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Mansoureh Shojaee, CIRI Visiting Fellow

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I will share the stories of some of my photos during the upcoming DRS Dialogue on “Coloniality of gender, cyberfeminism and the poetics of resistance” on 6 June 2016.

Paulina Trejo Mendez, ISS


I am looking forward to share my artwork and reflect on it jointly with you during the upcoming ISS Development Research Seminar (DRS) on “Coloniality of gender, cyberfeminism and the poetics of resistance” on 6 June 2016!

Liz Hilton, Empower Foundation


We were asked “What makes sex work a precarious and often dangerous occupation?” For us it is more interesting to be asked “What makes sex work such a viable occupation for millions of people when it seems precarious and often dangerous?”

The majority of people in the world have no qualifications, no capital and a need to earn cash for their survival and the survival of the people they love. In many countries, children of 8 or 9 years begin to earn money to help the family income or look after younger siblings while parents are out working. They work after school, weekends and holidays. By the time they reach the age of full time work, usually 15 years old, they have experienced many jobs. The adult labor market for those without qualifications or access to capital offers work that is often either excruciatingly tedious and/or physically grinding on our bodies. This work takes up more than a third of our days, which is our life. It rarely provides access to social protection and rarely leads to any opportunities.


Not work, but ‘labour of love’?

As women and mothers much of the work offered to us is the work of caring e.g. cleaning, cooking, washing, child minding, aged and disabled care. This is the kind of work we are expected to do free in our homes as a ‘labor of love’, so of course it is not valued much more when we do it outside the home for money. We are also expected to have sex for free, another ‘labor of love’. Asking to be compensated for sex in cash rather than in flowers is actively condemned both legally and morally. However, we find that men value sex more highly than ironed shirts etc., so are willing to pay more for this than any other service we women provide in the market. Still, it is just a small minority of women who will decide that the opportunities sex work provides are worth the risks of working outside State protection and social approval. Sex work provides a chance to end generational poverty for themselves and their families. It is not surprising people decide to do sex work; given the inequality between rich and poor combined with the tyranny of the man-made market.


Criminalisation and lack of recognition as work makes sex work precarious

Tens of millions of people, mainly women, decide to do sex work. It does not seem reasonable that the punishment for this decision should be total disregard for their right to human dignity, physical integrity, access to protection and justice. Even people who have committed serious crimes are still accorded their full human rights – why not sex workers?

I am looking forward to discussing these thoughts with you during the ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on “Decent Work for Sex Workers” on 24 May 2016. Also, have a look at Empower’s recent research report that details steps for “Moving toward Decent Sex Work“.


Patricia Viseur Sellers (PVS) and Kirsten Campbell (KC) have, among them, huge experience with some of the most important international, national and alternative strategies for addressing sexual violence in contemporary wars. Patricia Sellers worked as a feminist lawyer with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). She now works in the International Criminal Court, and in 2000 was Co-Prosecutor at the Women’s International Tribunal in Tokyo. Kirsten Campbell has been doing extensive research on  prosecution of sexual violence in ICTY and national Bosnian courts and participated in the 2015 Women’s Court in Sarajevo. Both are well known feminist scholars who wrote extensively on international criminal law, transitional justice and gender.

On 9 May 2016 they will be at ISS, at the Development Research Seminars (DRS) Dialogue, addressing alternative strategies for achieving justice for the crimes perpetrated during violent conflicts. The following short reflections are among some of the issues they will address during the DRS Dialogue.  


Patricia Viseur Sellers

PVS: Sexual violence in wars has been tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Other international or hybrid courts, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, also addressed crimes of sexual violence in the armed conflict in Sierra Leone. Each of these judicial mechanisms developed extraordinary jurisprudence and other precedents, such as for example procedures for witness protections. Other international and national courts, such as the International Criminal Court, and war crimes chambers in national courts such as in Uganda, or Bosnian and Herzegovina, special chambers such as in Senegal or the national criminal courts in Guatemala, Colombia, Argentina or Germany also have jurisdiction over criminal acts that entail international crimes of sexual violence. So, the ICTY and ICTR initiated the modern wave of addressing international crimes based upon sexual and gender-based violence.

