show the moral relativism that runs through humanitarian organisations concerned with preserving their public image. Admittedly, the latter are increasingly aware of their obligation to monitor the behaviour of their employees, but the systems need to tackle inequalities, especially gender-based ones. For the authors, NGOs will only achieve this by integrating intersectional approaches. Read the article

Reflections on patriarchy and the fight against gender-based and sexual violence in the humanitarian sector

S. Guillaumat

Segolen Guillaumat Teacher-researcher at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership (CHL)/Deakin University (Australia)

If the humanitarian sector is not immune to gender-based and sexual violence, it is because it is subject to patriarchal male-female dynamics, as are so many other sectors of society. Some of its specific characteristics can facilitate violence against vulnerable populations whilst others allow it to “immunise” itself against their complaints. To counter the patriarchy’s grip within the humanitarian sector, the author advocates for it to take a “dominant position” on the subject and urge free speech, taking into account the local context in which this violence is anchored. Read the article

How to better understand the management of sexist and sexual violence committed by humanitarian aid workers

J. Verlin

Jan Verlin Postdoctoral researcher at the Research Chair in the Geopolitics of Risk at the École normale supérieure

To introduce this Focus, its joint editor Jan Verlin presents a non-exhaustive review of the academic literature devoted to the theme of gender-based and sexual violence in humanitarian work. The first observation is that while the subject has eluded practitioners in the humanitarian sector for too long, it is also almost absent from “humanitarian studies”. The author therefore proposes an analytical framework that makes possible to understand how organisations implement systems to combat this violence. While it offers to take stock of the potential of the reforms proposed by these organisations, it also highlights their limitations.

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