Tag Archives issblog2023

A right-wing populist party ‘won’ the Dutch elections. What does this mean? And will Geert Wilders become Prime Minister?

In this blog, Thea Hilhorst looks at the potential outcomes following the Dutch general election last week. Whilst the PVV party, led by Geert Wilders, won the largest proportion of votes, this is just the beginning of the government-forming process. The Dutch system requires building governing coalitions, and the largest party does not always form the next government. So, what is the PVV? How might they govern? And will Geert Wilders become Prime Minister?

Photo 5533984 | Dutch Parliament © Jan Kranendonk | Dreamstime.com

Last Wednesday, 22 November, the PVV (Party for Freedom) led by Geert Wilders won the most votes in the national elections in the Netherlands. But the national elections to elect members of the Lower House of parliament in The Netherlands is just the beginning of the government-forming process.

The Netherlands has a system of parliamentary elections, unlike other countries that have presidential elections. In those countries, the two winners of a first round of elections may need to contend in a second round until one of the presidential candidates obtains a majority vote. In a parliamentary system, on the other hand, elections are about allocating parliamentary seats to political parties. The Netherlands has 150 parliamentary seats, and a party or coalition needs 76 seats to form a government, and so select a Prime Minister. The PVV came out of the elections as the largest party with 37 seats. As there are 150 seats in total, this means that slightly less than 25% of the electorate voted for PVV (and 75% did not).The second place in the elections came to the combination of the Green Left and Socialist Party, that ran together in these elections for 25 seats, followed by 24 seats for the currently largest party VVD and 20 seats for the new party of New Social Contract.

Another notable difference between a presidential and a parliamentary system is the different power invested in the leader of the government. While a President usually has executive power, a Prime Minister is technically speaking just the chairperson of the government – although far more powerful in practice than this job description would imply.


What is the PVV? And what did they win?

The Party for Freedom is mainly known for its leader: Geert Wilders, who has started PVV in 2005, having previously been a politician for the VVD party (of Mark Rutte, current Dutch PM). As a party it stands out, because there is no membership and hence it is often referred to as a ‘one-man show’. The PVV can be seen as a right-wing populist party. It rides strongly on anti-immigrant sentiments and islamophobia, and it denies the relevance of climate policies. Its political programme for the election proposes to end immigration, development cooperation and involvement in climate action. Geert Wilders also announced he wants to spend “not a single Euro” on gender equality, and he is a proclaimed fan of NEXIT (Netherlands leaving the EU). Socio-economically the PVV profiles itself as the champion of marginalized people, promising to lower costs for health insurance, lower the retirement age and increase minimum wages, although it is not clear how proposed measures will be financed.

The PVV has never previously been part of the Dutch government, but in 2010 they did provide support to the first government formed by Mark Rutte. This arrangement, sometimes known as a ‘confidence and supply’ formation meant that whilst the PVV did not provide any Ministers, they did support the government during votes in the Upper and Lower chambers of the Dutch parliament. In any case, the PVV pulled out of this arrangement in 2012 and collapsed the government, leading to fresh elections.


The Dutch government is almost always a coalition, and the process can take months

In the Dutch parliamentary system, coalitions need to be formed of different parties to reach a majority of seats in the parliament. Ruling by a single party could only happen when a political party won more than 75 seats, which has never happened in Dutch history. This means that PVV cannot form a government unless it can form a coalition with at least two more parties. The RTL News service has made a handy ‘coalition forming tool’– with so many political parties having been elected, coalitions can involve up to 5 parties in partnership. The formation of a coalition is a long-term process. The last government of the Netherlands consisted of 4 different parties and only reached an agreement  after 271 days. It is usual that the largest party can initiate the coalition building process, and that this party will take the lead in the government and provide the Prime Minister. This is not always the case, in fact there have been 11 elections in the 20th century where the leader of the largest party did not become Prime Minister, the most recent in 1986.

Moreover, it is even possible that the winner is not going to be part of the new government at all. Whilst the largest party is given the first chance to form a coalition, there have been a few historical precedents where coalition negotiations failed, and new negotiations started up with other parties. This can have the consequence that the party with the largest number of seats is shut out of the government. This happened three times in the last century, and co-incidentally always in cases where the Labour (PvdA) party won the elections. In 1982, the party obtained 52 seats, more than one third of the votes, and was nonetheless side-lined in the formation of the government.


What happens next?

Formation processes are very unpredictable. The programmes of PVV and any likely coalition partners (other parties on the right side of the political landscape) have some issues in common but are also hugely different on others. An additional complications  is that the VVD –the largest party for the last 12 years – now has a new leader who has initially ruled out working with the PVV. The new leader, Dilan Yeşilgöz, remarkably has a refugee background herself yet opposes liberal asylum practices.  The second likely coalition partner for the PVV would be New Social Contract (NSC), that is an entirely new Party formed by the popular parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt, who won 20 seats  at the first election it joined. The combination of a new leader of the VVD and an entirely new party sitting at the negotiation table with Geert Wilders, who has been a solo player since he started the PVV, makes the process markedly unpredictable.

The three parties may find it easy to form a right-wing government in no time, or they may clash over their differences and leave an open arena for other parties to try to form a coalition. Only time will tell.

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Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

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Institutional care is an affront to rights of children with disabilities

In solidarity to the 16 days activism against gender-based violence, this article highlights the structural violence that impedes the rights of children with disabilities —including girls— in Kenya. The author Stephen Ucembe, who is an alumni of the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, emphasizes the need to protect the rights of children confined to institutional care.

Image Credit: Hope and Homes for Children

Every child, including those with disabilities, is entitled to the rights enshrined in the Convention of the Rights of the Child which Kenya has ratified. As a country, we have agreed to uphold these rights through the Children’s Act 2022.

