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The Paradoxes Of Humanitarian Intervention: Gender, Migration, And Health Along Mexico’s Southern Border

November 9, 2021 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

Thousands of Central American women have been forcibly displaced from their countries of origin by experiences of violence and crime, something that many women continue to contend with throughout their migrant trajectories. While the violence committed against them is often portrayed as isolated acts of aggression, women’s suffering is also produced and perpetuated by humanitarian interventions that immobilize women in dangerous transit zones. Interventions are then justified by institutional logics that juxtapose women’s vulnerability against the threat of their own mobility. This paper draws on 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork along the southern Mexico border to explore the experiences of migrant women who sought out humanitarian assistance following encounters of violence and crime. Central to my argument is the concept of gendered mobility biases, or widely shared social assumptions about how mobility should and can be accessed, by whom, and under what circumstances. Through this framework, I show how gendered mobility biases that underlie institutional logics compound other forms of institutional inequality, which often serves to reproduce, rather than mitigate, root causes of gender-based vulnerability. This has profound implications for the health and wellbeing of women and their families. A theoretical approach that focuses on how institutional responses to violence operate within specific cultural logics is crucial for understanding shifting techniques of power and regulation within emergent citizenship regimes.


Heather Wurtz, PhD is Postdoctoral Research Associate for the Pandemic Journaling Project, with an appointment in Human Rights and Anthropology at UConn. She earned her PhD in Sociomedical Sciences/Anthropology at Columbia University. Her research draws primarily on qualitative and ethnographic methods to examine social and health inequalities, with particular attention to the role of migration and human mobility, gender and sexuality, social movements, and the social impact of policy. Her work has received support from the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies. In addition to academic scholarship, Dr. Wurtz has worked as an independent research consultant on a range of global health projects with organizations such as the United Nations Refugee Agency and the MenEngage Alliance for Gender Equality. She is also Managing Editor for the journal Global Public Health.



November 9, 2021
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
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