Next Meeting: Thinking Beyond ‘Refugee Women and Children’: Syrian Men and the Humanitarian Response to the Refugee Crisis in Jordan – 21st November, 4pm, HumSS280

Hello everybody!

Thanks again for filling the room this week at Lubna’s talk. We’re back again on Monday with a very topical paper indeed. Lewis Turner is coming down to Reading, from the uni of SOAS in London to talk to us about his research. The meeting is back in the usual room – HumSS280 – at 4pm. We look forward to seeing you all there! Keep following us on twitter for reminders. The talks are coming thick and fast until the end of the term so our sessions are now weekly until the 5th December.

Here is Lewis’ abstract:

Thinking Beyond ‘Refugee Women and Children’: Syrian Men and the Humanitarian Response to the Refugee Crisis in Jordan

Humanitarian actors in Jordan, operating in a politically sensitive context with limited resources, justify their priorities and resource allocation through the prism of ‘helping the most vulnerable.’ Overwhelmingly, ‘the most vulnerable’ are understood to be refugee women and children. This gendered notion of vulnerability is considered so axiomatic that it is rarely deemed to require justification, reflecting the contemporary era in which the imagined figure of the ‘authentic’ refugee has become increasing feminized (Johnson, 2011).

Building on work that recognises the centrality of ‘womenandchildren’ to prevailing understandings of war and its consequences (see Enloe, 1993) this paper explores how the humanitarian response to the Syria refugee crisis in Jordan relates to Syrian men, and the place that adult male refugees occupy in the humanitarian imaginary. Based on 12 months of fieldwork in Jordan, it argues that in many sectors, for example psychosocial support, adult male refugees are typically not considered a relevant demographic of potential ‘beneficiaries’. Where field staff attempt to advocate for men’s inclusion, their requests are often met with reluctance, refusal, or even hostility from superiors and donor organizations. The centrality of ‘womenandchildren’ to the humanitarian response is understood to be justified by culturalist perceptions of ‘Arab men’, which depict them as un-interested in humanitarian activities, un-willing to engage in ‘emotional’ discussions, and too difficult to work with. These attitudes obscure the specific, and often gendered, vulnerabilities and insecurities that adult male refugees experience in Jordan.

This analysis also demonstrates the role that gender plays in creating the power hierarchies that underlie and sustain humanitarianism. Humanitarian charity is not an interaction between equals expressing solidarity, but a power hierarchy that requires a ‘victim’. Gender plays a key role in creating and sustaining this hierarchy, and in determining who constitutes a victim and a beneficiary.

References Cited:

Enloe, C. (1993) The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War (Berkeley: University of California Press)

Johnson, H. (2011) ‘Click to donate: visual images, constructing victims and imagining the female refugee’ Third World Quarterly, 32(6), pp. 1015-1037


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