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Prof.dr. Sawitri Saharso

Sawitri Saharso

Hoogleraar Burgerschap en Morele Diversiteit



English biography

Since January 2016 Sawitri Saharso is holding a chair in Citizenship and Moral Diversity at University of Humanistic Studies and since June 2016 she is also Director of the Graduate School, next to her position as associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the VU University Amsterdam.
She studied sociology at the University of Amsterdam and defended her PhD thesis at the same University in 1992. In her PhD research she was interested in a possible shared identity and mutual solidarity developing among young people of different ethnic background growing up in multicultural Dutch society and in the ways education can enhance this process.

Sawitri Saharso specialized in the area of migration and integration with a special focus on gender relations. She studied the cultural traditions of immigrant groups that infringe on the rights of women (nowadays also referred to as traditional harmful practices or genderspecific cultural practices). The aim was to develop an empirically informed position on tolerance and diversity. Yet, she also wanted to understand the agency of the women concerned: why were they willing to engage in practices that harmed their interests? And what can public authorities do to intervene, while being sensitive to the women’s cultural identities and respecting their autonomy?

Other, European comparative, projects aimed to understand why different European countries have reacted differently to the presence of immigrants, of Islamic immigrants in particular. The VEIL project for example focused on the political framing and regulating of the Islamic headscarf in seven European countries and Turkey to find out what this reveals about the social inclusion of Islamic women. Sawitri Saharso was visiting professor  ‘Democracy and Difference in Europe’ at the University of Vienna, Austria. She is also editor-in-chief of Comparative Migration Studies
In her current research her focus is on the increased moral diversity in society caused by migration and on the implications for central social values and for the relationships between citizens, professionals and the state. One of her current projects is on ethical dilemmas in multicultural medical contexts (see description under the same name).


Ethical dilemmas in multicultural medical contexts: towards a gender and culturally sensitive bioethical framework

In a society marked by ethnic diversity health workers are increasingly confronted with patients who hold diverse moral values, which may lead to moral dilemmas. These are felt most acutely, we expect, in the case of gender specific cultural practices (GCPs) that are believed to harm the well-being of women. Health workers have to decide on prevention, when for instance they suspect a case of forced marriage, and on medical intervention, like when patients ask for hymen repair or an abortion to save family honour. Current bioethical frameworks appear to be inadequate to address these cases.

This project aims to develop a gender and culture sensitive bioethical framework that addresses the moral dilemmas of health professionals and takes into account the moral perspectives of the women concerned. While at the face of it GCP-related medical interventions appear as accommodation of minority cultures, these are also in minority communities contested. E.g. hymen repair seen as fraud that actually undermines the virginity tradition. Women asking for such interventions thus stand in a complex relationship to tradition. We suspect GCP-related medical interventions raise moral dilemmas also for minority women, and want to research how they negotiate, re-interpret or undermine cultural traditions in these cases.

We therefore investigate how health workers interpret and balance bioethical principles in these cases and compare with the moral perspectives of migrant women on GCP and medical intervention. We also compare with the bioethical reasoning in other non-somatic indicated interventions, i.e. male circumcision, cosmetic surgery and sex changing operations that are accepted in the Netherlands.

Research methods include: interviews, focus group discussions, observations of clinical case discussions and advices of medical-ethical commissions and organizations. The results are meant for the medical field, and for medical science training. We also aim to stimulate debate on GCP in NGOs and grassroots organizations.

