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From Awareness to Action: World Heritage in Young Hands

At a workshop in Bulange, Uganda, held in August 2021 the focus was on how to engage youth in protecting, preserving, and promoting World Heritage. The goal was to sensitise youth about heritage through learning from past legacies, understanding what elders live with today, and what they will pass on to the future generations. With a focus on the UNESCO World Heritage Kasubi Tombs site (No.1022), this workshop was important because cultural and natural heritage are both invaluable sources for life and inspiration, that require actionable innovations to transmit heritage knowledge, create heritage-related employment, and preserve the moral development of societies, while promoting young people’s cultural and intellectual development in a globalised world. In this blog, I make the case for increasing grassroots funding for youth-led activities to protect and preserve heritage, as well as to integrate information computing technology (ICT) to help disseminate heritage knowledge globally in a variety of digital formats.

Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (Uganda) © UNESCO

What is World Heritage?

World heritage includes places as diverse and unique as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Grand Canyon in the USA, or the Kasubi Tombs in Uganda.[i] They are designated as places that are of outstanding universal value to humanity, and as such have been inscribed in the World Heritage List. Nevertheless, these sites face major problems, such as pollution, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, poaching, armed conflict and war, uncontrolled urbanisation, and unchecked tourist development. Young people, as the future generation, still lack knowledge to contribute to the sustainability of heritage in all forms. But they are the ones who can innovate, through local activities, that can offer potential solutions to protect, preserve, and promote Heritage around them. Moreover, they are also skilled at using new digital communications tools, which, if used effectively, can help in implementing concrete solutions to protect these sites.

As a UNESCO initiative, developed in 1998, the World Heritage in Young Hands Educational Resource Kit, for secondary school teachers, advances heritage sensitisation in schools as one approach towards raising awareness among youth.[ii] This has contributed to the transnational conception of heritage protection, preservation, and promotion. While providing a global tool for schools, those not enrolled are, however, excluded from various forms of engagement in preserving local, national, and world heritage. It is important to equally involve out-of-school youth in the protection of our common cultural as well as natural heritage through increasing youth-led initiatives to protect, preserve, and promote heritage.

Varying Forms of World Heritages

The UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of the World cultural and Natural Heritage[iii], describes heritage in varying forms – the cultural and natural heritage. These two, furthermore vary in the forms of tangible and intangible aspects. Tangible cultural heritage is movable and immovable. Immovables include archaeological sites, architectural works, historical centres, monuments, cultural landscapes, historical parks, and botanical gardens as well as sites of industrial archaeology. Movable tangible heritage on the other hand, includes museum collections, libraries, and archives. Examples of intangible cultural heritage include music, dance, literature, theatre, oral traditions, traditional performances, social practices, traditional know-how, crafts, cultural spaces, and religious ceremonies and for natural heritage. Examples of tangible and immovable heritage are natural and maritime parks of ecological interests, geological and physical formations, and landscapes of outstanding natural beauty.

Protect, Preserve, and Promote

In a UNESCO-funded workshop on “Empowering Ugandan Youth through Culture and Heritage” held in Bulange, Uganda, in August 2021, 35 cultural leaders discussed the role of youth in protecting, conserving, and promoting the Kasubi Tombs built in 1882 (UNESCO’s World Heritage Site No. 1022). Utilising the World Heritage in Young Hands Educational Resource Kit, they concluded that:

  • There is a risk that future generations no longer know much about cultural heritage preservation. If youth are not actively engaged in protecting and promoting heritage sites, they will sooner or later be littered with hotels, stadiums, and arcades that exploit the touristic potential of cultural sites.
  • We need to preserve heritage sites as an expression of humanistic values that ancestors created with the intention of telescoping them to the future, allowing generations to interpret their symbolic meaning, and investigate past customs of human interaction globally.
  • Heritage may not immediately appeal to younger generations. Still, knowledge gaps ought to be addressed, and misconceptions dispelled as an inclusive transition to promote an authentic heritage value system among youth.

The Youth Have Their Say

Workshop participants suggested that a regional transnational governance framework under UNESCO be supported, one that would be designed to promote a grassroots-based system driven by all categories of young people to enable them to act beyond awareness in support of promoting heritage. There could be a potential intra-regional role for the African Union in such an initiative.