However, in contravention of their rights, children with disabilities are often hidden away in communities or sometimes separated and isolated in institutions against their wishes. Isolation from communities on the basis of disability is discriminatory. It is a dereliction of duty – an abdication of responsibility by the government. Supporting these children to be visible in our communities and families normalizes disability. Hiding them from others dehumanizes and perpetuates stigma and discrimination, hence exacerbating the problem.

Furthermore, unnecessary placement in residential care institutions often multiplies violations; children with disabilities are denied other rights, like the right to family and community care, to culture, to identity, to freedom of association.

A global Human Rights Watch report, published in 2017 titled, ‘Children with disabilities: Deprivation of liberty in the name of care and treatment’ documented that children with disabilities often face severe neglect and abuse. This included beatings and psychological violence, sexual violence, involuntary and inappropriate medical treatment, use of abusive physical restraints, seclusion and sedation, denial of education and denial of regular contacts with families.

An investigative media exposé traced how the problems described above play out locally. It uncovered multiple human rights violations perpetuated against institutionalized children with disabilities, by a government agency.

Nobody is seeking to romanticize families and communities. There are many children facing abuse, neglect and exploitation, including stigma and discrimination within family and community settings. However, studies consistently point to serious violations in institutional care settings. Moreover, over 80 years of research shows that supported families and communities are far better equipped than institutions when it comes to improvement of children’s overall well-being.

The primary role of government should not be to create more barriers, or spaces that deepen inequality and diminish inclusivity. Yet, this is exactly what we do when we institutionalize these children or neglect them in communities. The role of the government should be to ensure their protection and enjoyment of all rights, through full inclusion and participation in the community.

To make inclusion a reality, we need responsive initiatives that tackle ubiquitous stigma and discrimination. That starts with community services and facilities available to persons with disabilities, enabling them to access education, housing, rehabilitation and therapy.  It extends to respite care centers that allow struggling care-givers time off, or time to go and work. And it means we must improve infrastructure and provide necessary assistive devices, aids and services, like hearing aids, crutches, wheelchairs, tricycles, white canes and walking appliances to support full participation.

Lastly, it’s up to us to ensure we do not leave these children behind in the care reform processes that the government has initiated. To support governments to include disabled children in family based alternative care, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities developed ‘Guidelines on deinstitutionalization, including in emergencies’.

These guidelines are meant to ensure an end to rampant violence against institutionalized persons with disabilities, including children. This advice should ensure children with disabilities are included and supported in families and communities, and prevent their institutionalization.

This article was first published on The Standard.

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About the author:

Stephen Ucembe is the Regional Advocacy Manager, Hope and Homes for Children. He is a professional social worker with skills, knowledge, and experience working with children and young people without parental care, and vulnerable families. His preference is to work in Kenya, or regionally (east and southern Africa) with organization (s) whose mission and vision is family and child focused.

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Glocalization: a possible key to decoloniality in the aid sector?

As global as needed, as local as possible: glocal is a buzzword both in the humanitarian and development fields. According to many, acting glocal is a possible response to the long debate on coloniality in aid, and the key for a new generation of international practices that are more aware, more equal, and more balanced. But recent practices show how also glocalization can be steeped into coloniality: who is deciding what is possible and what is needed? And which voices, among the many that are composing the so-called Global South are being heard?

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Coloniality and the aid sector

The Peruvian Sociologist Anibal Quijano used the word Coloniality to identify patterns, structures, norms, customs and beliefs, based on the generally white, Christian and Eurocentric vision of the world, formerly directly imposed on colonized countries, that remained there even after the colonization ended.

Coloniality expresses itself in 4 realms: Coloniality of power – how power is shared and used in a way that resembles the old models of former colonizing states, Coloniality of being– how human beings are classified in a hierarchical fashion according to  if they belong to the dominant group (or not), usually composed of white, European, Christian men, Coloniality of knowledge -how knowledge is categorized according to a Eurocentric perspective that juxtaposes the alleged “rationality” and “universality” of European knowledge, to any other kind of knowledge produced in other contexts, and Coloniality of gender, to refer to the imposition of European gender structures and categories over non European gender cultures and traditions.

The aid sector is directly linked to colonial history and it has been identified as  embodying several forms of neocolonialism. Critics focus mainly on three factors:

  1. Providing assistance is often a way to keep influencing the agenda of a self-governing entity, its decision making processes and allocation and use of resources located in former colonies;
  2. The sector lives on the assumption that knowledge is produced in the “Global North” and magnanimously brought to the “South”, that civilization, wellbeing and individual rights as they are conceived in the “North” are concepts that need to be introduced into a generally primitive and otherwise wild “South”
  3. In the mainstream narrative of the aid relation, the main character, the hero, the agent, is the person from the “North”, who is usually depicted as a white non-disabled man, while those who participate into actions and projects in the South are reduced to passive objects in need of help, often called “beneficiaries”.

There are several signs of momentum for decoloniality in the sector, and different initiatives have arisen to question the colonial foundations of the aid industry. Such initiatives look at narratives, logistics, human resources, visual communication, project cycle management and funding mechanisms. The most recent and visible move in this direction is the Pledge for Change, initiated by Degan Ali, Executive Director of the African non-governmental organization (NGO) Adeso, with support from the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership. Originally signed by five major NGOs, the pledge today has over twice that number of signatories. It identifies three streams of change: equitable partnership, authentic storytelling, and influencing wider change

In this landscape, one of the most vivid debates is around the role, space, position and power that communities, groups and organizations rooted in countries traditionally receiving aid have in shaping the relation with programs. Too often they are still considered passive beneficiaries of programs designed without their involvement, who should be grateful from whatever arrives from the white savior, even though what arrives is not adequate to the context and does not address needs and priorities.

