ISS wins award for research on transactional sex as livelihood strategy in crisis situations

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The award has been granted by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) to Professor Thea Hilhorst, Dr Karin Astrid Siegmann and Dr Silke Heumann for their proposal 'Understanding transactional sex in situations of humanitarian crises and reforming institutional responses'.

The project has been awarded Euro 750,000 funding by NWO Open Competition SSH.

The four-year project will focus on the role of transactional sex in livelihood strategies in humanitarian crises. Transactional sex is widely prevalent in contexts of conflict and disaster. It can help people survive or improve their situation but is also a precarious and risky strategy shaped by unequal power relations. Our understanding of this practice is hampered by biases and taboos that may (re)produce or even aggravate structural violence against the people involved

Why do people engage in transactional sex and what are the consequences?

The research seeks to understand why and how people engage in this and what consequences this has. It will also redress biases in humanitarian services and protection policies for vulnerable people.

The research will be grounded in comparative country-based studies performed by national collaborators including Marie Rose Bashwira (Democratic Republic of Congo), Saba Gul Khattak (Pakistan) and MarĂ­a Fernanda Olarte-Sierra (Colombia), with expertise in humanitarian systems and responses contributed by Clea Kahn.

Central to its methodology will be a Participatory Ethnographic Evaluation and Research (PEER) approach that involves people engaged in transactional sex as co-researchers, a methodology that 'could serve as an example for the field', according to the NWO assessment report.

The project includes a vacant position for a PhD study for which recruitment is in preparation.

Expected findings

The selection committee expects that findings will be relevant for various fields such as humanitarian studies, international security and gender studies.

In its assessment, NWO highlights its appreciation for the fact that 'the project goes beyond current binaries often used in studies of sexual economies, which increases the likelihood that findings could alter policy and improve academic literature.'


For more information, please contact Thea Hilhorst, Karin Astrid Siegmann or Silke Heumann

Associate professor
Assistant professor
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About NWO Open Competition SSH

NWO Open Competition SSH aims to facilitate excellent, non-programmed, curiosity-driven research that primarily addresses a social sciences or humanities research question and research problem. It offers senior researchers the opportunity to carry out research into a subject of their own choosing without any thematic constraints.

For more information, visit the NWO Open Competition SSH page

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