Preventing Sexual Misconduct In Aid Sector Requires Holistic Approach Examining Systems, Rules, Opinion Piece Suggests
New Humanitarian: Why transactional sex is difficult to stop in the aid sector
Jasmine-Kim Westendorf, senior lecturer in international relations at La Trobe University, Australia and author
“…Recently, there has been a flurry of activity to strengthen prevention and accountability mechanisms for sexual misconduct in the humanitarian sector. … While important, these initiatives will not get to the heart of this problem unless the sector truly grapples with the dynamics of power, gender, and entitlement that shape the choices made by some aid workers to exploit and abuse locals, and that mean that few are reported or investigated in the first instance. … To more effectively prevent and punish sexual misconduct, organizations and aid workers must engage more openly and honestly with their behaviors in relation to local communities. Instead of relying on a conduct and discipline approach governed primarily by HR systems, organizations need to complement rules-based training with ongoing opportunities for discussion about a mission and their role in it, to ensure personnel understand not only what rules govern their behaviors, but why they have been deployed, how their everyday behaviors affect the goals and outcomes of a humanitarian mission, and to what end certain behaviors have been proscribed. They need to ensure that leadership is committed and accountable to safeguarding policies and have an understanding of gender and power as driving forces of misconduct. And they need to move away from understanding sexual misconduct as something individual staff perpetrate, but see it as the product of the complex environments in which they work and address the causal and contextual factors that give rise to them. This is critical, because while the number of perpetrators is small, the effects they have are huge: on the lives of their victims, the outcomes of the missions they work within, and on global perceptions of the legitimacy of the humanitarian project” (10/6).