Glocalization in aid

The concept of Glocalization was borrowed from marketing and introduced into the sector straight after the launch of the Agenda for Sustainable Development, as a key methodology for successful implementation of the agenda.

The meaning of the word Glocalization is usually summarized into “think global, act local”. It recognizes the need for a coexistence between global trends and dynamics and specific needs, priorities, knowledge, customs, and cultures.

From a decolonial perspective, the concept of Glocalization appears interesting at least for two reasons:

  • Values, knowledge, and epistemology: traditionally the whole aid industry assumes that valuable skills and knowledge arrive from former colonial powers. Aid workers bring “capacities” to those who allegedly don’t have any. A huge collection of local, indigenous, and traditional knowledge on which local systems are based is ignored, dismissed, and historically sidelines, or often intentionally destroyed. Glocalization encourages learning from the local and using local knowledge when it is the best fit to reach the intended outcome, without importing and imposing knowledge and practices from other contexts.
  • Agenda setting: who participates in decision making processes, who decides that something represents a problem, and that this needs to be urgently sorted with international support. The concept of glocalization includes and encourages agency from local actors and recognizes their power to shape global trends, while asking international actors to place themselves in a position of openness and active listening.

However, the use and ownership of the word “glocalization” has mirrored a still-very-unbalanced North-South relation. The first use can be seen in allegedly glocal actions and programs (including manuals that should support the practical implementation of glocalization), while the second simply accepted the term as a new buzzword that needs to be mentioned in project proposals in order to receive funds.

Looking at the use and application of allegedly glocal approaches, we are called to ask a difficult question: Who is deciding when local is possible and when global is needed? In other words, who has the power? Glocalization practices need to start at decision making level: no real glocalization can be possible if the agency of communities, civil societies and other actors located in countries traditionally receiving aid is not recognized and given space.

If we return to the concept of coloniality, we soon realize that for true glocalization, this practice needs to be deeply connected to a decolonial process. On the contrary, we are too often witnessing a sort of “glocal-washing”, where those who traditionally held power and resources keep doing so, through a seemingly different process. If existing power relations are not challenged, and if the process of knowledge production does not change, the usual suspects will decide how and when to ‘go glocal’.


Having difficult conversations

The word glocalization by itself suggests that there is no one-fits-all solution, and that every context needs to be interpreted, explored and listened to, in order to find adequate and unique solutions.
Each context requires a different balance between global and local, and this balance can emerge only if power relations are questioned, and if glocalization is approached from a decolonial perspective.
The first step are not the manuals produced in the so-called Global North. The first step is finding the way to have difficult conversations on power, knowledge, and resources, with the communities that will participate into aid programs.

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About the author:

Carla Vitantonio is a Humanitarian and development professional, author, researcher. She is a member of the board of the International Humanitarian Studies Association. In 2022, she was awarded the honor of Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia by the President of the Republic of Italy, for her activity as a humanitarian and as an author.

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Humanitarian Observatories Series | Creating a space for Congolese to talk about issues including how widespread sexual abuse is ravaging the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s humanitarian sector

Sexual abuse is widespread in the humanitarian sector of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The observatory was set up to discuss, among others, crises that plague the humanitarian sector, including sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Humanitarian Observatory (HO) is a suitable space for academics, civil society, international and state actors to discuss humanitarian governance challenges so to contribute in shedding light on how to go about them sustainably.

A pervasive issue with devastating consequences

Sexual abuse has become a significant problem in the DRC’s humanitarian sector. Incidents of sexual abuse by humanitarian actors  are widespread, as humanitarian activity has sharply increased. Independent news agency the New Humanitarian is one of the platforms reporting on these developments — in September last year it highlighted  the stories of 34 cases of alleged sexual abuse that resulted in pregnancy. The majority of the women reported abuse from employees of United Nations agencies, others from those working for international humanitarian agencies. More recently, that the number of women reporting sexual abuse by aid workers is still growing.

The reports of purported victims of sexual abuse indicate that sexual abuse in the DRC has two main faces: (i) the sexual exploitation of aid recipients — that is, trading aid for sex, and (ii) the sexual exploitation of job applicants or colleagues lower in rank — that is, trading sex for jobs, job security, or promotions. One of the women interviewed by the New Humanitarian related that she was only 15 years old when her boss started inviting her to a hotel for sexual relations, claiming that she was to have sex with him if she wanted to keep her job. A few months later, she became pregnant, and she is now in charge of raising her young daughter at her own expense.


A space for talking about sexual abuse

One year ago, in October 2022, a group of people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — humanitarians, academics, civil society actors and others — got together to form a Humanitarian Observatory.[1] The observatory, one of a handful set up in different countries as part of the

At the  observatory event on 15 March this year, we chose to focus the discussion on sexual abuse in the humanitarian sector in the DRC. Sexual abuse scandals in the humanitarian sector have been widely reported, but occasions where we as Congolese can talk about such issues are few and far between. The launch of the observatory therefore served as a space for us to openly discuss the issue — something that has not truly been done to date — in particular how sexual abuse comes about and what needs to be done to address the problem, especially by those working on the ground in the DRC.

Photo 1: humanitarian observatory members in group’s discussion about sexual abuse in DRC, 15 March 2023, Bukavu


Some observations

The meeting of the Humanitarian Observatory where the issue was discussed had 18 participants comprised of 10 men and 8 women. Of the 18 participants, four were humanitarian aid workers, ten were researchers, and four were civil society actors. We could therefore have a balanced discussion in which different participants highlighted different dimensions of the issue and proposed several possible measures. Below, we highlight some of the main observations that were made at the meeting.


Shame and fear drive silence

First of all, it was noted that victims are ashamed of having been sexually abused and therefore many victims prefer not to speak out in view of cultural restrictions for women; this is even more so in the case of male victims of sexual abuse. People may also be afraid to speak out because they fear retaliation from the perpetrator.