Each judicial mechanism attempts to redress international crimes such as rape as an act of crimes against humanity or as a war crime not only for the individual survivor, but also for the affected communities.  So the Special Court for Sierra Leone, for example, judged in the Charles Taylor case, that the civilian population had been attacked, inter alia, by sexual terrorisation. Hence, testimonies that individual and communities members might offer to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice should not be diminished.  Furthermore, other courts, such as the International Criminal Court have procedure that allow recognized victims to be represented as a party at all stages of the proceedings and to receive reparations, compensation and restitution.  Besides, some courts could expand the temporal jurisdiction of crimes of sexual violence. In Guatemala and Argentina as well as in Cambodia, the respective courts have examined testimony of sexual violence that was committed decades ago.  The lack of statute of limitations on war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity opens the possibility that past atrocities might be judged today.


Former Korean ‘comfort women’ waving their handkerchiefs to supporters after the closing of the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal Tokyo

This possibility is important for the courts and tribunals that are organized as alternatives to the official, international and national courts. I served as a Co-Prosecutor at the Women’s International Tribunal, in Tokyo, in 2000. This was a symbolic trial for the women who had been subjugated to sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.  The victims and survivors are commonly known as the ‘Comfort Women’.  The tribunal was a unique exercise of civil society’s ability to draw critical attention to the unanswered crimes committed against at least a hundred thousand women. The legal angle was paramount because state courts in Japans repeatedly rejected any claims made by the ‘Comfort Women’ during the past decades. Also, the legal approach highlighted that the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also held in Tokyo, in 1946, did not include the crimes committed against the ‘Comfort Women’. The Women’s Tribunal was composed of over ten national prosecution teams, such as North and South Korea, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Netherlands, because these were the countries – some former colonies – from where the girls and women originated.  The judges were highly respected international law experts, that came from the United States, Kenya, Australia, and Argentina.  The Women’s Tribunal used as its own criminal code, the 1946 Tokyo Charter, to underscore that the crimes committed against the ‘Comfort Women’ could have been tried already in 1946. The Women’s Tribunal presented evidence and reached conclusion about the criminal conduct and the reparations due to the survivors and to the memory of the victims. The judgment is a source of law under Article 38(c) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice.



Kirsten Campbell

KC: Sexual violence in wars has received a lot of attention lately – from international and national courts, from women’s groups and feminist activists, from UN, from national governments, but also from celebrities. While this attention is politically important, it has not resulted in greater clarity of our understanding of conflict-related sexual violence, or how to provide justice for these crimes.  Rather, the context for serious academic or political engagement with this topic is increasingly challenging.  Academic research is turning away from gender and feminist analysis, while also calling for more quantitative data and cross-country comparison.  The broader political context is increasing ‘securitization’ of conflict-related sexual violence, emphasizing the security of states rather than justice for victims.  The issue of justice remains a crucial question for feminist politics in the field of conflict-related sexual violence.


The Women’s Court Sarajevo (Photo: Clara Casagrande)

In such a context of securitization of sexual violence in conflict, it is important to be attentive to an effort to create a new feminist paradigm of justice in the first women’s court held in Europe.  The Women’s Court dealt with the connected violence committed during and after the war in the former Yugoslavia, and was held on 8-9 May 2015 in Saraevjo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Court aimed to offer an alternative to the failure of the formal legal system to provide justice; to enable women to be active agents of justice, and to build a more just peace in the former Yugoslavia. The work of the Court has not yet finished.  The Preliminary Decision was rendered by the Judicial Council, with the Judgment and book of witness testimonies still to be published. Above all, it involves the ongoing attempt to create a new feminist paradigm of justice.  How to do this remains the crucial issue for the Court, and for feminist interventions in this field.

