Prostitution and Humanitarian Workers

Few years ago, I was on a mission in Africa. In the middle of the night I went in the kitchen of the guesthouse to take some cold water. I saw one of my expat colleague with a local women, I heard them say “goodbye” and he asked the NGO driver to drive her back to her place. I didn’t see her very well but I found strange to see a woman leaving the house in the middle of the night so the following ay I asked the dirver who told me she was a prostitute. But I think she could have been a one night stand too. I told my Country Director about the event. His response surprised me as he adviced me to take a picture of the lady next time I see her in the guesthouse. I said I was not comfortable spying on my colleague. He answered “if you don’t have any proof, there is nothing I can do.”

This is what denounces the International Development Committee in its latest report published on the 31st of July: See the report here. The reports also shows how sexual exploitation and abuse is endemic across organisations, countries and institutions. It also highlights the failure of the aid sector to address sexual exploitation and abuse. Indeed, thought most NGOs have a internal code of conduct that forbids sexual exploitation and abuse including food for sex, aid for sex and money for sex and often talk about a zero tolerance policy, in practice it’s not the same. A very small percentage of cases are reported and investigated. Lack of proof almost always benefits to perpetrators as procedures of dismissal for gross misconduct need to fulfill labor law requirements.

The main recommendations of the reports are to strenghen whistleblowing and reporting systems and improve the way investigations are conducted with clear best practices guidelines. Victims and survivors should be at the center of all policies and practices. Empowerment, accountability and transparency are some of the values that should be put upfront.

As we were hoping few months ago, the Oxfam scandal is the opportunity to openly discuss these issues and finally try to tacle them. See our article #enoughofhumanitarianpigs from February 2018

Photo credit: Annie Sprat



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