While alternatives for young people to protect, preserve, and promote tangible heritage sites were made by speakers, it was also suggested that outreach initiatives such as using cartoons to mobilise youngsters in support of World Heritage protection and promotion be used. In addition, it was proposed that families engage young people in extra-curricular events such as excursions to nearby heritage places of interest, youth camps, cultural festivals, and exhibitions, as well as participate in role play activities to recreate traditional social events, such as processions, ceremonies, youth camps and festivals, using tradition to enable, integrate, and promote youth development for continued World Heritage preservation for future generations.

The way forward

Participants recommended various ways to move from sensitisation to action to protect, preserve, and promote world heritage from the perspective of youth engagement. Firstly, nation states should give responsibility for overseeing the security needs of cultural sites to youth through integrating them more into heritage management. While teaching based on the World Heritage kit by practitioners should include more about the provision of security as an essential factor for youth to innovate in relation to heritage related projects, global leaders should also ensure adequate budgets for heritage funds for youth to tap into and protect world heritage.

Moreover, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre should support custodians of heritage sites in transforming the intangible value of heritage sites into written descriptions. In addition, youth learning centres, or interpretive centres, should be constructed by nation states at bigger sites to facilitate the preservation of heritage. Lastly, there is an urgent need for better use of ICT and social media by Ministries of Culture among member states of UNESCO. This will facilitate the digitalisation of knowledge dissemination on heritage across the world, along with inviting youth to engage in diverse and creative ways for promotion, protection, and preservation of world heritage for the future generations.


[i] Definition of World Heritage by UNESCO. (see  retrieved on 11 November 2021)

[ii] UNESCO, World Heritage in Young Hands Educational Resource Kit for secondary school teachers (1998). The resource kit complement other initiatives including World Heritage Youth Forums, World Heritage Adventures cartoon series, Training seminars for educators on the use of the resource Kit, On-site skills-development courses for young people, workshops & conferences, and the World Heritage Volunteers initiative.

[iii] Varying Forms of Heritage are described in the UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of the World cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) see Retrieved on 06/12.2021


Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Umar Kabanda holds a PhD and a master’s degree in Governance and Regional Integration, as well as a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Currently he is the Managing Director of Kalube consults limited and a Policy leader Fellow with the School of Transnational Governance in the European University Institute in Italy.  

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Rethinking Transactional Sex in Humanitarian Settings: Reflections for the way forward

Transactional Sex (TS) is often used as an umbrella term to encompass a wide range of practices ranging from sex work to sexual exploitation and abuse. TS is typically framed in humanitarian settings through reductive lenses that portray the person engaged in them as without agency, forced into “negative coping strategies” by a larger crisis. Academics and practitioners have challenged these dominant framings in the Transactional Sex in Humanitarian Contexts panel as part of the 6th International Humanitarian Studies Conference. The presentations highlighted both the complexity and the nuanced nature of TS in different contexts, and common trends spanning a broad spectrum of humanitarian and displacement settings, including Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), France, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, and Turkey. The panel offered a reflection of the ideologies and frameworks implicit in humanitarian operations, which can blind us to the diverse needs and strategies of those engaged in transactional sex.

Transactional sex in humanitarian contexts: contemporary paradigms and interpretations

Transactional sex is the exchange of sex for cash, goods, services, commodities, or privileges. It is often framed by humanitarians as a form of violence in and of itself. Characterised by victim/saviour relationships and rescue narratives, these problematic and essentialising representations can have real world implications on policy and programming, along with unintended, often negative impacts on the lives of those engaged in them. To further complicate matters, there is a lack of conceptual clarity, and standardised and consistent use of terminology, such that what many describe as “transactional sex” is commonly conflated and used interchangeably with survival sex, sexual exploitation and abuse, sex work or sex trafficking.

Transactional sexual relationships exist on a spectrum encompassing various states of consent, power, emotional attachment, economic compensation, and social acceptability. All panelists highlighted that the lived experiences of those engaged in transactional sex do not align well with these monolithic representations, and are rather shaped by numerous structural factors, relating to historical pathways of patriarchy, conflict conditions, and other social, economic, and individual factors that often intersect with intimate consensual relationships. There is growing recognition that interpretations of transactional sexual relationships are culturally determined and constructed, and that this work involves complex negotiation of strategies of agency. Transactional sex occurs against a backdrop of gendered social norms, which are constantly shifting, and may vary between and within countries and communities.

