#MeToo Movement Moves From Hollywood To Humanitarian NGOs

Following this week’s news, further information has arisen in claims to the #MeToo movement in the humanitarian sector, not only involving those being protected by aid but also from colleagues experiencing sexual harassment internally in these organizations. NGOs are trusted and responsible for advancing the humanitarian and non-combative agenda in conflict-stricken countries. The fact that their employees are taking advantage of vulnerable people is concerning, questioning their intention behind their field of work.

On February 28th claims of sexual misconduct in Haiti arose as the Guardian published an article revealing that foreign aid staff would provide money to workers for sex-related services. Oxfam was the British charity involved in these allegations, providing later an apology to the government for their exploitation. This spurred other agencies to also take further control over their employees to ensure that no one else would have to endure any sexual abuse, being afraid of losing their jobs to the people with greater power. Furthermore, The Voice from Syria 2018, written by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), found men expecting sex in return for aid in South Syria, hassling women for phone numbers, offering favours to ‘spend a night with them’ and having officials ask females to marry them, providing sex in exchange for food and supplies.

Sexual exploitation in charitable institutions has been happening for quite some time. There were allegations in 2003 by Save the Children about sexual misconduct in West Africa with aid workers. Moreover, in 2015 the United Nations released figures that 255 women between 2007 and 2014 had been used for sex work by peacekeepers. According to the BBC, the consequences of this unethical and inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment and abuse of women is worrying, leading women to refuse aid, fearing for their reputation. If they receive it, there is an assumption they are giving sexual favours. Humanitarian aid organizations and NGOs cannot afford to have a tarnished name. People receiving help are in real need of it but fear those assisting them as well as feeling unprotected by their state. Such a position is really concerning for these charities as they rely on their employees’ behaviour, decency and integrity to uphold their reputation and image.

There have been actions taken to prevent sexual exploitation from happening in the future, such as the CARE agency using local contractors to distribute aid to remove the chance of international misconduct, while Oxfam and Red Cross have removed people they see as a risk, or if they think they sexually harassed or abused someone. Additionally, the UN opened a “Speak Up” hotline where victims can seek help from trained personnel. This reform and immediate action is a positive step to stopping such unlawful activities in the humanitarian aid sector.

Editors of the Guardian are supported in their suggestion that there is a lack of women in high positions of NGOs, allowing the male ‘buddy system’ to develop, where the males in high position cover up or get away with sexual harassment and abuse. Increasing representation of women in higher positions would balance out the ratio, being key to protecting women in the organizations from sexual misconduct, reflecting even further out on how to keep women and children safe in conflict-stricken countries too.