The Oxfam sex scandal in Haiti is still fresh. There are few people in the humanitarian community unaware of the Safeguarding Summit that the UK will host in London this week, where representatives of governments, the United Nations, international organisations, small charities, and experts will discuss how the humanitarians can tackle ‘safeguarding’ – which encompasses sexual exploitation, the abuse and the harassment of vulnerable people, including aid workers themselves.
The Summit was driven by a specific event, but any attention is welcome as the problem is important; every organisation and many people in the humanitarian community have encountered these issues. But, until now, silence, fuelled by organisational cultures that stop people from speaking out, has inhibited progress. Those brave enough to break this code of silence have not been met with the appropriate response – humanitarian agencies have not been equipped themselves to manage safeguarding until quite recently. Now that this silence has been broken however, every single humanitarian agency must recognise that we are all in this together.
Acting together is not just about individual responsibility – though this is fundamental. It also offers us the opportunity to develop collective solutions. The Summit is the best opportunity we will have to take collective action – at scale – for many years. In this spirit, I therefore offer the following simple solutions for judging what emerges at the end of October.
They reflect my passionate conviction that we need sustainable solutions that honour all survivors who have come forward, been harmed, or had their agency diminished.
- SUSTAINABLE FUNDING - Annual funding insecurity precludes the long-term solutions required to properly transform organisational cultures. Safeguarding – genuine protection from exploitation, abuse and harassment will not happen in a few months or with a quick fix or two. Any proposed solution must come with firm, long-term commitments for funding.
- COORDINATED COLLABORATION – Collective action is the key to scale. Where individuals do not clearly know and understand how to report, they simply will not. People are already confused by the plethora of organisations operating at the field level. We have to offer survivors a simple mechanism for reporting, anchored in either a coordinated structure or a common system – at the very least. This may be difficult, but nothing about this was ever going to be easy. Humanitarians have an obligation to do better, and be better, but we need streamlined efforts that understand and respond to people in need who might or do become survivors, not to our own complex architecture. Collective action is also – if we can be frank – great value for money; everyone from donors to those we support in the field can appreciate the creation of better structures that still allow us to fund good aid delivery.
Is this an ‘innovative’ framework? No. Blockchain is unlikely to solve safeguarding (though the underlying technology may, someday, be helpful). But such a solution does not exist right now, and our problem demands a feasible, cost-effective and collective solution that can be implemented now, not in a decade. In a world of speed, flash, and technology, perhaps focusing on sustainability and securing real results might be innovation?
No organisation, survivor, bystander, or whistle-blower should be left on their own anymore. We have the ability, and the obligation, to do better. It is the absolute least that we owe those who have been harmed – through neglect and trauma, inadvertently or directly. Their bravery in reporting should be honoured, acknowledged, heard, and apologized for, and we cannot continue to force them to come forward at their expense while we figure things out on our end. We cannot end up in this same situation again.
About the author:
Megan Nobert is an international criminal and human rights lawyer, who has practiced for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and International Criminal Court, and sits at the New York State Bar. She is also a humanitarian, specialised in sexual violence and protection, and has worked in the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and South Sudan. Megan is the founder and former director of Report the Abuse, which was the first NGO created to break down the silence around sexual violence against and within the humanitarian and development community. Follow @megan_nobert on Twitter.