Limitations and challenges of the current discourse

This is not to say that transactional sex is necessarily a safe or desirable livelihood strategy. Transactional sexual relationships are shaped by various structural drivers and conditions that are often created by migration, and aid policies and politics, among other inherent power disparities that entail risks of gender-based violence, and negative impacts on sexual and reproductive health. However, it is crucial to recognise that individuals weigh such risks in relation to their own lives and define what safety and protection means for them. This is further shaped by other factors relating to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, social and cultural factors, and disability, for example. Research and empirical insights from practitioners are increasingly challenging the erasures of non-heteronormative experiences of transactional sex and calling for more intersectional approaches in research and programming.

People engaging in transactional sex and civil society groups, including human rights defenders, health advocates, sex worker-led organisations, NGOs, and grassroots movements, have already provided rich empirical insights and recommendations across a wide-range contexts, which, however, have not been taken up meaningfully by the humanitarian community. For example, in the post-panel Q&A it was highlighted how the Women´s Refugee Commission (WRC) Working with Refugees Engaged in Sex Work: A Guidance Note for Humanitarians, issued in 2016, might have been overshadowed by the #Aidtoo movement in 2017, and how a moral panic seldom allows for nuance and complexity. Moreover, we may also need to recognise that not all those who engage in TS identify as sex workers, and humanitarian actors do not necessarily see TS as sex work, which may be why such guidance can be interpreted very narrowly.  More recently, UNHCR and UNFPA launched the operational guideline Responding to the health and protection needs of people selling or exchanging sex in humanitarian settings  (2021) which will hopefully provide a clearer framework going forward in this regard.

The way forward: Rethinking transactional sex policy and programmes.

It is crucial to examine whose knowledge, voice, and power drives policy – or lack of it – on issues around TS, and how people engaged in TS in humanitarian settings, including migrants and refugees, become problematised, supported, and intervened upon by institutions based on vulnerabilities associated with and/or biases regarding gender, sexual behaviour and orientation. It is worth reflecting on why some experiences are omitted or marginalised, and how conditions of vulnerabilities are created by these very same institutions.

Transactional sex will continue to be a coping strategy for many individuals who make complex decisions and tradeoffs in humanitarian and displacement settings. Sometimes it may be the least risky option compared to the available alternatives. Bringing in the perspectives from and lived experiences of people engaging in transactional sex offers a crucial step in understanding their lives, decision-making process, desires, needs, or wants, and understanding. This includes, for example, the structural conditions and policies imposed by governments and humanitarian institutions that drive people into this practice, as well as considerations about whether they want to continue to engage in transactional sex safely or find other strategies. Ensuring sustainable and inclusive programming, and refraining from causing harm by perpetuating stigma and exclusion, centres on this more holistic reimagining of the issue of transactional sex as a complex social phenomenon.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Clea Kahn has nearly 25 years of experience in the humanitarian sector in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. She holds an LL.M. in international human rights law, an MSc in psychology, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in counselling psychology. Clea focuses on protection of civilians, gender-based violence and migration/refugee issues, and is a member of the ListenH project: Livelihoods and transactional sex in Humanitarian Crises. She can be contacted at

Michelle Alm Engvall is a cultural anthropologist with a specialty in sex work and humanitarian action. Her research focuses on how framed understandings of transactional sex influence policy and programming and how this can lead to unintended consequences for affected populations. She can be contacted at

Shirin Heidari is a senior researcher at the Global Health Centre, and research affiliate at the Gender Centre, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. She is the principal investigator of a multi-country multi-disciplinary research on transactional sex and health repercussions in forced displacement. She can be contacted at:

Megan Denise Smith is a humanitarian worker and gender-based violence specialist with ten years of experience working with migrants and refugees in Bangladesh, Egypt, Lebanon, Rwanda, and the UK. She is currently based in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) where she has managed IOM´s GBV programming as part of the Rohingya refugee response since 2017. She can be contacted at

Dorothea Hilhorst

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University. Her focus is on aid-society relations: studying how aid is embedded in the context. She coordinates the ListenH project: Livelihoods and transactional sex in Humanitarian Crises. Email: Twitter: @hilhorst_thea

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.