Similarly, even though most of the participants of the discussion are active in the humanitarian sector, there seemed to be an informal agreement among victims about refraining from telling personal stories about or mentioning the names of people they knew to be perpetrators. Instead, in order to keep the discussion safe, participants spoke about sexual abuse as an external phenomenon rather than as practices they are involved in or have witnessed first-hand.


Here are some other observations that participants made:

  1. The problem is widespread. Reflecting on the problem, the participants agreed that (forced or consensual) sexual relations are rampant in the humanitarian sector. Many humanitarian male actors have condoms in their offices or while traveling for fieldwork. Moreover, it is very common that victims are invited into hotel rooms. Women are deceived with flattering words of promises of marriage, or they are just being told they need to consent if they want to keep their jobs. This may also happen to young women in need that are exploited for promises of goods or other gains. It is also rather common that humanitarian workers seek sexual relations with women engaged in small trade activities around the humanitarian compounds or women engaged in small jobs for the agencies, such as cleaning or cooking.


  1. Men at all levels are the perpetrators. The participants to the observatory found it important to note that accusations of sexual abuse concern men at all levels of the organization, from managers and office workers (such as human resources officers) to fieldwork staff, drivers, guards, and people with odd jobs working alongside women in cleaning and cooking. This is important because these latter groups are often not aware of codes of conduct and are not being involved in awareness-raising activities.


  1. Several context-specific factors make sexual abuse possible. A first factor is formed by the misery, poverty, and vulnerability among community members, who rely mostly on humanitarian assistance. The second factor is formed by the long-term stay of humanitarian personnel and operations of humanitarian agencies in the area, with little control or accountability of international and national non-governmental organizations working in isolated or remote zones. In these conditions, many women seeking access to aid, funding, or employment have resigned themselves to the idea that sexual relations are a largely unescapable ‘part of the deal’ and that their protests will not be heard.


  1. Patriarchal norms help normalize sexual abuse. And above all, it was recognized that sexual abuse is related to a dominant or hegemonic Congolese masculinity based on common and informal cultures, where men behave as if they are entitled to have sex in return for favours.


Two recommendations

Reflecting on this discussion, we can ask how we can prevent and fight against the phenomenon. At the end of the observatory meeting, the participants together formulated two main recommendations for actions that can be taken:


  1. Rethinking norms of masculinity and combating toxic masculinity are crucial. Recognizing that the problem partly stems from cultural issues, it is a priority to promote positive masculinity through different means, including the news media and social media. It is important to combat predatory sexual behaviour and rethink masculinity norms. These should draw on alternative masculinity repertoires that can also be found in the DRC, such as the caring father or breadwinner forms of masculinity. In these, men are responsible providers for their family, including for their spouses, and at the same time provide space for women’s empowerment. It is a masculinity ideal where men considerably contribute to the household, both economically and socially.


  1. All workers in the humanitarian sector need to be made aware of behavioural norms and codes of conduct that should guide their actions. To combat sexual abuse in the humanitarian sector, awareness raising is a priority, focusing on humanitarian staff, including drivers, guards, and other male staff that are less exposed to training on codes of conduct and principles of humanitarian assistance. In addition, state actors, civil society organisations, and community members should be involved in awareness raising and following up on reported cases. It must be ensured that perpetrators are sanctioned according to legal, religious, and traditional norms of the Congolese society.


The above-mentioned actions will need to be enduring — a single, once-off intervention is insufficient given that cultural norms strongly shape the present situation, in particular by normalizing sexual abuse and providing a space for its continued existence. The Eastern Congo has become a permanent site of humanitarian assistance, and this is not likely to end soon. This means that sexual abuse will also remain an issue. This is not only a matter for the humanitarian agencies. It is important that all stakeholders, including communities, civil society, and state agencies, take responsibility to fight against sexual abuse.

[1] We acknowledge active participation of members of the Humanitarian Observatory discussions in the event of 15 March 2023 from which the current blog is written, namely Claude Iguma, Odile Bulabula, Gentil Kavusa, Denise Siwatula, Bilubi Ulengabo, Christian Namegabe, Shukuru Manegabe, Sifa Katembera, Henri Kintuntu, Wabenga Lunanga, Samuel Kyamundu, Prosper Lufungula, and Veronique Saleh.

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

About the authors:

Patrick Milabyo Kyamusugulwa is Professor at the Institut Supérieur des Techniques Médicales de Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is member of the DRC Humanitrian Observatory and member of the Social Science Centre for African Development-KUTAFITI.

Delu Lusambya Mwenebyake is a PhD researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Delu is working on humanitarian governance in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Community-driven, accountability, and advocacy in Humanitarian Actions.

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International Humanitarian Studies Association Conference 2023: “Humanitarianism in Changing Climates”

The International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA), which is hosted at the Humanitarian Studies Centre at ISS, held its biennial conference at the beginning of November in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Held in collaboration with North-South University (NSU), and the Insights Network, the three-day conference featured a huge range of presentations and panel discussions on everything from migration, conflict, humanitarian education; and much more besides. The conference was also an opportunity to elect a new President and Board Members for the Association.  

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The International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA), brings together both researchers and practitioners from across the Humanitarian Studies spectrum and its related ‘sister’ subjects: including conflict studies, migration studies, environmental sciences; and international relations. The Association was founded in 2009 by a group of researchers including Dorothea Hilhorst (ISS), who  stood down as the third president at the conference. IHSA has plenty of activities and opportunities for members, including working groups and expertise databases, but one of its biggest activities is the biennial conference.

