What Role Can Funders Play in Ending Sexual Abuse of Aid Workers?

A new report from Humanitarian Women’s Network details the percentage of women aid workers who reported and didn’t report gender-based harassment, and the reasons for not reporting.

Here’s a good idea: Encouraging funders to adopt language in their contracts with grantees that spells out how the grantees will prevent gender-based abuse and harassment and provide safety for everyone in the work environment.

An article by Sophie Edwards in Devex discusses some new research from Humanitarian Women’s Network that shows just how serious the problem of gender-based harassment still is in the aid and relief work sector. The Devex article spells out some specific ways that funders of international aid can help protect aid workers from gender-based harassment and abuse.  From the article: 

Funders Have a Role to Play

Aid agencies and NGOs are not the only actors who need to clean up their act when it comes to addressing sexual harassment and abuse within their organizations; aid donors are also to blame, the panelists said, for not doing better due diligence on their grantees.

“How can it be that we subject our money to more scrutiny than the way we care for our people?” Gilmore asked. Scott proposed that funders include provisions in their grant agreements specifically related to tackling sexual assault and harassment of staff.

“I suggest you take critical look at way you disperse money and require concrete prevention [of sexual abuse and harassment],” he said. “That would be a significant benefit to us, put a lot of weight behind what we all agree needs to be done and making sure recommendations are actually implemented,” he said.

This point was supported by a representative from Canada, who agreed that U.N. member states needed to pay more attention to sexual abuse during the due diligence process and not just focus on “fiduciary matters.”

The full five-page report from Humanitarian Women’s Network is available here. 

An earlier article by Sophie Edwards from Devex summarizes the research and findings, as well as the funders and organizations who have collaborated to bring more attention to this problem:

Two advocacy groups formed in the past 18 months by women working in the sector — the Humanitarian Women’s Network and Report the Abuse — have lifted the lid on the problem, collecting survey data from hundreds of female aid workers. The results reveal that sexual harassment, unwanted touching, sexual comments and, in some cases, rape, are a common experience for women working in remote and dangerous humanitarian settings.

More than 800 women responded to the Report the Abuse survey; 67 percent said they had suffered sexual violence while on the job, including 10 percent who said they had been raped and 21 percent who said they had experienced unwanted sexual touching. Similarly, the Humanitarian Women’s Network survey — which received responses from more than 1,000 people working for 70 organizations — found that 4 percent of female aid workers said they have been raped while carrying out humanitarian work. A further 48 percent reported “unwanted touching” and 55 percent reported that they have experienced sexual advances from male colleagues during their professional careers.

The Feinstein International Center, part of Tufts University, has also been investigating the issue and is set to release its report, Sexual Assault Against Humanitarian and Development Aid Workers, later this month.

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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