Grants/Research projects

  • (2013-) Recruitment and selection of women academic staff and the impact of affirmative action measures: a comparative study of cases of selected Ethiopian universities.
    Funding: Nuffic (1 PhD position, Senait Haileslase Khishen)
    Datacollection: desk study, focus groups and interviews.
  • 2012- Starting  grant  NWO  for  Open  Access  journal  Comparative  Migration Studies.
  • 2012- Explaining migrant women’s low social participation: the relationship with health.
    Funding: SCP and VU (1 PhD-position, Jasmijn Slootjes). Datacollection: statistical analysis and biographical interviews.
  • 2010- Choice or consequence? Explaining differences in the participation of women in mathematics, science and technology (MST) in the Netherlands and Sweden.
    Funding: VU, NWO Plus Fund (Mozaiek proposal was accepted, but could not be funded by NWO, 1 PhD- position, Demet Yazilitas).
    Datacollection: surveys and interviews.
  • 2009-2011 PROSINT (Promoting Sustainable Integration Policies) (Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden,Switzerland, UK).
    Funding: European Commission, DG JLS (European Integration Fund), JLS/2008/EIFX/CA/1039
    Datacollection: desk study and interviews.
  • 2009-2011 Integrationvision ‘Colourful Almelo’ (Integratievisie ‘Kleurrijk Almelo’) Comparing the implementation of integration policies at the local level with the policies in Münster.
    Funding: Provincie Overijssel,  European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in the framework of  INTERREG IV A.
    Datacollection: desk study, survey and interviews.
  • 2009-2011 Do integration programmes promote integration? Measuring civic integration programs in Enschede.
    Funding: Gemeente Enschede.
    Datacollection: surveys, focus groups and interviews.
  • 2009-2011 Giving care, asking care: intergenerational informal care and solidarity in immigrant families in urban Twente (Zorg dragen, zorg vragen: intergenerationele mantelzorg en solidariteit onder allochtonen in stedelijk Twente.) (Main researcher: Mariecke van den Berg)
    Funding: Gemeente Enschede, Hengelo, Almelo and NICIS. Datacollection: surveys and interviews.
  • 2009-2010 Equal treatment in the proactive approach of troubling youth behaviour and youth delinquency (Gelijke behandeling in de proactieve aanpak van jeugdoverlast en jeugdcriminaliteit).
    Funding: Commissie Politie en Wetenschap, Nederlandse Politieacademie.
    Datacollection: survey, observation and interviews.
  • 2006-2008 Values, Equality, Differences in Liberal Democracies. Debates about Female Headscarves in Europe (Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Turkey).
    Funding: Specific Targeted Research Project (STREP), EC 6. Framework
    Programme. (including 1 Phd-position, Doutje Lettinga).
    Datacollection: desk study and frame analysis.
  • 2004-2008 Suicidal behaviour among immigrant young woman in the Netherlands: the relation with gender and ethnicity.
    Funding: NWO Open Competition (1 Phd-position, Diana van Bergen).
    Datacollection: statistical analysis, analysis of medical case files and biographical interviews.
  • 2000-2003 Culture, toleration and female autonomy in a liberal democracy.
    Funding: NWO in the research programme ‘Ethics and Policy’ (2 postdoc positions).
    Datacollection: desk study.
  • 1996-1999 Gender, Ethnicity and Public Morality.
    Funding: NWO in the research programme ‘Ethics and Policy’. (2 postdoc positions).
    Datacollection: desk study.
  • 1988-1989 Moroccan, Moluccan and Surinames youth responding to discrimination.
    Funding: Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture (WVC) (3 junior positions). Datacollection: interviews.
  • 1981 Trendreport ‘Women and political power’ (2 junior positions).
    Funding: Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture (WVC).
    Datacollection: desk study.
  • 1980-1981 Study delay and drop out female students (2 junior positions).
    Funding: University of Amsterdam. Datacollection: desk study and interviews.