Latest CIRI Working Paper on ‘Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development’ now available

We are pleased to provide an update on the CIRI Working Paper series. The fifth working paper, by Bert Helmsing, Peter Knorringa and Daniel Gomez Gonzalez on ‘Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development’, was published in December 2015 and is available here.

Please find below a list with links to the other papers in the series.

CIRI Working Paper update

Publish your Civic Innovation Research in the CIRI Working Paper Series!

We would like to re-issue our call for proposals for papers to be published in this series.

The CIRI Working Paper series is part of the well-known ISS Working Paper series. It is intended to make research papers available to an audience both within and outside the ISS, with the purpose of inviting comments and provoking discussion. For papers yet to be submitted for publication, this discussion might assist in developing the paper into an improved final manuscript.

We welcome submissions that fall within the broad scope of the Civic Innovation Research Initiative, i.e. exploring how organizations and individuals mobilize to change their societies. We particularly welcome submissions that treat the methodological challenges of conducting research in this area, i.e. inter-cultural dialogues, engaged research, activist research, participatory research, actor self-reflexivity, and multi-stakeholder encounters and exchanges.

We also encourage submissions of non-academic writings such as in-depth interviews and conversations with ‘civic innovators’ and dialogues on ‘innovative’ ideas related to the CIRI research agenda.

For more information, including the author guidelines and the paper template, contact the editor Sylvia I. Bergh at bergh@iss.nl


Have a look at the CIRI Working PapersCIRI-logo-RGB

CIRI Working Paper No. 1: A.H.J. Helmsing (Bert): Analyzing Local Institutional Change: Comparing small farmer participation in high value export chains in Uganda and Peru (September 2013)

CIRI Working Paper No. 2: A.A. Corradi (Ariane Agnes): The building blocks of a resource-based theory of business start-ups: A mixed methods approach to investigate the interaction between markets, institutions, and entrepreneurial learning (March 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 3: A.F. Fowler (Alan): Innovation in institutional collaboration: The role of interlocutors (April 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 4: K.A. Siegmann (Karin Astrid), J. Merk (Jeroen)1 and P. Knorringa (Peter): Voluntary initiatives in global value chains: Towards labour-led social upgrading? (May 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 5: A.H.J. Helmsing (Bert), P. Knorringa (Peter) and D. Gomez Gonzalez (Daniel): Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development: Defying existing micro and macro characterizations (December 2015)

Democratisation in Indonesia

Democratisation in Indonesia

By Kristian Stokke/ Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo

Recent decades have seen a global spread of democracy and increased attention to decentralisation in discourses, institutional arrangements and practices of governance. At the same time, economic globalization and the global spread of neo-liberalism have pushed public administration towards market and network forms of governance. Taken together, these processes have created new and widened spaces for different actors with very diverse interests, capacities and strategies, but also reduced the public affairs that come under democratic control and limited the substance of popular participation. Most post-transition states have thus not achieved well-functioning democracy but can be more accurately described as flawed democracies.

These problems of weak popular influence on public affairs means that it is necessary to ‘bring politics back in’ – to politicise democracy – both in academic analyses and through political struggles and broad alliances. This means to draw attention to and further the ways in which people participate or are represented in the governance of public affairs, and to enhance the strategies and capacities of various actors to use and transform minimalist democratic institutions in a more substantive direction.

But how will this come about? In a recent anthology on democratization in the global South, Olle Törnquist and I argue that it is possible to make advances on the basis of formal democratic institutions, even in deeply flawed democracies (Stokke & Törnquist, 2013). While acknowledging the importance of structural constraints on democratization, we insist on the centrality of ‘transformative democratic politics’. By this we mean political agendas, strategies and alliances that use formal and minimalist democracy to introduce politics and policies that may enhance people’s chances of both using and improving democracy.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of political and developmental approaches to democracy assistance and how can they be further developed to promote substantive democracy and citizenship?

Carothers (2009) points to a divide between political and developmental approaches to democracy promotion among aid organizations. The two approaches hold distinctly different views on the value and concept of democracy, the understanding of democratization and the means for democracy assistance.

