At the 7th International Humanitarian Studies Association Conference on Humanitarian Studies, the ListenH project convened a panel of academics and practitioners to share learning on transactional sex (TS) from different countries and humanitarian contexts.
The panel had a particular focus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and featured learning from research at ISS, including from Delu Lusambya and the ListenH project.
Some key themes and dilemmas were exposed by the research and explored by the presenters and in the subsequent discussion. A key and ongoing challenge is one of definition of the concept of transactional sex (TS), as there is a transactional nature to many, if not most, forms of sexual relationship, including marriage. The definition must therefore be narrow enough to be meaningful without being so narrow that it fails to capture the complexity of the ways physical intimacy and sex are used to navigate the complexity of life in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
The two presentations provided an opportunity to explore the relationship between sexual exploitation and abuse in the humanitarian sector and other forms of TS. In particular, concerns were raised about whether important efforts in the sector to prevent exploitation may result in othering sexuality and sexual practices. This raised questions about whether such dialogue problematizes people and practices in countries experiencing instability or humanitarian crisis that would be considered broadly normal and acceptable elsewhere. This fostered a useful discussion about how to navigate tensions around how concepts of victimhood and agency are constructed in humanitarian contexts.
This panel built on the project’s successful panel in 2021, which explored needs, responses and discourses in a broad spectrum of countries, including Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria and Turkey. More detail about the previous panels can be found in this blog post.
Transactional sex in war-torn DRC
Download the presentations shared at the conference