Contextualisation – international standards and local norms

Submitted by:
Elizabeth Smith
November 8, 2017 at 11:12 am

During our Learning Project webinar today on the importance of the constextualisation of localisation, one of the topics of discussion was on how to balance the enforcement of international humanitarian standards (such as Sphere or the Core Humanitarian Standards), with pre-existing norms and cultural values in a country or region.

Shahana Hayat, the DEPP Learning Project Country Learning Advisor for Bangladesh, highlighted the particular example of how humanitarian actors should approach the mis-match between the general humanitarian standard of involving women in leadership and decision-making processes, and the fact that women face varying degrees of disempowerment around the world. She suggests that in this context, we can’t ignore the global humanitarian standard if the local culture and values contradict it.

I would love to hear other people’s reflections on this, and particularly how different organisations and actors approach this issue. Are there any areas where international standards should be ignored or modified based on local context? Or are standards like Sphere always completely universal?

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Latest Replies

  • Shahana Hayat
    November 12, 2017 at 6:47 am

    if any local culture or norms contradicts with universal humanitarian values, then the fundamental question is – should humanitarian and development sector should work together to remove the cultural barrier or societal norms which goes against the equality and impartiality or should we bring changes in the universal human values in the name of localization and contextualization. The example is if any country’s norm does not allow women to participate in decision making process then lets work together for equal participation instead of bringing any change in humanitarian standard, if we bring changes in the name of localization then question arise is it localization or politicization. please share your thoughts

    November 12, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Less participation of women in discussion and decision making is not the cultural issues, rather it is domination. We found that mother is comfortable in managing seeds for agriculture, dietary menu of households, saving for kids and other important issues within the family. In some cases, we found women are confident to do that other members of households obey that decisions.
    Most important issue in contextualisation i.e. provide information and choices to communities, they will come up with own context. We have to understand local norms and context are different. Local context may not change, but local norms may change and add value in real contextualisation.

    Shahana Hayat
    November 13, 2017 at 4:01 am

    Thank you Mr Rashid for your valuable reply. In fact we need to unfold what is local norms and what is local context and who influence what. Let me give another example some community’s birth rate is extremely high even though the country facing challenges to feed or ensure minimum human standard of growing population, in this context should we raise awareness to change the behavior of certain community or we should leave the issue in the name of local context and if leave in the name of local context and if that community face any emergency then appropriate response comply with universal standard includes shelter, food , nutrition, WASH would be under huge challenge, so it is high time to unfold dotted lines to ensure right balance between contextualization, localization and universal humanitarian standard to create meaningful change on the lives of the affected population – therefore we need to work with WHS work stream localization and bridge between development and humanitarian sector to create better strategy for response

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