This time, the conference was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, (and online!) and featured over 300 attendees.  It highlighted over 60 different panels and roundtables held on a range of subjects including: “Filling the gap or filling the shoes? Civil society and political change in historical disasters”, “Who or what constitutes the Humanitarian?”, “Building  locally led solidarities over shrinking space for civil society”, and “Humanitarian action in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC): Its governance and peculiarities in the region”. You can check out the full list and schedule here, while various recordings of the roundtables will be available on the IHSA YouTube channel in the near future.


New President and Board Members elected

Antonio De Lauri (Chr. Michelsen Institute, Oslo) was elected by the IHSA Members as the new IHSA President, and will lead the Association for the next four years.

In a commendation speech, the outgoing President, Dorothea Hilhorst (ISS) said: “I’m delighted that Antonio will be leading the International Humanitarian Studies Association for the next few years: he is an excellent academic – a formidable intellectual that has a strong track record in field research in humanitarian arenas. He is a great networker and I am convinced he will be a wonderful IHSA President. I look forward to him working with the new board to bring the Association to a broader audience and take the IHSA community to become yet more meaningful to its members.”

Dorothea Hilhorst – one of the founding members of IHSA in 2009 – was the third President of IHSA after Alex de Waal and Peter Walker whom she succeeded in 2016. IHSA will now be hosted at the Humanitarian Studies Centre in The Hague, and will benefit from two new staff members, increasing the capacity of the organization exponentially. An exciting programme of events and initiatives is planned for the coming years.


New Board Members

Members of the Association also voted for new Board members to join the 10-person board. Palash Kamruzzaman (University of South Wales), Carla Vitantonio (CARE), and Juan Ricardo Aparicio Cuervo (Universidade de Los Andes) were newly elected, whilst Rodrigo Mena (ISS) and Andrew Cunningham were both re-elected. Board members serve for four years, and the newly elected members now join existing members Susanne Jaspars (SOAS, University of London), Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen), Patrick Milabyo Kyamusugulwa (ISTM-Bukavu), and Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre (George Washington University).

Mohamed Jelle (UCL) and Virginie Troit (Fondation Croix-Rouge) have left the board following the end of their terms; IHSA would like to thank them for their work and dedication over the last four years.

The International Humanitarian Studies Association welcomes new members: students, researchers, and practitioners from across the world of Humanitarian Studies. You can find out more about member benefits by visiting the IHSA website.

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

About the author:

Tom Ansell is the Coordinator of the Humanitarian Studies Centre and International Humanitarian Studies Association.

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How was life in Gaza before October 7th?

The war between Israel and Palestine has saturated the media with many views on the resulting effects. What about the state of things in Gaza prior to this violent conflict? In this blog, Irene Van Staveren — a professor of pluralist development economics at the International Institute of Social Studies — tickles our imagination to consider the complexities of social problems evident in Gaza prior to October 7, 2023 when the war broke out.

Image Source: Natalia Cieslik/World Bank, 2010.

Imagine you were a 13-year-old girl growing up in the Gaza Strip under ‘normal’ circumstances until a few weeks ago. Statistically, you would have made up over 40% of the total population along with all the other children up to the age of 14. You had three siblings. The likelihood of living below the poverty line was 53%. Just last year, hundreds of buildings were hit by rockets, including the power plant. Over the past years, you had experienced various bombings in and around Gaza City. As a result, like all the other children in your neighbo, you had an 87% chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder according to the latest Human Development Report (p.89). There haven’t been any elections in 16 years, and your parents feel powerless.

You often didn’t have enough to eat because your parents had a high risk of unemployment (40% for men, 64% for women). One of your uncles had a fairly well-paying job outside of Gaza, which put him in the one percent who managed that. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to keep much of his salary as an UNCTAD report (p. 6) suggests that 30% of the earnings for such work go into the pockets of labour brokers. Your grandfather had a small olive grove and could sell some olive oil to foreign markets. However, he was increasingly stopped when trying to reach his grove. According to the same UNCTAD report (p.8), olive production had dropped by 60%.

So, you most likely shared a small living space with many people. This was quite challenging when you had to do your homework, especially because there was only electricity available half of the time. Often, there was no light in the evenings. Learning was a struggle, and the destruction of several schools led to the surviving children being divided among the remaining schools, making your class overcrowded.

The only escape from this situation might have been marriage. According to the Palestinian Authority’s statistical bureau, one in five girls gets married before their 18th birthday. You knew some of these girls – they dropped out of school early and became mothers at a young age. Finding a job was out of the question for them. Not that you would have had it much better. More than half of the youth in Gaza can’t find a job.

In the past, there used to be international aid to rely on. However, over the past ten years, it has plummeted from 18% of Gaza’s income to 2%, according to the World Bank (figure 2). Fortunately, most schools and many hospitals are run by the UN and aid organizations. But they face significant shortages of medicine and parts for medical equipment like X-ray machines. The WHO calculated that almost 70% of permit requests for importing these medical goods are denied. When your grandmother needed surgery at a hospital outside of Gaza, her doctor’s request wasn’t processed on time, putting her at a high risk of passing away. Thankfully, she survived. But you didn’t. Fourty percent of the victims of the current bombings in Gaza are children.

This column appeared in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, on 31 October 2023.

Image Credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

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About the author:

Irene van Staveren is a professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor van Staveren’s theoretical interest is in feminist economics, social economics, institutional economics and post-Keynesian economics. Her key research interest is at the meso level of the economy with topics such as social cohesion, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination, as well as ethics and values in the economy and in economics.

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Jewish scholars refuse to be silent about Gaza

There have been many statements, petitions, Op-Eds and other forms of concern and condemnation from scholars following the resurgence of violence around the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians. This also includes Jewish scholars, such as an open letter from Jewish students at Brown University and another from Jewish writers. Moreover, there have been critical Jewish organisations that have long-supported a Palestinian-centred narrative, including the Promised Land Museum, and in particular their tribute to the late German-Dutch phycisist Dr. Hajo Meyer, Zochrot and Jewish Voices for Peace. In the same spirit, as Jewish employees and students at Dutch universities, universities of applied science and research institutions, we also refuse to stay silent about Gaza, and so present the following statement.

