Core humanitarian concepts 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 examine key concepts themselves—their meaning, how they are used and understood, and their limitations.
This paper unpacks the important concept of ‘protection’ as it has been used in the past, and how it can be reformulated to better assist crisis-affected individuals and communities. It seeks to spur discussion and reflection, and help clarify thinking around how we understand and use the term.
Words matter, and concepts must be unpacked, broken down into their constituent parts, and made achievable through straight-forward operational choices. Therein lies true humanitarian leadership.
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. In addition, dignity, wellbeing and safety are proposed as useful concepts to embed protection in humanitarian activities.