Selection of publications

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Publications international

  • Yazilitas, D., Saharso, S., de Vries, G. C., & Svensson, J. S. (2016). The postmodern perfectionist, the pragmatic hedonist and the materialist maximalist: understanding high school students’ profile choices towards or away from mathematics, science and technology (MST) fields in the Netherlands. Gender and Education, 1-19. ISSN: 0954-0253 (Print) 1360-0516 (Online) Journal homepage:
  • Bergen, D.D. van & Saharso, S. (2015). Suicidality of Young Ethnic Minority Women with an Immigrant Background: The Role of Autonomy. European Journal of Women’s Studies (Online first October 18 2015): 1-15.
  • Lettinga, D. & Saharso, S. (2014), Outsiders Within: Framing and Regulation of Headscarves in France, Germany and The Netherlands. Social Inclusion (ISSN: 2183-2803)  2(3 ): 29-39.
  • Svensson, J.S. & Saharso, S. (2014). Proactive policing and equal treatment of ethnic-minority youths. Policing and society: an international journal of research and policy, DOI: 10.1080/104394632013.875015.
  • Delhaye, C., Saharso, S. & Ven, V. van de (2014). Immigrant Youths’  Contribution to Urban Culture in Amsterdam. In Foner, N.,Rath, Duyvendak, J. W. & Reekum R. van (Eds.), New York and Amsterdam: Immigration and the New Urban Landscape. New York: New York University Press: 287-309.
  • Saharso, S. (2014). Cultural Agency, Critical Agency: Multicultural Feminist Perspectives. In  Reilly, N. & Scriver, S. (ed.) Religion, Gender  and the Public Sphere. Routledge: New York and London:24-30.
  • Prins, B. & Saharso, S. (2013). Multiculturalism and Identity. In Waylen, G, Celis, K. & Laurel Weldon. S. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 781-802.
  • Yazilitas, D., Svensson, J., De Vries, G., & Saharso, S. (2013). Gendered study choice: a literature review. A review of theory and research into the unequal representation of male and female students in mathematics, science, and technology. Educational Research and Evaluation: An International Journal on Theory and Practice 19(6): 525-545.
  • Leeman. Y. & Saharso, S. (2013). Coming of age in Dutch schools. Issues of schooling and identity. Education Inquiry 4(1), 11-30.
  • Saharso, S. & Scholten, P.(2013). Comparative migration studies: an introduction. Comparative Migration Studies, 1(1), 1-6.
  • Kofman, E, Saharso, S. and Vacchelli, E. (2013). Gendered Perspectives on Integration Discourses and Measures, International Migration, ISSN 0020-7985; doi: 10.1111/imig.12102.
  • Lettinga, D. & Saharso, S. (2012). Politics and policies on the veil in France and the Netherlands: a comparison. Comparative European Politics 10(3): 319-336.
  • Saharso, S. & Lettinga, D. (2012). Headscarf debates as a prism for conceptions of national  identity.’ in N. Yuval-Davis and P. Marfleet  'Secularism, racism and the politics of belonging' : pp. 42-46. Open access publication Runnymede Trust April 2012 ing-2012.pdf).
  • Saharso, S. (2012). Book review: Colonial and post-colonial governance of islam: continuities and ruptures. Journal of Muslims in Europe 1: 219-221.
  • Bergen, D.D. van,  Van Balkom, A. J.L.M , Smit, J. H. & Saharso, S. (2011), ‘I felt so hurt and lonely’: Suicidal Behavior in South Asian-Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan Women in the Netherlands. Transcultural Psychiatry 49(1), 69-86.
  • Ersanilli, E. & Saharso, S. (2011). The settlement country and ethnic identification of children of Turkish immigrants in Germany, France, and the Netherlands: what role do national integration policies play? International Migration Review 45(4): 907-937.
  • Hadj-Abdou, L., Rosenberger, S., Saharso, S. & Siim, B. (2011), The limits of populism. Accommodative headscarf policies in Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands.  In Rosenberger, S. and Sauer, B. (eds.), Politics, Religion and Gender. Framing and Regulating the Veil. London/New York: Routledge: 132-149.
  • Saharso, S. (2011). Conclusion. The veil as a case of value diversity and European values. In Rosenberger, S. and Sauer, B. (eds.), Politics, Religion and Gender.  Framing and Regulating the Veil, London/New York: Routledge: 205-216.
  • Saharso, S. (2011). Reaction to Duyvendak, J.W. Feeling at home in the nation? Understanding Dutch nostalgia. In Harbers, H. (Ed.), Strangeness and Familiarity. Global Unity and Diversity in Human Rights and Democracy. Utrecht: FORUM: 97-99.