Photo: Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0 Deed, Destruction in Gaza, October 2023

We, Jewish employees and students in Dutch universities, universities of applied science and research institutions, refuse to stay silent about the recent surge in violence in Gaza.

We raise our voices to speak out against Israel’s war of destruction against the over two million Palestinians in Gaza, and demand an immediate cease fire. The high numbers of civilian victims of the Israeli bombardments so far, including the killing of thousands of children, a complete blockade for primary necessities of life in Gaza by Israel, and the actions and words of Israeli officials all justify the fear of a second Nakba; ethnic cleansing or genocide of the Palestinian population. “Never again” for us means never again for anyone.

We feel deep pain for the many civilian casualties during the attacks by Hamas on 7 October 2023. Precisely because we want to see an end to such gruesome violence, we refuse to abide by the logic of revenge that already has cost the lives of multiple times as many Palestinian civilians. We understand that the current wave of violence did not start with the actions of 7 October 2023, but is rooted in a long history of colonization, occupation and unequal treatment targeting the Palestinian people. If ending the current war against Gaza will only lead to a return to the status quo ante, this will mean a continuation of the violence that for Palestinians is a permanent reality. Peace, in this situation, will just be the prelude to the next major war.

Lasting peace is only possible on the basis of justice. At the very least, this means the recognition that the rule of law and human rights apply to all inhabitants of historic Palestine. It means recognizing the right of self-determination of the Palestinians, ending the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank, acknowledgement of the right of return for all Palestinian refugees, and equal rights between Palestinians and Jews from the Mediterranean to the river Jordan.

We promise to continue our efforts in this direction, during and after the current war. We support the call from Palestinian civil society for ceasing all forms of cooperation with Israeli institutions that contribute to the occupation of Palestinian territories and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian population.

As long as the injustice for Palestinians persists, we demand that our institutions speak out against this as firmly as they did one and a half years ago at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We forcefully resist any form of racism, islamophobia, antisemitism or other types of hate speech. We are inspired by the many Jewish voices in and outside of Israel that take a principled stance for Palestinian rights. As Jewish opponents of the Israeli actions, we are indignant about the attempts to equate criticism of the Israeli state and support for Palestinian rights with antisemitism. Islamophobia and antisemitism in response to the current war are very real problems. We ask our institutions to take active measures against a climate of threats, polarization and discrimination. However, to do so does not give a free pass to censor critical anti-war voices.

A safe learning environment does not preclude a firm stance against war and injustice. On the contrary, such a firm stance is our shared duty.

This statement was first published in Dutch in the NRC Handelsbad on13 November 2023.

Image Source: Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0 Deed, Destruction in Gaza, October 2023.

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

About the authors:

Dr. Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken (Lecturer, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam).

Prof. dr. Pepijn Brandon (Professor of Global History, Free University of Amsterdam).

Alcide Breaux (Student, Sandberg Institute and Gerrit Rietveld Academie).

Zazie van Dorp (BA Philosophy, LLB Law & employee University of Amsterdam).

Dr. Jacob Engelberg (Lecturer, Film, Media and Culture, University of Amsterdam).

Dr. Sai Englert (Lecturer, University of Leiden).

Gabriel Gottlieb (Student, Econometrics, Erasmus University Rotterdam).

Dr. Aviva de Groot (Postdoctoral researcher AI & Human Rights, TILT, Tilburg University).

Sophia Haid (Student, Media studies, University of Amsterdam).

Dr. Jeff Handmaker (Associate Professor of Legal Sociology, ISS, Erasmus University Rotterdam).

Levi Hilz (Student, Sociology, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam).

Dr. Joost Kircz (Emeritus Lector Electronic Publishing, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences).

Naomi Kreitman (Student, Sandberg Institute).

Dr. Anna Mai (Postdoctoraal researcher, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics).

Yuval Molina Obedman, Ma (Recently graduated in Philosophy, University of Amsterdam, and International Relations, University of Leiden).

Dr. Tzula Propp (Postdoctotaal researcher, TU Delft).

Dr. Patricia Schor (Postdoctoral researcher, Free University of Amsterdam).

Juliet Tanzer (Student, Utrecht University).

Dr. Anya Topolski (Associate Professor, Ethics and Political Philosophy, Radboud University Nijmegen).

Dr. Markha Valenta (Lecturer, American Studies, Utrecht University).

Itaï van der Wal (Student LLM, Utrecht University).

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Militaries can’t target essential infrastructure during war—so why can they target telecoms?

In this blog, Tom Ansell looks through an International Humanitarian Law lens at cutting mobile network and internet access, such as recent targeting of telecoms by the Israeli military during their ongoing retaliation against Palestinian people in Gaza. Whilst the cutting off of utilities such as electricity and water are considered to fall under a ban on collective punishment, International Humanitarian Law does not mention cutting off communication infrastructures. When we consider how vital phone and internet services are for human dignity, organizing relief efforts, and documenting war crimes or countering misinformation, it might be time to consider the deliberate cutting off internet and telecoms access as a breach of International Humanitarian Law and so a war crime.

Image by Troy Squillaci on Pexels

During the Israeli ground invasion unfolding in Gaza, and the accompanying aerial bombing campaign, there have been widespread reports of internet and communications blackouts – caused by heavy and deliberate bombardment of telecoms infrastructure, and confirmed by the UN. Whilst slightly different compared to ‘switch offs’ by governments, and paling in comparison to the bombing of civilians, cutting off people’s (particularly non-combatants) means of communications and creating a ‘blackout’ is nevertheless an important and under-reported element of modern warfare. International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the so-called ‘laws of war’ which are made up of a number of legal conventions and treaties (most famously the 1949 Geneva Conventions, itself signed by Israel) and have been signed by most countries around the world, don’t mention preserving civilian communications.

