Opinion: There are no more excuses for aid agencies to ignore sexual violence

A self-assertiveness and self-defense training program held by the NMISS Police in coordination with peacekeeping organization Nonviolent Peaceforce at a Protection of Civilians site in Juba. Photo by: UNMISS / CC BY-NC-ND

I will not sit here and tell you why we need to address the issue of sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers. The evidence has been piling up for some time, and there is no need to go over it again.

What I am going to tell you is how we tackle this issue. The most common response I have heard from humanitarian organizations across the globe is that they do not know how to address sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers. They do not have the tools, knowledge, or skills to change the status quo.

This is no longer an excuse. With the publication of Report the Abuse’s good practices tools, humanitarian organizations have the base of what they need to do better for their staff members. They have the knowledge to prevent and respond appropriately to incidents of sexual violence. They are guided on their duty of care and how to advocate for change at the global level. This is now all publicly available.

Advocacy NGO shining a light on sexual assault of aid workers set to close

Report the Abuse, the NGO that catalyzed action against sexual violence in the aid sector, will close its doors this month after failing to secure funding. Devex talks to founder Megan Nobert about what happened — and where the campaign goes from here.

The publication of these good practices tools coincided with the closure of Report the Abuse, as an NGO in Switzerland, due to an absence of sustainable funding streams. The closure of Report the Abuse cannot be seen as a reason to stop the work on addressing sexual violence on the humanitarian community though. Instead, it should be seen as the next step in the movement, and a push for humanitarian organizations to take up this work individually and as a collective.

This problem is larger than just one person or one organization. All humanitarian organizations and all humanitarian aid workers must own it. It will take us all working together to create safer workplaces, for change to really happen. Complacency is not an option.

Please hear this call and act. Conduct further research to see what are the risk factors for sexual violence for humanitarian aid workers. Ask what the experiences are for national aid workers and how we can make our work environments more inclusive.

Ask all staff members what would make them feel safe. As humanitarian organizations, accept constructive criticism. Not a single organization in the humanitarian community is doing a perfect job to address sexual violence right now. Perhaps no organization will ever do it perfectly.

There should be no shame in asking questions or seeking help. We must encourage this vulnerability; out of it change will grow.

Take the good practices created by Report the Abuse and use them as a jumping off point for developing your own good practices. Share the lessons you learn in implementing them. Talk to other humanitarian organizations about your experiences. Develop alliances and networks to address this issue. Break the silos and reach across the table or office — others are experiencing similar problems and worried about how to address them.

Survivors, your voices have inspired so many people so far. There is rarely a day that goes past when I do not hear from one of you, and the message is increasingly about the inspiration you have drawn from your community of survivors. This community may have been created by trauma, but it is strong, powerful, and empowered. Your voices — which, with time and healing, will continue to grow — are driving real change. Please keep sharing your experiences, and do not allow yourselves to be silenced. I started working on this issue because of you, and I will not stop for that same reason.

The closure of Report the Abuse may not be for forever; perhaps someday there will be a need and opportunity for its rebirth. Whatever the future brings, know that the ripple effects created by our work will not be stopped. Survivor’s voices will not be silenced.

The work is started but not done. It is for you to take up the torch and hear our call.

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About the author

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    Megan Nobert

    Megan Nobert, a Canadian legal professional and academic specialized in international criminal law and human rights, is the founder and former director of Report the Abuse, which was the first and only global NGO created to address sexual violence against humanitarian aid workers.