  • Bergen, D.D., Eikelenboom, M., Smit, J.H., Looij-Jansen, P.M. van de & Saharso, S. (2010). Rates and risk factors of suicidal behavior in female minority adolescents compared to female majority youngsters in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Ethnicity & health, 15(5): 515-530.
  • Saharso, S. (2010), ‘Féminisme contre multiculturalisme? Le cas des opérations de reconstruction de l’hymen.’ In Coene, G. & Longman, C. (eds.), Feminisme et multiculturalisme. Les paradoxes du debat.Bruxelles: Peter Lang Editors :55-72.
  • Prins, B. and Saharso, S. (2010). From Toleration to Repression: The Dutch Backlash against Multiculturalism. In Vertovec . S.and Wessendorf, S. (eds.) The Multiculturalism Backlash. European discourses, policies and practices. New York: Routledge: 72-91.
  • Bergen, D. van & Saharso, S. (2010) Immigrants and suicidal behavior: the role of gender. In: Sher, L. & Vilens, A. (eds.) Immigrants and mental health: stress, psychiatric disorders and suicidal  behavior among immigrants and refugees. Nova Science Publishers: 22-35. ISBN: 978-1-61668-503-4
  • Lettinga, D. & Saharso, S. (2009). Débats sur le “voile muselman”en France et aux Pay-Bas.  Dans: 'Modèles d'intégration et intégration des modèles? Une étude comparative entre la France et les Pays- Bas. Dossier coordonné par Bertossi, C. et Duyvendak, J.W. Migrations Société 21(122) : 237-281.
  • Bergen. D.D. van, Smit, J.H. van Balkom A.J.L.M & Saharso, S. (2009). Suicidal Behavior of Young Immigrant Women in The Netherlands. Can we use Durkheim’s concept of ‘fatalistic suicide’ to explain their high incidence of attempted suicide? Ethnic and Racial Studies 32(2): 302-322.
  • Bergen. D.D. van, Smit, J.H. van Balkom A.J.L.M, Ameijden, E. van & Saharso, S. (2008). Suicidal ideation across ethnic minority adolescents compared to Dutch majority youngsters in Utrecht, The Netherlands: an exploration. Crisis. The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 29(4): 202-208.
  • Kilic, S., Saharso, S. & Sauer, B. (eds.)(2008). The Veil: Debating citizenship, gender and religious diversity. Special issue Social Politics. International Studies in Gender, State and Society 16(4).
  • Kilic, S., Saharso, S. & Sauer, B. (2008). Headscarf Regimes in Europe. Comparative Perspectives. Social Politics. International Studies in Gender, State and Society 16(4): 397-410.
  • Saharso, S. & Lettinga, D.(2008). Contentious citizenship: policies and debates on the veil in the Netherlands. Social Politics. International Studies in Gender, State and Society 16(4): 455-480.
  • Lettinga, D. & Saharso, S. (2008). The Islamic headscarf as a political tool in the battle over multiculturalism: an argument for a contextual analysis of moral conflicts. In Khadpekar, N.R. (ed.), Understanding Multiculturalism. Hyderabad: ICFAI University Press: 147-174.
  • Phillips, A. & Saharso, S. (eds)(2008). The rights of women and the crisis of multiculturalism. Special issue of Ethnicities 8(3).
  • Phillips, A. & Saharso, S. (2008). Introduction to The rights of women and the crisis of multiculturalism. Ethnicities 8(3): 291-301.
  • Prins, B. & Saharso, S. (2008). In the spotlight. A blessing and a curse for immigrant women in the Netherlands.  Ethnicities 8 (3): 365-384.
  • Saharso, S. (2008). Gibt es einen multikulturellen Feminismus? Ansätze zwischen Universalismus und Anti-Essentialismus. In Sauer, B. & Strasser, S. (eds.), Zwangsfreiheiten: Kulturelle Diversität, Geschlechteregalität und feministische Handlungsmöglichkeiten. Wien: Promedia Verlag: 11-27.
  • Saharso, S. (2008). Multicultural Feminism: Finding our way between universalism and anti- essentialism. IPW Working Paper 3/2008. Institut für Politikwissenschaft, Universität Wien (27 p.).
  • Saharso, S., (2008). Headscarves: A Comparison of Public Thought and Public Policy in Germany and the Netherlands. In Siim, B. & Squires, J. (eds.), Contested Citizenship: Comparative Analyses, London: Routledge: 111-128.
  • Saharso, S. (2007). Headscarves: A Comparison of Public Thought and Public Policy in Germany and the Netherlands. In Siim, B. & Squires, J. (eds.), Contested Citizenship: Comparative Analyses, special issue of Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP) 10 (4): 513-530.
  • Saharso, S.(2007). Is Freedom of the Will but a Western Illusion? Individual Autonomy, Gender and Multicultural Judgement. In Arneil,  B,. Dhamoon, R.& Eisenberg, A. (eds.). Sexual Justice/Cultural Justice, London/New York: Routledge Press: 122-138.
