Call for Papers: Women, Gender Roles and Humanitarian Aid in the Greater War (1912-1925)

24-25 June 2020, University Foundation (Brussels)

Female-centred humanitarian aid has gained traction in recent years. In 2016, the UN Population Fund stated that ‘to succeed in building a more stable world, leaders will have to address the needs and protect the rights of affected women and girls, and incorporate their leadership and knowledge into all plans.’ In response, humanitarian agencies have launched a number of initiatives that empower girls through education, create cash-for-work programs for women and localise long-term aid in communities through female involvement.

While these issues might seem new and timely, women have shaped humanitarian agendas for more than a century. In the era of World War One, when Europe was also a recipient of help, numerous international aid organisations such as the Commission for Relief in Belgium, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Save the Children tried to combat poverty, illness and trauma through the education and participation of European girls, women and mothers. The international, national and local civilian aid programs were often carried out by women. Female volunteers (society ladies and nobility members) laboured alongside professionals (home economists, nutritionists, nurses, physicians, social workers and librarians). These relief workers struggled with some of the same challenges humanitarian workers face today: how to reach crisis-affected civilians and particularly women in the private sphere of the home? How, when and where are traditional gender roles maintained, reinforced or disrupted by helping women and employing female humanitarian workers? How to push forward, fundraise for and carry out female oriented humanitarian projects in male dominated organisations and societies?

The two-day conference Women, Gender Roles and Humanitarian Aid in the Greater War will examine these and other questions by looking at the specific humanitarian programs for women and girls in Europe during and after the First World War. We look for contributions that analyse the nature of the programs by and/or for women and girls – both internationally and locally. We especially welcome presentations that go beyond Western Europe. It is envisaged that a selection of conference papers will be published in a special issue.  

Presenters are invited to talk about, but should not feel limited to:

  • The different goals and approaches of humanitarian initiatives aimed at and carried out by female actors as compared to other civilian aid initiatives; with special attention to collaborations or tensions between humanitarians and recipients
  • The negotiation of specific gender roles, the responsibilities and expectations of the local women and girls involved
  • The involvement of feminist and/or conservative women’s movements in international aid
  • The relationship between female humanitarians/isms and social reforms; and the tension between the domestic focus of much of this humanitarian work and its political implications
  • The (assessment of) the specific needs and rights of crisis-affected women and girls in European countries during and after the war, including the policies towards national minorities
  • The mobilization of traditional activities of women including cooking, child-care, sewing and lacemaking
  • The role of working female professionals, such as physicians, educators, nutritionists and social workers in designing aid programs
  • Female health: the involvement of mothers and teachers in child-centred aid, reproductive health and eugenics, and the treatment of rape and other forms of sexual violence
  • The larger goals on a personal/organisational, gender, economic or political level of the humanitarian actors and organisations and the impact of these programs on a short- and long-term basis

Researchers and humanitarian professionals interested in presenting a 20-minute paper at the conference are invited to send a brief abstract of 250 words and a short biography of 150 words by 15 February 2020 to womenhumanitarianaid@gmail.com. Invitations will be sent out by mid-March 2020.

Important note: early career researchers may be eligible for small travel grants. Should you wish to apply for funding, please attach a budget and a short rationale for the funding request to your abstract and biography.

Keynote Speakers

Prof. dr. Susan R. Grayzel (Utah State University) 

Prof. dr. Sophie De Schaepdrijver (Pennsylvania State University)

Organising Committee

Prof. dr. Nel de Mûelenaere, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (FOST) 

Dr. Wendy Wiertz, KU Leuven | academic visitor Oxford Centre for European History

Prof. dr. Antoon Vrints, Ghent University


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