However, recent years have seen a convergence between the two approaches in the sense that both have come to place a strong emphasis on state building as a precondition for democracy. This convergence on state capacity building accentuates these critical questions. While there is general acceptance that functioning state institutions are crucial for democracy, peace and development, the mechanisms whereby initial state building is followed by political liberalization and substantial democratization remain unclear at best. In fact, it may be argued that such institution building in the context of authoritarianism may be more likely to consolidate and legitimize semi-authoritarian forms of rule.

This danger of institutionalizing minimalist and illiberal democracies supports the argument in favor of a gradualist or transformative approach to democracy, whereby pro-democracy forces are empowered to use minimalist political spaces to push for more substantive forms of popular representation and to promote policy making towards people-centered social and economic development. The implication of these critical remarks is that international democracy assistance needs to balance developmental state building with political assistance to pro-democracy forces to ensure substantive democratic transformations in terms of representation, justice and welfare.

I am looking forward to your comments and to discussing the potential of Transformative Democratic Politics of Citizenship during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on 1 February 2016.

We Are Here Academy, Amsterdam


The We Are Here Academy is an educational initiative offering university-level courses for undocumented individuals, taught by professional lecturers on a voluntary basis. The We Are Here Academy upholds the rights for any person, whether or not in possession of legal status, to pursue an education. It gives voice to people who have been silenced. All the courses taught at the academy are designed to enable students to make their voices heard, and to facilitate their protest.

  1. It’s important to consider how WAH* connects to research. In many cases, students or researchers that do research about WAH just ‘take’ knowledge without giving something back. Therefore we believe it’s important that researchers think about how their study can benefit and/or support WAH. How can the knowledge produced in these studies be useful for WAH? What is it in for them? For example, legal research that examines the possibilities of entrepreneurship for refugees in limbo, so they can generate income in legal way. Or, an analysis of the strategies of other protest groups and social movements that could serve as an example or inspiration for their own movement.
  1. Introduce new practices and vocabularies. Such new practices create space for change by expanding the ‘holes’ in the existing framework and raising awareness. This is also how the WAH Academy was established: refugees in limbo are not allowed to register at universities, but they are allowed to learn. This way, we create possibilities for learning and we create visibility and awareness about the restrictions/shortcoming of the current Dutch policy.
  1. Consider how to establish relationships in research. Making connections and initiating collaborations are very important for We Are Here because researchers can help develop a new imagery and vocabulary around refugees in limbo, and describes the presence of the ones that are being denied in their existence. In our experience we continuously need to redefine and renegotiate the existing frameworks in solidarity with the collective struggles we support. How to have relationships based on equality in a society that excludes, divides and produces inequality? How do you position yourself as a researcher? Here, things to consider are for example; how to collaborate when the law doesn’t allow your companions to work?
  1. Reserving space within universities where social movements can propose research, and can connect with researchers that conduct this research for/with them. Such research can arm them with theoretical tools and knowledge that strengthen their movement. For example, researching possibilities for lobby and political campaigning, by combining state of the art knowledge about current political decision making and public opinion with historical perspectives. Or analysis of existing frames and vocabularies, the consequences of those frames for WAH, and possibilities to introduce counter-frames.

* these proposals/statements are not limited to We Are Here, but, naturally, they also apply for groups and movements in similar situations of (political) exclusion.


We are looking forward to your comments – and to discussing our and other examples of doing critical civic innovation research during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on January 18, 2016.

In this blog, we will explore to what extent small-scale farmers can exercise their agency in the face of structural constraints. As writers on agency have noted, agency can take the form of outright resistance, the subtle reshaping of current discourse, or silent resilience. The social, economic, and legal structures at various levels, i.e. the power context, delimits the extent of agency to a large extent.  There are two societally relevant issues that we aim to highlight in this contribution to the CIRI blog. First, to what the extent are supposedly representative local bodies providing small scale farmers with avenues to effectively counter prevailaing power structures and assert their agency? And second, what is the role of the state in doing so?

