Amid sex scandals and #MeToo, women aid workers warn against 'culture of silence'

by Lin Taylor | @linnytayls | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 8 March 2018 15:06 GMT

Women walk past an Oxfam sign in Corail, a camp for displaced people of the 2010 earthquake, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

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"It is the behaviour of these men, not our complaint of their behaviour, which damages the sector's reputation and public trust"

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women working as humanitarian workers across 80 countries have called for major reforms in the industry as a sex scandal centred on British charity Oxfam rocks the aid sector.

An open letter penned by four female aid workers attracted more than 1,000 signatures from other women in the sector, from Britain and the United States to Jordan, South Sudan and Haiti.

"The women who are speaking out now hope to make international aid a better place for the women who work within it, and for those whose rights we campaign and advocate for," said the open letter to senior staff at aid charities.

"We are gravely concerned that the culture of silence, intimidation and abuse will continue as soon as the media spotlight on this issue begins to dim," it added.

From film sets, parliaments to businesses, revelations of sexual abuse have sent shockwaves around the world, with women taking to social media to highlight experiences of abuse through the #MeToo campaign.

Reports that staff at British charity Oxfam paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake have left the aid world reeling.

The sector has been further rocked by allegations that women in Syria have been exploited by men delivering aid for charities and U.N. agencies.

A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in February found more than 120 staff from about 20 leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs in 2017 over sexual misconduct.

Aid agencies have reported 80 cases where they have caused harm, or a risk of harm, to the Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales, since the sexual abuse scandal broke last month.

"It is the behaviour of these men, not our complaint of their behaviour, which damages the sector's reputation and public trust," said the letter by Sarah Martin, Alexia Pepper de Caires, Anne Quesney and Danielle Spencer.

"Trust in our sector can only be restored when we ask and answer the difficult questions and openly challenge those who exploit and hide behind the good work of many."

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit to see more stories)

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