Strengthening frameworks to address sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers

By: Megan Nobert

This year, the Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) is focusing on the important issue of the economic empowerment of women. However, the discourse at CSW right now is broader than just this one issue. As part of the areas of action, strengthening normative, legal and policy frameworks is providing the needed space to highlight another pressing problem: sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers.

Current data suggests that one in three women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. Sexual violence is a global phenomenon in and out of conflict settings. People at risk of experiencing sexual violence include humanitarian aid workers, a group of survivors that, until just recently, has been left out of the discourse.

Emerging statistics show that humanitarian aid workers are at risk of sexual violence by the local population as well as by their colleagues. As part of its commitment to implement the Agenda for Humanity transformations, Report the Abuse moved to tackle the stigma currently experienced by humanitarians who are survivors of sexual violence, as well as the organizational cultures perpetuating this stigma. Strengthened policies to reflect humanitarian agencies’ duty of care to address sexual violence against their employees is part of creating this organizational change.

Strengthened policies is the first step towards developing frameworks that not only prevent and appropriately respond to incidents of sexual violence, as experienced by humanitarian aid workers, but which also create more accountable systems on a broader scale.

To accomplish this task, the first step is to do a stocktake of all organizational prevention-and-response strategies to address sexual violence experienced by humanitarian aid workers. What do we have in place? Does it still work in our increasingly fluid and work environments? Where are our gaps? How do we change the status quo approach to this issue?

By creating safer work environments for humanitarian aid workers — free from acts of sexual violence — safer environments will logically also be created for programme beneficiaries. Impunity breeds impunity.

The steps we are asking all humanitarian organizations to take echo that asked by the UN Secretary-General on 9 March, during the launch of new guidelines to address the sexual exploitation and abuse of the local population. Accountability breeds accountability.

Report the Abuse commits to assisting humanitarian aid organizations to ensure that their policies and procedures regarding all forms of gender-based violence experienced by staff, consultants, contractors, interns and other types of employees are survivor-centred, and implemented and applied across all levels of their organization. These forms of gender-based violence include sexual harassment, discrimination, violence and exploitation.

Report the Abuse also commits to promoting a no-tolerance policy regarding gender-based violence in all working environments, including applying whistle-blower protection to survivors and witnesses who report violations of said gender-based violence policies and procedures, within the broader humanitarian aid community. This includes the development of the first good practices to address the issue of sexual violence experienced by humanitarian aid workers, which Report the Abuse will launch in four phases over the next year, starting in spring 2017.

What is your humanitarian organization doing to address this problem?

Megan Nobert is the Founder and Executive Director of Report the Abuse, the first global NGO created to specifically address sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers.