Issue 16 – March 2021

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


Humanitarian aid and the challenge of gender-based and sexual violence

By Boris Martin and Jan Verlin - In early 2018, several employees of a British non-governmental organisation (NGO) were accused of sexual abuse in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. What would become known as the “Oxfam scandal” shows that humanitarian aid is not immune to the scourge of gender-based and sexual violence. [Read more]


How the Covid-19 pandemic is increasing the need for an operational approach in health anthropology

By Yannick Jaffré - If there is one lesson to be learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that our health systems, and entire swathes of our scientific knowledge along with them, have been overwhelmed by this eruption of reality. In this article, Yannick Jaffré explains how social sciences researchers and health stakeholders would be well-advised to work together to fill the yawning gaps. In so doing, this contribution heralds our next Focus to be published in July 2021 on the topic of “Research and humanitarian aid: the challenges of a collaboration.” [Read more]


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

By Jan Verlin 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. [Read more]

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

By Segolen Guillaumat 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 more]

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

By Françoise Duroch and Emmanuel Noyer - 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 more]

Confronting sexual violence in Quebec’s international cooperation organisations

By Isabelle Auclair, Jade St-Georges, Stéphanie Maltais, Sophie Brière and Anne Delorme 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 more]

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

By Jean Émile Mba 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 more]

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

By Jasmine-Kim Westendorf 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 more]


The professionalisation of humanitarian action: a work still in progress

By Rory Downham For a long time, the humanitarian sector has claimed its complete “professionalisation”. However, a recent study conducted by Bioforce puts this plaudit into perspective. Rory Downham, who led it, reviews the conclusions of this participatory work which calls into question a few certainties as well as opening up avenues for improvement. [Read more]


Humanitarian work is coming up against a barrier: how can analysis help devise corrective strategies?

By Pierre Micheletti  - Security incidents and the growing difficulties that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are facing to gain acceptance are problems that are both also rooted in the very structure of the international humanitarian system. The author reviews the system’s architecture and challenges the current funding model and the pressures brought about by anti-terrorism legislation. He calls for a reform of the funding system and argues that a debate is needed within French NGOs. [Read more]


Bye bye, Moria?

By ReFOCUS Media Labs In September 2020, Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, Greece, made a brief return to the forefront of the international stage when it was almost completely destroyed in a series of fires. To retrace the months before and after the fire, Humanitarian Alternatives partnered up with the photographers and citizen journalists of ReFOCUS Media Labs, an initiative launched by activists working with asylum seekers. [Read more]


NGOs caught up by #MeToo


An A to Z of project management - Designed with a management approach, this book lists and documents all the phases of the international development and humanitarian project life cycle. The guide’s rigorous approach provides a comprehensive and up-to-date vision of project management concepts, methods and implementation tools, and simultaneously tackles international development and humanitarian work. [Read more]




Climate change as captured in literature - It all starts with a simple question: why is climate change absent from contemporary literature? The climate crisis is a new kind of event and one that is difficult to comprehend because it is incompatible with the narratives and imagination that have shaped our world. [Read more]





When comic books meet sociology - The Sociorama series is where comic books meet sociology. On one side, you have sociologists who happen to love comic books and founded the Socio en cases association; on the other, comic book authors curious about sociology. Together, they came up with an original approach: to produce neither literal adaptation nor anecdote, but fiction based on the reality of the field. [Read more]


Translators :

Gillian Eaton • Sophie Jeangeorges • Juliet Powys • Darin Reisman • Benjamin Richardier • Derek Scoins

Correction of the French version:

Catherine Tranchant

Correction of the English version: :

A.D.T. International

Acknowledgements for their voluntary contribution to this issue:

Brax • Damian Gonzalez Dominguez (CICR/ICRC) • Editions Casterman • Douglas F. Herman • Laethicia Lamotte (HI - Humanité & Inclusion)


In medias res


Imprimerie Brailly – Saint-Genis-Laval

ISSN : 2492-7120