Firstly, a large thank you for Lewis Turner for coming to Reading from SOAS to give us a very insightful and topical paper. Secondly, thanks again to everyone who attended – wonderful to meet new members and see our regulars again. It is very difficult to sum up, in a short blog piece, all of the nuances of Lewis’ talk but one will do one’s best!
Lewis’ paper was based on his field work in Jordan where he interviewed both workers in the humanitarian sector and refugees. Many of these interviewees welcomed his interest in the way in which male refugees are viewed by the humanitarian sector since it is rare that anyone takes any notice of them apart from in the cases of research into preventing sexual violence. Lewis even gave an example of a photographer he met who did not bother to photograph men because he knew only photos of women and children refugees would be printed.
Lewis explained that women and children refugees receive the majority of funds and care by NGOs because it is a widely held belief that they are more vulnerable than men. Lewis outlined that the Humanitarian sector falsely assumes that female-headed households are more vulnerable than male-headed households. He said that, in fact, data actually prove the opposite by demonstrating that the latter are slightly more likely to be living in poverty. Lewis underscored the importance of challenging these assumptions so that vulnerable men also receive much needed help. He proposed that the assessment of a refugee’s vulnerability should not be allocated based on gender but on the refugee’s circumstances. For example, he explained that refugee men in Jordan are often vulnerable to police harassment and to being forcibly encamped. He added that Syrian men he interviewed confirmed that the humanitarian sector took little interest in them and that Syrian women are encouraged to play the victim in order to receive help. He gave an example of a psycho-social support centre he visited in North Jordan in which 17 female and one male councilor worked: the male councilor, of course, was booked for weeks on end. This striking example clearly illustrates that this balance needs to be addressed!
In the Q and A session there were many poignant questions for Lewis. He was asked what the genesis of the problem is – is the West to blame for this gendered understanding of vulnerability? He argued that the West was indeed partly responsible but that Syrian men also held parallel views that women are far more vulnerable than them. He continued to discuss the lack of intersectionality through which the refugee crisis is viewed. Another attendee asked about the realities of his research and we closed with a question on his recommendations. Lewis recommended an on the ground investigation into the vulnerability of refugees and a subsequent change in vulnerability criteria.
We look forward to welcoming you back next week for our talk by Estella Liang on translating sexuality in Chinese subtitles in Bridget Jones’s Diary. We’re looking forward to seeing how the words of the much loved character of Bridget Jones are conveyed in Chinese. See you next week, 4pm, HumSS280.
Report by Maria Tomlinson