Amid sex scandals and #MeToo, women aid workers warn against 'culture of silence'

Published: March 8, 2018
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An open letter penned by four female aid workers attracted more than 1,000 signatures from other women in the sector. PHOTO COURTESY: THE HINDU

An open letter penned by four female aid workers attracted more than 1,000 signatures from other women in the sector. PHOTO COURTESY: THE HINDU

LONDON: Women working as humanitarian workers across 80 countries have called for major reforms in the industry as a sex scandal centred on British charity Oxfam rocks the aid sector.

An open letter penned by four female aid workers attracted more than 1,000 signatures from other women in the sector, from Britain and the United States to Jordan, South Sudan and Haiti.

“The women who are speaking out now hope to make international aid a better place for the women who work within it, and for those whose rights we campaign and advocate for,” said the open letter to senior staff at aid charities.

“We are gravely concerned that the culture of silence, intimidation and abuse will continue as soon as the media spotlight on this issue begins to dim,” it added.

From film sets, parliaments to businesses, revelations of sexual abuse have sent shockwaves around the world, with women taking to social media to highlight experiences of abuse through the #MeToo campaign.

Reports that staff at British charity Oxfam paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake have left the aid world reeling.

After #MeToo, Britain investigates sexual harassment of women at work

The sector has been further rocked by allegations that women in Syria have been exploited by men delivering aid for charities and UN agencies.

A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in February found more than 120 staff from about 20 leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs in 2017 over sexual misconduct.

Aid agencies have reported 80 cases where they have caused harm, or a risk of harm, to the Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales, since the sexual abuse scandal broke last month.

“It is the behaviour of these men, not our complaint of their behaviour, which damages the sector’s reputation and public trust,” said the letter by Sarah Martin, Alexia Pepper de Caires, Anne Quesney and Danielle Spencer.

“Trust in our sector can only be restored when we ask and answer the difficult questions and openly challenge those who exploit and hide behind the good work of many.”

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