So, considering how important mobile and internet access is not only for keeping in touch, but also coordinating societal responses to disasters such as war and documenting the associated chaos, should we consider telecoms infrastructure in a similar way to how we consider water infrastructure in war, as something off-limits for military targeting and thus protected?


Cutting off water, medical systems, and electricity are already War Crimes

During a war, an occupying power (i.e., the military or armed forces that has invaded) has several legal obligations set out in IHL. Breaking these are considered ‘war crimes’, and are punishable at the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal. Cutting off water, medical systems, electricity, food, aid, and unnecessarily targeting civilian infrastructure are considered War Crimes because they amount to ‘collective punishment’ of a civilian population. This is expressly forbidden by Article 33 of the 1949 Geneva Convention on Civilians – and since then there have been various updates and treaties that form part of IHL that also expressly forbid targeting or deliberately destroying ‘Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population’. These generally refer to foodstuff, water, and medical supplies (evidently vital to survival), and whilst telecommunications aren’t on the same existential level of food and water, with an estimated 6.7 billion smartphone subscriptions worldwide in 2023 (according to Statista), and the embeddedness of mobile phones in our lives, I’d suggest that smartphones have become indispensable to the survival of civilians in general.

Telecommunications and internet access is fast-becoming seen as a human right, too; closely linked to existing rights of Assembly, Expression, and Development. For example, in 2023 the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN said that “It may be time to reinforce universal access to the Internet as a human right, and not just a privilege” . Various countries around the world are also enshrining the right to internet access and connection in their laws, from its inclusion within the constitution of Greece , the Kerala High Court in India upholding access to the internet as covered by the right to education in the Indian Constitution, to Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court ruling that all Costa Ricans have the fundamental right to access information technology, especially the internet. Whilst it is true that Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law are different (for several legal reasons), IHL intends to protect the life and dignity of innocent people in warmeaning that there is at least a strong relationship and affinity in their intent.


Smartphones are vital for connecting and coordinating, especially in times of conflict

Let’s not forget that when we talk about cutting off all means of communication and access to the internet, we aren’t just looking at people not being able to contact their loved ones or the outside world (as bad as that is). People’s lives are put at risk by a ‘communications blackout’, because emergency relief is very often coordinated via mobile data and internet connections. When communications were cut off in Gaza on October 27, the Palestinian Red Crescent society reported that it had lost contact with its control room in Gaza, and that people were unable to call the 101 emergency number. If emergency aid organisations are unable to keep in contact with their staff, they can’t know if their staff are safe – nor can they know if their efforts to deliver food, medical, or other relief has been successful or needs to be targeted elsewhere.

A 2012 Save the Children report (completed in partnership with the Vodafone Foundation) makes it clear how important mobile phones are for providing information during a disaster. For example, after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, information messages were sent out via the mobile network ‘Voila’ by the International Federation of the Red Cross –95% of recipients said that the information they received was useful, and 90% said that the information they received helped them make a preparation or change as a result. And it’s not just information that’s sent through mobile networks, either, with emergency cash transfers often sent in this way.

We can see the value of access to mobile data in the current violence in Gaza (and previous instances too), with Israel apparently warning civilians in Gaza of impending military action or airstrikes by phone call or automated text message. Quite how these warning messages can be received without mobile network access, though, is an open question.


Documenting serious war crimes and countering false information

It’s certainly true that cutting off mobile communications and access to the internet is an act with fewer direct deaths and injuries than other more grave offences, yet having access to mobile data is important in documenting and ‘proving’ these other serious crimes. This has become extremely clear during the conflict in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022, with the Ukrainian government even setting up an online service (‘e-Enemy’) for people to submit their pictures, videos, and messages that document brutality against civilians and other war crimes. This crowd-sourced evidence could prove vital in securing convictions for crimes should Russian military commanders or even politicians end up in front of the ICJ or a tribunal. And, as AccessNow warns, cutting off the internet could lessen the chances of Palestinians documenting serious war crimes. Allowing people to access social media and present their own documentary-style proof of their lived experience gives people voices, and also allows the countering of false and dangerous narratives with documentary evidence.


So, should cutting off the internet and telecommunications be a war crime?

International Humanitarian Law specifies a wide spectrum of ‘war crimes’, and whilst we often immediately think of the most grievous, any breach of IHL is a criminal act. Hence, and considering mobile connectivity’s important role in preserving human dignity, coordinating emergency aid response, documenting war crimes, perhaps the deliberate targeting of telecommunications should be included in the definition of ‘collective punishment’.

Image by Troy Squillaci on Pexels.

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

About the author:

Tom Ansell is the Coordinator of the Humanitarian Studies Centre and International Humanitarian Studies Association.

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International Humanitarian Studies Association conference roundtable and North South University statement on Gaza: “As scholars and practitioners of Humanitarian Studies, we strongly condemn acts of widescale and indiscriminate violence against civilian populations”

This blog is part of a series about the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA) conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In this piece, Dorothea Hilhorst (Professor of Humanitarian Studies at ISS, outgoing IHSA President) and Sk. Tawfique M Haque (Professor and Chair of Political Science and Sociology, North South University) present a statement made by participants of a roundtable held at the conference to take stock of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Image Source: Author

At the IHSA biennial conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a roundtable took place on the ongoing violence and humanitarian catastrophe in Palestine. The roundtable included contributions from Professor Dorothea Hilhorst (outgoing IHSA President), Research Professor Antonio De Lauri (incoming IHSA President), Professor Sk. Tawfique M. Haque (North South University), Professor Shahidul Haque (North South University), Professor Mohamed Nuruzzaman (North South University), and Dr Kaira Zoe Canete (International Institute of Social Studies).

