Reimagining protection: Dignity, wellbeing and safety


  • Andrew Cunningham



protection, digital, wellbeing, safety, water, hygiene


Core concepts in the humanitarian world are often used in ways that add to confusion rather than provide clarity. Research reports discuss technical details, propose theoretical frameworks or engage in policy debates, but rarely engage directly with key concepts themselves—their meaning, how they are used and understood, and their limitations. Protection is one important concept which begs for unpacking. The objective of this commentary is to spur discussion and reflection, to help clarify thinking around how we understand and use the term ‘protection’. A particular example from the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector is used to propose a more nuanced way of thinking and speaking about protection. Dignity, wellbeing and safety are proposed as useful concepts to embed protection in humanitarian activities.


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Author Biography

Andrew Cunningham

Andrew Cunningham has 25 years’ experience in the development and humanitarian sector, including 14 years with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Andrew has a PhD in war studies from King’s College London, researching the relationship between states and international humanitarian organisations in the context of conflict, and has published the research with Routledge. Andrew has served as a member of the Board of MSF International and is currently a board member of the International Humanitarian Studies Association. He works as an operational researcher and governance advisor for various humanitarian organisations.


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Two young women carrying vessels of water




How to Cite

Cunningham, A. (2021) “Reimagining protection: Dignity, wellbeing and safety”, The Humanitarian Leader, p. Working Paper 017, Aug 2021. doi: 10.21153/thl2021volno0art1147.