  • Bergen, D.D. van, Smit, J.H., Kerkhof, A.J.F.M., & Saharso, S. (2006). Gendered and cultural patterns of suicidal behaviour. Young Hindustani immigrant women in the Netherlands. Crisis. The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 27(4): 181-188.
  • Saharso, S. & Verhaar, O. (2006). Headscarves in the police force and the court: does context matter? Acta Politica . International Journal of Political Science 41(1): 68-86.
  • Saharso, S., (2005). Sex Selective Abortion: Gender, Culture and Public Policy in the Netherlands.’ Ethnicities vol. 5 (2): 248-266. + Sex Selective Abortion. A Reply: 279-281.
  • Saharso, S. & Bader, V.M. (eds.) (2004). Contextualised  Morality and Ethno-religious Diversity. Special issue of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice vol. 7(2).
  • Bader, V.M. & Saharso, S. (2004). Contextualised Morality and Ethno-religious Diversity. An Introduction. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 7(2): 107-115.
  • Verhaar, O. & Saharso, S. (2004). The Weight of Context. Headscarves in Holland. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 7(2): 179-195.
  • Maris, C. & Saharso, S. (2004). Honour Killing: A Case for Cultural Defence? in Soeteman, A. (ed.), Proceedings 20th IVR World Congress 2001. Beiheft ARSP (Archiv für Rechts- und Sozial Philosophie) 3: Global Problems , Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag: 105-113.
  • Saharso, S. (2003). Feminist Ethics, Autonomy and the Politics of Multiculturalism. In Hogan, L. & Roseneil, S. (eds.) Ethical Relations – agency, autonomy, care. Special issue of  Feminist Theory 4(2): 199-215.
  • Saharso, S. (2003). Culture, Tolerance and Gender: A Contribution from the Netherlands. European Journal of Women’s Studies 10(1): 7-27.
  • Maris, C. & Saharso, S., (2001). Honour Killing: A Reflection on Gender, Culture and Violence. The Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences 37(1): 52-73.
  • Saharso, S. (2000). Female Autonomy and Cultural Imperative: Two Hearts Beating Together. In Kymlicka, W. & Norman, W. (eds.), Citizenship in Diverse Societies Oxford: Oxford University Press: 224-242.
  • Saharso, S. (1999), Women's Right of Choice?! A Reflection on Women's Rights, Cultural Toleration and Public Morality, Acta Politica. International Journal of Political Science 34(4): 331-350.
  • Grünell, M & Saharso, S. (1999). State of the Art: bell hooks and Nira Yuval-Davis on Race, Ethnicity, Class and Gender. European Journal of Women's Studies 6(2): 203-218.
  • Saharso, S. (1998). Geschlecht, Ethnie und öffentliche Moral: Migrantinnen in der holländischen Frauen- und Minoritätspolitik. Feministische Studien 16(1): 25-38.
  • Leeman, Y. & Saharso, S. (1998). Racism in the Netherlands: the Challenge for Youth Policy and Youth Work. In  Hazekamp, J.L & Popple, K. Racism in Europe: a Challenge for Youth Policy and Youth Work. London: UCL Press: 39-64.
  • Leeman, Y. & Saharso, S. (1991). Coping with discrimination. European Journal of Intercultural Studies 1(3): 5 - 17.
  • Saharso, S. (1989). Ethnic identity and the paradox of equality. In: Oudenhoven, J.P. van & Willemsen,T. (eds.) Ethnic Minorities. Social Psychological Perspectives. Amsterdam/Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger: 97 - 114.
  • Leeman, Y. & Saharso, S.(1988). Geschlecht und Rassismus. Intervention aus den Niederlanden zu Argument 163 Das Argument 169: 404 -406.


PhD supervision

  • 2016 Janine Meins (supervisor, University of Humanistic Studies)
  • 2015- Carla Bakboord (supervisor, VU University Amsterdam)
  • 2013 -Senait Haileslase Khishen (supervisor, University of Twente)
  • 2012- Jasmijn Slootjes (supervisor, VU University Amsterdam)
  • 2010 - Demet Yazilitas (supervisor, VU University Amsterdam)
  • 2009 - 2014 Mariecke van den Berg (supervisor, University of Twente)
  • 2006 - 2011 Doutje Lettinga (supervisor, VU University Amsterdam)
  • 2004 - 2009 Diana van Bergen (supervisor, VU University Amsterdam)
  • 2004 - 2010 Evelyn Ersanilli (second supervisor, VU University Amsterdam)

Ancillary activities

International networks and activities

  • Founder and since 2013 editor-in-chief Comparative  Migration Studies.
  • Member of the IMISCOE Research Network.
  • Member of Council for European Studies (CES) research network on Immigration