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Gender Sensitive Humanitarian Programming

MSc students debate responses to refugees with Save the Children

Gender Sensitive Humanitarian Programming

In the final session of this term’s course on Gender, Generation and Forced Migration, MSc students debated the ways in which humanitarian responses to displacement should be underpinned by a sensitivity to gender and a commitment to gender transformation.

The session started with a presentation by Sophie Dicker, Research Manager of the Save the Children’s Humanitarian Affairs Team. Sophie, a UCL-Development Planning Unit alumna, shared insights about the role of gender in humanitarian programmes that support different groups of refugees throughout their journeys.

Students then drew on debates explored during the course to brainstorm a series of recommendations for policy-makers and humanitarian practitioners. These included:

  • Transforming academic knowledge about gender and displacement into a ‘toolbox’ that can be useful to practitioners without losing nuances of understanding in the process.
  • Applying an intersectionalist lens, which recognises how people’s multiple identities (i.e. gender, race, class, religion) may attract intersecting forms of oppression, to develop emergency responses that do not unintentionally worsen gender relations or perpetuate exclusion and discrimination;
  • Examining the gendered impacts of materials provided to refugees by humanitarian organisations. These range from beans that take too long to cook, so preventing refugees from engaging in other activities, to the creation of spaces monopolised by certain groups, excluding others;
  • Developing gender-sensitive humanitarian guiding principles which are underpinned by culturally-specific understandings of gender roles, identities and relations. These would help practitioners recognise that aid programmes targeting one group of refugees may negatively affect others.
  • Proposing creative approaches for humanitarian fundraising and awareness-raising campaigns that represent refugee boys and men in ways that recognise their vulnerability without denying their agency.


Wider issues debated by the groups included;

  • The value of working with different groups of displaced people as partners, not solely as beneficiaries, able to help academics and practitioners to identify problems and propose potential solutions;
  • The challenges of identifying silenced voices in displacement settings and humanitarian responses alike, and of overcoming these processes of marginalisation;


The MSc Group with Elena and Sophie Dicker (bottom right)

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