During the roundtable, several aspects of the ongoing humanitarian situation were discussed, including access for humanitarian aid, the interests and positions of stakeholders in the conflict more generally, ways to counter the situation being used to further polarize society, and what the role of Humanitarian Scholars is in the face of the situation.

The International Humanitarian Studies Association and Center for Peace Studies (CPS) at North South University would like to share this statement, following the roundtable:

We extend our solidarity and sorrow towards those grieving loved ones in Palestine and Israel, and deplore violence carried out during this conflict. As scholars and practitioners of Humanitarian Studies, we strongly condemn acts of widescale and indiscriminate violence against civilian populations. This extends not only to ongoing military violence, but the blocking of humanitarian aid and assistance.

These actions by the Israeli state and military amount to multiple breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), including the 1949 Geneva Convention that was signed by Israel. We condemn the collective punishment of over two million people in Gaza, of which more than half are children.

We also highlight UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2417, which condemns the use of starvation as a weapon of war, and confirms that any blocking of humanitarian aid breaks IHL. Further, we draw attention to Israel’s role as an occupying power in the Palestinian Territories, and its commitments to maintain medical services and infrastructure under IHL.

We call for respect for and adherence to IHL, International Criminal Law (ICL) and UNSC 2417 to prevent starvation (due to blocking access to food, water, electricity, health care and other items essential to survival) and death of civilians. This means allowing immediate access to aid for those who need it and protecting civilians.

Humanitarian Studies scholars need to use their knowledge and evidence to speak truth to power and counter any silencing mechanism that jeopardizes academic freedom and the freedom of expression. One of the challenges of wide-scale violence, wherever it happens, is that it makes us question the value of humanity. We need all voices in this discussion to maintain dignity and respect, and we condemn the use of antisemitic and Islamophobic language, as well as narratives of dehumanization and polarization especially when they come from powerful institutions, political leaders, and states.

For more information about the IHSA Conference, check out their website.

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

About the authors:

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.





Professor Sk. Tawfique M. Haque is the Director, Center for Peace Studies (CPS), South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance (SIPG), North South University.

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‘Important and urgent’: this decision-making matrix shows that we need to act now to fight climate change

Climate change was first flagged as a global risk several decades ago, but warnings were not taken seriously. Now that climate change is part and parcel of our daily lives, the need for immediate and concerted action to limit its effects is increasingly being recognized, but there is also strong resistance to the radical change required to do this. In this blog article, ISS Professor of Pluralist Development Economics Irene van Staveren contemplates how the well-known Eisenhower decision-making matrix can help us take climate change seriously. We are already in the ‘important and urgent’ box, she argues — an understanding that should drive us to act.

Image Source: Asana.

Some years ago, when I was receiving training in time management, I was introduced to the Eisenhower matrix. I am still grateful to the American general for it because I use the two-by-two table every day. The two columns are called ‘urgent’ and ‘not urgent’ and the two rows are called ‘important’ and ‘not important’. And that’s where you plan all your tasks.

The trick is to spend most of your time working on tasks that are important but not urgent. Then you can work wonderfully focused on your core tasks and not under time pressure and with the fear of not meeting a deadline. The latter happens if you have let time slip through your fingers or have not planned properly. Then you suddenly find yourself in the box of tasks that are not only important but also urgent.

Now that I am preparing a course on climate change for the Economics Bachelor at EUR in Rotterdam, I notice that the Eisenhower matrix can also be applied to climate change. When Shell knew more than thirty years ago that fossil fuels could lead to global warming, almost no one saw it as an important problem and certainly not as an urgent problem.

On the contrary, we all happily consumed fossil fuels, regardless of the CO2 increase due to more cars, taking flights and enabling deforestation for our consumption of meat. It was only in 1995, with the first international climate conference (held in Berlin), that policymakers seem to realize that it could become an important problem.

But it was not until twenty years later that governments worldwide were prepared to make agreements in Paris on a safe limit on warming: 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. And now, many uncontrollable forest fires, severe floods and droughts, and rapidly melting ice caps later, it has also become an urgent problem.

So, we have all wasted too much time on other things, such as drilling new oil wells, pumping out old gas fields and pointing to other countries that emit even more CO2 or are catching up because their prosperity is much lower than ours. Some even thought it was better to first generate even more polluting economic growth in order to earn the money to invest in sustainable energy.

We now know better, continuing on the old path is expensive: every day that we intervene earlier, the costs in the future will be lower. We need to get to net zero faster as a popular and insightful book argues. And now we are all in the box of ‘important and urgent’. The deadline to stay below 2 degrees is close on our heels.

This means that we, particularly in the Global North, are now forced to take controversial measures, provided they have an effect in the short term. So, no new nuclear power plants or solar shields in space. But CO2 capture and storage underground. And mega wind turbines near nature reserves, because horizon pollution is not nice, but in about 30 years those wind turbines can be taken down again because, hopefully, we will have made the energy transition.

And much stricter regulations for the acceleration of CO2-neutral construction, production and transport, and much more and higher CO2 taxes. In short, now that the climate problem has become not only very important but also quite urgent, there is only one thing left: to reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as possible, as various authors are arguing as well. Eisenhower would have looked at us shaking his head: what a poor planning.

This column appeared in Dutch newspaper Trouw of 5 September 2023.

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

About the author:

Irene van Staveren is a professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor van Staveren’s theoretical interest is in feminist economics, social economics, institutional economics and post-Keynesian economics. Her key research interest is at the meso level of the economy with topics such as social cohesion, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination, as well as ethics and values in the economy and in economics.

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.