The cases we are studying involve small-scale farming communities that specialise in (niche) products such as the açaí berry in the Brazilian Amazon, and local ‘terroir’ products in Morocco such as Argan oil. In such cases, as the production process becomes mechanized in small factories,  cooperatives set up to represent the interests of the farming communities involved in the harvesting of the natural resources may come to be dominated by other interests. In the case of the cooperative supposed to represent the açaí berry family farming community, most members are not actually producers but rather traders offloading (often excess) produce at the cooperative. In addition, as sales are largely controlled by local traders and regional buyers, processors and retailers, the commercial ‘bottom line’ of large scale operatives increasingly displace the goals of promoting small scale suppliers, inclusion and sustainability.

As for the role of the state, it is keen to promote this fledgling açaí berry production chain as it appears to offer a win-win win situation: It is a healthy product that can provide good income to the poor forest dwelling peasants while being produced in accordance with ecological sustainability – without cutting trees. State representatives have many ideas and schemes that help poor farmers consolidade açaí income, diversify production further, get help and information. However, they are also behind efforts to promote monoculture production. This will remove peasants completely from the picture (as is occuring in Para state) and thus also the other benefits for them and the environment. Yet, such a production mode helps capital overcome logistics and quality control problems for the local and international markets.

Similarly, from his study on the Argan oil industry in Morcco (http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/pPK2cTeJPHZJErXHZAG7/full#.VH4cE8k-ckQ), Bertram Turner concludes that Argan oil ‘cooperatives have been established in a top-down approach and thus cannot be regarded as an example of a self-organized, counter-hegemonic alternative development. They allow the technological upgrading of resource processing in line with the demands of the industry.’ Moreoever, industry operatives catering to a global market, aided by government policies, have managed to increasingly separate local suppliers from access rights and resource control.

More generally in Morocco, a key problem for so-called ‘produits de terroir’ is that the value-adding processes currently mostly takes place outside the country rather than inside, with little economic gains for the small-scale producers. Today, one liter of Argan oil is exported for one dollar but fetching 15-20 dollars when sold abroad. The same is true for many of the medicinal plants which are harvested locally but then further transformed into high-end products by French multinationals in France and elsewhere (see the remarks made by the well-known Moroccan economist Najib Akesbi in a radio broadcast on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsL2wgRz-o0) .

If we look at the broader policy context in which this is happening, Morocco’s latest agricultural policy, the Morocco Green Plan (‘Plan Maroc Vert’ – PMV), is dedicating its second pillar to  so-called ‘solidarity agriculture’. However, there seems to be no agreement among the key stakeholders on what exactly this means. Currently, the main modus operandi is for the Ministry of Agriculture to pay consultants to set up a business on behalf of the local farmers, run it for three to four years, and then hand it over to the farmers. However, as the farmers do not participate much in the initial process, the businesses may not be sustainable.  Another potentially problematic aspect of the Plan is that it rests to a large extent on the success of contractually ‘associating’ (agrégation) small and medium farmers (and their lands!) to a large land-owning investor (‘l’agrégateur’, who in turn has a contract with the state) to achieve viable outputs destined for export. However, by incorporating small farmers into modern integrated value chains managed by the private sector and disregarding traditional systems of rights to land and water, the PMV may herald a new wave of rural dispossession through the manipulation and commodification of water and land resources in irrigated agriculture in Morocco.

A third case that is relevant here is the irrigation project in the Sao Francisco river in the interior of Pernambuco state, where grapes and mangoes are grown. The original idea of this irrigation project was to produce energy but also provide small famers with plots for self sufficiency and sale. It also included water provision, farming advice, schools and infrastructure . Now these small plots are informally aggregated by large agro-industrial interests and sold via certification to global markets, especially (50%) to The Netherlands.  As a result, small scale farmers cannot afford the better plots, are often cheated of good land and cannot afford to acquire certification. The state plays an ambiguous role in terms of labour rights and social security. Representative unions have been crushed by local entrepreneurs with the help of the state. Yet the state also mitigates some negative effects such as seasonality by setting up government schemes which give the farmers training and income subsidies out of season. On the other hand, federal moves to introduce a harvest contract removes their ability to ask for unemployment benefits out of season or overtime within season.

