The UK Select Committee on International Development has found that sexual exploitation and abuse is endemic in the aid sector. Its report, which was issued in July 2018, accused agencies of a “collective failure of leadership and engagement”, as well as significant “self-delusion”. The committee chairman, Stephen Twigg, even said that charities were "more concerned to protect their own reputation” than to prevent further harm coming to vulnerable women and children.
This parliamentary investigation was established following revelations that senior Oxfam staff had paid survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake for sex. However, Oxfam is not the only NGO to be criticised. Other sexual misconduct scandals involving different, British-based aid organisations have also come to light in the press since the beginning of 2018. These include those relating to Save the Children, which is now being investigated by the Charity Commission over concerns about the charity’s handling, reporting and response to serious allegations of misconduct and harassment against senior staff members.
Why were NGOs keener to protect their own organisational reputation than vulnerable women and children? Why did whistleblowers publish their allegations in The Times, which is hostile to international aid, rather than in more sympathetic news outlets, like The Guardian? What were the political effects of this? But most importantly, how can agencies regain public trust by identifying and dealing with those accused of sexual misconduct more effectively in future?
The University of Edinburgh will host an expert panel to discuss these questions, in an evening event open to practitioners and members of the public, as well as university staff and students across all disciplines. Please sign up here: https://humanitarian-me-too.eventbrite.co.uk
The speakers are:
- Imogen Wall, the founder of the Fifty Shades of Aid Facebook group, has been one of the key activists speaking out on behalf of whistle-blowers. She is an independent consultant specialising in improving communications between aid agencies and survivors of disasters in humanitarian emergencies. She has served as a spokesperson for UN-OCHA and UNDP, as well as Save the Children, Infosaid and CDAC. Her frontline humanitarian work includes field postings in Indonesia (Aceh), Sudan, Haiti, Philippines, as well as at aid agencies' headquarters in New York and Genevs. Prior to that, she worked as a journalist for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the BBC World Service.
- Nicola Dahrendorf is one of the world’s foremost experts in sexual violence, with over 25 years’ experience of working in conflict and post-conflict settings. She has worked with NGOs, the UK government and the UN.This included serving as a senior manager in six peacekeeping operations in CAR (2016-17), Haiti (2010-11), DRC and Rwanda (1994, 1997, 2005-6, 2008-9), East Timor (1999-2001), Bosnia (1995-96) and Cambodia (1992-94). She has worked at UNICEF HQ as Chief of Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy and with UNHCR for seven years on refugee law and protection issues. She has carried a number of assignments for the UK Government Stabilisation Unit and DFID Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department (between 2010-17) in Kenya, Nigeria, DRC, South Sudan, Somalia and Nepal. She has also worked in academia with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and King’s College London, where she is a Visiting Research Fellow.
- Dr Glenda Cooper, a Lecturer in Journalism at City (University of London), who is currently researching journalists’ role in exposing aid-workers’ sexual misconduct. Dr Cooper is the co-editor of Humanitarianism, Communications and Change, and is currently writing a monograph, Reporting Humanitarian Disasters in a Social Media Age, for Routledge. She was the Guardian Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford University and has also written for the Nieman Institute of Journalism at Harvard University. Prior to joining academia, Dr Cooper worked on many of the UK’s leading newspapers, including: The Independent, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and the Evening Standard.
The chair is:
- Dr Kate Wright, a Chancellor’s Fellow in the Cultural and Creative Industries at Edinburgh University. Dr Wright is a Co-Investigator on the AHRC project on Humanitarian Journalism. She was previously a Media Fellow on an ESRC project on Non-Governmental Public Action at the LSE, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the NODE Centre for Research into News and Opinion in the Digital Era at Karlstad University in Sweden. Recommendations from her research have been adopted by the UN, NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Criminal Court. Prior to joining academia, Dr Wright worked as a journalist on top Scottish, British and international news flagship programmes at the BBC. Her journalism has won awards from Sony, the Foreign Press Association and the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism.