Pauline Oosterhoff

Pauline Oosterhoff

Research Fellow

Pauline Oosterhoff, PhD, MA, MPH has been a research fellow at IDS since 2014. During this time she has acted as a team leader, director, and researcher in over thirty large-scale and boutique programs, both in South and South-East Asia and at a global level.  Her research at IDS has focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights, modern-day slavery and labour migration, and outbreaks and humanitarian responses examining gaps between policies, plans and local realities.

She believes that consideration of gender, culture and intersectionality has invaluable ethical and practical benefits for academics, development, and business practitioners. She is interested in using her technical competences and creativity to innovate research and uptake, pushing boundaries of participatory, quantitative, qualitative, and visual and performative approaches and techniques.

Conceptually much of her research and advisory work centres around power, the reproduction of public secrets and socio-cultural norms and discourses. Health can be an important entry point to these themes. Socio-cultural norms and discourses are not just mental constructions. They (re)produce laws, institutions, artefacts and flows of money which sustain a given behaviour. Pauline enjoys figuring out the rationale and social benefits of what seem to be paradoxical or destructive choices. Often, on deeper examination, such choices appear perfectly reasonable.

Pauline brings extensive operational experience in international development, humanitarian relief and human rights to her research. Prior to working at IDS she was a senior health advisor at the Netherlands’ Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), focusing on sexual and reproductive health rights of marginalized populations and indigenous people. Before that she lived in Vietnam for eight years, working as a senior technical advisor on health and social inclusion for MCNV, an international NGO. She also spent three years in Togo working on good governance and HIV with UNDP.  For Doctors Without Borders, she investigated human rights abuses in Bangladesh during the Rohingya crisis, examined sexual torture of men in the former Yugoslavia and coordinated humanitarian assistance to Sierra Leone during its civil war, based out of Guinea Conakry.

Underlying her research and her work as a practitioner is a passion for media and the arts. She applies this in a unique affective engagement approach to research uptake. Pauline has produced and directed documentaries and multi-media installations curated film festivals and has written on politics, arts and feminism for Dutch and English media. She makes installations and visual art, mostly about public secrets, the memories of innate objects and invasive species.

Pauline has masters’ degrees in political science and international public health and a PhD in medical anthropology.

Research projects include

Sexual and reproductive health

Recent projects on sexual and reproductive health at IDS include: a desk-review of the global evidence for UNESCO how young people learn about sex in today’s digital era. This review builds upon Sex Education in the Digital Era, a mixed-methods research and advocacy program In partnership with Love Matters that examined the benefits of line sex education platforms in several interlinked innovative projects.  In Kenya, we used Affective Engagement with Research Evidence about Young People’s Sex Education combining big data analysis with ethnographic and qualitative field research. To engage young urban audiences Kenyan musicians put the robust research results on music.  Another program component combined research at Love Matters on-line sex-education platforms in India and Kenya with other datasets to answer the question: is porn the new sex education?

As a member of the Durex facilitated Global Advisory Board for sexual health and wellbeing she provided advice for four years on the linkages between sexual health, rights, inclusion and pleasure. In Empowerment of Women and Girls research projects looked at the opportunities and challenges encountered by indigenous Khasi women in North-East India and by HIV positive women in Kenya to inform policy on sexual and reproductive health. We combined formal academic research with visual participatory methods such as digital storytelling with political and medical anthropology. For the Sexuality, Law and Poverty Programme research with CCIHP and its partners integrated on-line- and community-based participatory methodologies to look at gender in Transgender Employment and Entrepreneurialism and The Emergence of an LGBT Movement in Vietnam.

Modern-Day Slavery and labour migration

Pauline co-directs the action-research program in Hamro Samman to reduce human trafficking into foreign labour markets and the adult entertainment in Nepal with Karen Snyder. Insights on interventions to reduce extreme labour exploitation are grounded in research to assess the evidence on what works to reduce the prevalence of Modern Slavery, practical experience and operational local partnerships. Participatory Action Research and Learning Within Large-Scale Operational Programs to Reduce the Prevalence of Bonded Labour in India and Nepal co-directed with Danny Burns in partnership with ActionAid Nepal and Praxis involved dozens of local NGOs in Nepal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Together we examined bonded labour and trafficking of adults and children into various sectors including garments, construction, sex-work and agriculture.  Key research elements include Participatory statistics to measure prevalence in bonded labour hotspots in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and South-Eastern Nepal analysing data of over 12 000 households with people living in communities affected by bonded labour. We conducted collective life story analysis and Action Research in communities living with bonded labour on specific topics such as ‘alcoholism and bonded labour in times of prohibition in India. ’ and evaluations of community-based comprehensive interventions to reduce the prevalence of bonded labour in Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and South-Eastern Nepal. In CLARISSAa programme that aims to combat the worst forms of child labour, she served as the research director and technical expert on social norms for two years with a specific interest in filling research gaps on small and medium enterprises in the informal sector and perpetrators.

Outbreaks and humanitarian crisis responses

Anthropological insights and operational knowledge of public health, outbreaks and humanitarian responses prior to IDS informs work at IDS on gender and intersectionality in the research and evidence uptake to support the response to Covid-19, improving social assistance in contexts of recurrent shocks, protracted conflict and forced displacement in Better Assistance in Crises (BASIC) Research, participatory action-learning in the Syrian crisis combining participatory performance-based and academic methods in Lebanon as part of Gender mainstreaming from the ground up for the World Food Programme and local engagement in Ebola outbreaks as member of the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform  Pauline served as a team leader on a formative evaluation Community-Based Ebola Care Centres in Sierra Leone and a review of the Ebola Crisis Appeal – Response Review, of the 34 million GBP Ebola Crisis Appeal Response by major UK (I)INGO.

Google Scholar



Better Assistance in Crises (BASIC) Research

The intersection of protracted conflict and displacement with recurring climate shocks, alongside the shifting nature of humanitarian responses, presents multiple challenges for how to provide social assistance more effectively in protracted crises. BASIC (Better Assistance in Crises) Research...


Ending human trafficking in Nepal

IDS, Karen Snyder and our partners, aim to improve the knowledge base on TIP, identify what works in reducing human trafficking, and improving service delivery to trafficking survivors and people at risk of being trafficked.



Working Paper

Equitable Access and Public Attitudes to Vaccination for Internal Migrants in Vietnam

IDS Working Paper 587

This mixed methods participatory study explores equity and fairness in access to Vietnam’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, when the Covid-19 vaccine was scarce, with a focus on internal migrant workers.

Hoang Tu Anh & 3 others

16 February 2023


Practical Guides for Participatory Methods: Body Mapping

This guide offers practical guidance on body mapping. It explains why it might be useful, key considerations, practical steps and a case study of how it has been used. Body mapping may be useful for practitioners and researchers who want to: Examine and appreciate how emotions, cultural...

26 January 2023

Pauline Oosterhoff’s recent work

Past Event

How can co-creation in arts and sciences contribute to inclusive development?

Nails matter. In this seminar we explore the nuances and dynamics of co-creation by visual artists and researchers, the history of the global Nails industry, its relationship to Hollywood and the Vietnam war. We will discuss the practical and theoretical challenges to find artistic and research...

11 May 2022

Past Event

The Sex, Rights and Pleasure Lab

Join us in the Sex, Rights and Pleasure Lab, where teams of students will create new interventions to digitally-mediated gender-based and sexual violence, using a sexual health rights approach that highlights the importance of rights to sexual pleasure as well as freedom.

From 17 January 2017 until 20 January 2017