The larger issue in all these cases is that agricultural workers and their families are directly impacted by market intrusion (either demand for their products or import competition) and indirectly by neoliberalism and openness of markets in general. The impacts of state intervention are sometimes helpful to them, sometimes ambiguous, and often harmful. This is because the state is drawn into contradictory policies as it tries to both ameliorate social conditions and support the process of capital accumulation and efficiency.

From these brief description of the case studies, several more empirically grounded and societally relevant questions emerge. For example, when we read the label of a fairtrade product, it is suggested we are helping poor farmers. Should we believe this? More generally, what do states do to help poor farmers, whether they supply their products to local, regional or international markets?  It appears the state helps  with one hand and harms them with the other. Is this an inevitable contradiction?

CIRI would like to invite you to the seminar with the title Local governance reforms in the wake of the Arab Spring: Opportunities for social accountability?’ by Dr Sylvia Bergh, ISS lecturer and CIRI member.

When: Tuesday 11th March 2014, 13.00 -14.00 hrs
Where: ISS, room 339


In recent years, various civic (as well as non-civic) movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Morocco and elsewhere began challenging existing regimes of rule, focusing their public accusations and acts of insurgency on political elites as well as the institutions of the state. Underpinning and propelling different forms of collective action was a wide discontent regarding an uneven distribution of civic, political and social rights of citizenship between different groups and classes of the nation. While there is now quite a substantial body of literature on the underlying causes of the various revolutions and protests, and valuable studies are emerging on the main actors and their practices, the responses from the states and donors in the area of strengthening social accountability at the local level remain under researched.

Different state actors (e.g. agencies, ministries, governance networks) and their political and bureaucratic elites have responded to calls for greater accountability by creating new “participatory” institutions (e.g. participatory urban planning systems, municipal service centers, and consultative committees for gender equity and equal opportunities in Morocco and Tunisia), increased decentralization to municipal levels, and the establishment or strengthening of Economic and Social Councils and Ombudsman offices. Similarly, international donors have scaled up their work on social accountability initiatives, including community score cards in the education field in Egypt and Morocco, health (Egypt), and water (Yemen). Various participatory and gender-responsive budgeting initiatives are also underway.

However, it is not well known whether social movements and individual citizens are willing and able to take part in or engage with these new state and donor initiatives, whether they are boycotting them, or whether they are indeed being co-opted and depoliticized by and through them. The main question to be addressed by the proposed future research is thus: what patterns of interaction emerged between social movements and state agencies/institutions in the Middle East and North Africa, and what are the outcomes of such engagements in terms of local accountability relations and governance reforms? A related question is whether local actors hold notions and understandings of accountability that differ from Western ones. By including detailed case studies, this research also aims to make a methodological contribution in terms of exploring how the impact of these new social accountability initiatives can be evaluated.

News on SRI publication: Bodies, Sexualities and Gender, Gender, Technology and Development, March 2014; Vol. 18, No. 1

In March 2014 Gender, Technology and Development: published a  Special Issue: Bodies, Sexualities and Gender, March 2014; Vol. 18, No. 1. The issue featured a very strong SRI presence. CIRI staff members of the Sexuality Research Initiative Wendy Harcourt, Rosalba Icaza and Silke Heuman were among the contributors along with ISS Alumni Kaira Zoe K Alburo Canete, Annet Wanjira Kiura, Shuchi Karim, Eneze Modupe-Oluwa Baye and Gina Rocafort Gatarin and members of the SRI alumni network.

The special issue on Bodies, Sexualities and Gender looks at changes in technology and gender in relation to sexuality, embodiment, and development. The issue features the latest feminist thinking about sexuality in relation to technology understood within the broader debates on gender and science, bodies and health, culture and economic development.

It takes up economic, legal and social concerns around technology and gender, questioning the assumed emancipatory power of technology for women.

The issue consists of the following articles and reports:

International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

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