Archive for September, 2012

PHOTO: Brendon Bannon, HAP’s Report “To Complain or Not To Complain”

PSEA (preventing sexual exploitation and abuse) is about preventing us, the assistance community, from abusing and exploiting the people we come into contact with. The UN defines sexual exploitation and abuse as follows:

‘Sexual exploitation’ means any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically, from the sexual exploitation of another. Similarly, the term ‘sexual abuse’ means the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

Despite various prevention measures in place such as the Codes of Conduct and PSEA trainings throughout the humanitarian community, sexual exploitation and abuse is still prevalent. Two reports in 2008 by Save the Children and HAP found that despite preventative measures taken by the international community, sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian agency staff was still widespread.

So what is the link between PSEA and accountability? As we know, accountability is ‘the responsible use of power’ – and SEA represents an abuse of power in a most fundamental way. We have committed to serving people in the most vulnerable situations, and if our own staff abuse and exploit them, we are completely negating what we have set out to achieve.

In practical terms, there are many ways in which accountability and PSEA are linked. The Good Enough Guide, the HAP Standard and the IASC Accountability Operational Framework tools all refer to the role of accountability in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. In particular, when implementing accountability there are several key areas of overlap with PSEA. These are some examples.

PHOTO: Kate Earle

Information sharing: it is good practice to inform communities with whom we work that sexual exploitation and abuse by our staff is prohibited – for example, beneficiaries do not have to exchange sex for goods or services.Staff behaviour: attitudes and behaviour are key to being accountable, and this includes zero tolerance of exploitative and abusive behaviour.

Complaints mechanisms: this is perhaps the area where you are most likely to encounter PSEA issues. Complaints and feedback mechanisms do sometimes capture complaints relating to sexual exploitation and abuse.

In addition to the above, there is another reason why PSEA may arise in the course of our work. As Standing Team members, you will be travelling in and out of programmes. We know from experience with similar roles that this puts you in a unique position. You may uncover issues that have been buried or overlooked by long-term staff. As an ‘outsider’, staff may also raise concerns with you that they feel aren’t being dealt with by the existing management structure, hoping that you can do something about it.

So what should you do if you encounter issues relating to sexual exploitation and abuse? Well first of all, don’t panic! We know that this is an extremely tricky and sensitive subject to deal with. That is why there’s lots of help available. Your agency, or the agency deploying you, should have a procedure for dealing with allegations and concerns. It is worth familiarizing yourself with this before a deployment. Remember, confidentiality is of utmost importance when dealing with SEA, so only disclose information to the necessary contacts.

PHOTO: Kate Earle

On a general level, you can use opportunities in your work to promote PSEA. Your agency may have awareness-raising tools to help you. In addition, there are external resources available.

HAP has resources to support PSEA and run regular training workshops on investigating complaints of SEA.

Keeping Children Safe focuses specifically on providing resources on child protection in humanitarian and development programmes.

The UN PSEA Task Force have a portal containing all sorts of tools, resources and information

A note about the author: Lucy Heaven Taylor, consultant, was formerly with Oxfam GB, working on their accountability team.


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Standing Team member Faten believes that working for the Child’s Rights program at Save the Children – helping to create more accountable programs for Palestinian children – has been one of the most interesting and useful experiences in her professional life.  Last fall she participated in the Standing Team Accountability and Impact Measurement Fundamentals workshop in Jakarta.  This was Faten’s first introduction to many of the key concepts of accountability, and she describes it as the starting point of a “breakthrough” in her work. She states that upon her return:

I was back full of energy to transfer this learning to colleagues and partner organizations. I called for several briefing sessions for staff at different levels in my organization, and I conducted a four day training for Save the Children staff and partners in Gaza, where there is a high need for accountability in the context of emergency.

Trainees from partner organizations were very impressed with this learning, and requested access to the training material in Arabic in order to conduct a similar training for their staff and volunteers.

Thank you Faten for sharing your experience!  We would love to hear from more of you.  How has the learning from past Standing Team workshops contributed to your work?  Share your thoughts as a comment on this post or email sarnason@care.org or klove@care.org if you’re interested in drafting a blog submission!

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Horn of Africa crisis: Food security situation (November-December 2011). Source: UNCS, FEWS NET, FSNAU, FAO, OCHA.

The drought in East Africa has affected an estimated 10 million people.  In July 2011, People in Aid, the Sphere Project, and HAP International called for greater quality and accountability in this response.  Under the umbrella of the Joint Standards Initiative (JSI), the three initiatives deployed to the Horn of Africa for nine weeks in order to support and advocate for quality and accountability in the humanitarian response, document strengths and gaps, and share good practices regionally, as well as globally.

The final report on this initiative raises important issues regarding not only the response in the Horn, but, when considered alongside similar findings from deployments to Haiti and Pakistan, issues pertaining to the state of global humanitarian response.  The most clear and critical overall finding?  There is a general need for better engagement with affected populations throughout the project cycle. 

Specific findings include:

  • The need to create special measures to access vulnerable groups
  • The need for a rights-based approach and ensuring that beneficiaries understand their rights and can hold organizations accountable for their actions. 
  • The importance of community-wide participation
  • Building resilience into program design
  • The need for coordination and collaboration in order to prevent duplication and uneven distribution of aid
  • Recruitment, staff management, and increased contextual knowledge of staff (and how the lack of contextual knowledge is a major barrier of accountability towards affected communities) continue to be issues
  • Establishment and awareness of complaint and response mechanisms

As evidenced in this report, there is still a lot of work to be done.  Interestingly enough, the report states that “most staff from HAP’s membership and People In Aid’s membership were unaware of the Standards and had not been made of aware of their organizations accountability commitments” (page 10 ).  Effectively engaging with communities throughout the project cycle is of paramount importance.  The Standing Team’s assistance in implementing accountability and impact measurement initiatives is critically important as we ensure higher quality humanitarian response globally. 

Please take a look at the Joint Standards Initiative report and let us know your thoughts!

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How do we communicate effectively when communication truly matters? How do we effectively design and deliver our message in times of crises? 

Communication is an integral part of preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. Infoasaid is launching an e-learning course on communication called “Communication is Aid.” This course aims to raise awareness and build basic skills on how to communicate effectively in communities affected by crisis, focusing on both preparedness and skills to use during emergencies.

The course addresses themes including why communication matters, how to know your target audience, how to craft and adapt your message, and how communication is a two-way process. It is divided into five modules. The first two modules are introdcutory. The remaining three modules are interactive, scenario-based challenges and involve learners having to make communication decisions during an earthquake, a post conflict situation, and a hurricane/flood.

The course can be accessed from the website and will also be available on CD-ROM for those with limited internet access.  If you haven’t already, please check out the previously posted infoasaid video on the importance of communication in emergencies.  For more information on the course, please contact admin@infoasaid.org. 

If you do take the course, please post your thoughts here! We’d love to know about your experience!

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