Conference Report “Gender & Humanitarianism: (Dis-)Empowering Women and Men in the Twentieth Century”

Report by Katharina Wolf, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC), University of Giessen

Cross-posted from <www.hsozkult.de/conferencereport/id/tagungsberichte-7338>

While there is currently a lot of research on the history of Humanitarianism, its relationship with the analytical category of gender still lacks systematic exploration. The international conference “Gender & Humanitarianism: (Dis-)Empowering Women and Men in the Twentieth Century”, which was funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and held at the Leibniz Institute of European History (Mainz), was organized with the aim of filling this gap in research. It explored how gender shaped and was shaped by humanitarian discourses and practices in the period between the First World War and the end of the Cold War. The conference papers discussed this relationship by emphasizing historiographical issues relating to processes of inclusion and exclusion, adopting multiple transnational perspectives. Integrating humanitarian organizations and actors from across the whole globe, the papers presented had multiple geographical focuses on the Middle East, on India, on Western Europe, as well as on Central and South America.

After a brief introduction to the topic by JOHANNES PAULMANN (Mainz), KATHARINA STORNIG (Giessen) and ESTHER MÖLLER (Mainz), the first panel, dealing with masculinities and femininities in humanitarian discourse and practice, started with two papers discussing the roles of women as relief workers in moments of historical crisis. Focusing on the context of the Armenian genocide and the displacements of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, INGER MARIE OKKENHAUG (Volda) inquired into the interaction between Scandinavian female health care professionals of the Danish and Norwegian Women’s Mission Organization, on the one hand, and female Armenian refugees and relief workers, on the other, between 1925 and 1935 in what is today Lebanon and Syria. She highlighted different forms of cooperation involving close connections and interactions between Armenian and Scandinavian women, while especially stressing the role of religion in the encounter between Lutherans and Armenians. Okkenhaug also discussed the relief workers’ perception of their roles as women and their interaction with male refugees or co-workers.

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