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A Conspiracy of Goodness

Neil Boothby is U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the Administrator on Children in Adversity. Photo Credit: Columbia University.

I’ve found there are some things on which everyone can agree.

  • Children need strong beginnings – health, nutrition and nurturing care – to live their most productive lives;
  • Children grow up best in the care of loving families;
  • Children have the right to live free of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

These truths offer a simple moral imperative, but they are also backed by science. Neuroscientists, pediatricians and economists alike have demonstrated that a promising future belongs to those nations, communities and families that invest wisely in their children. I’ve studied the irrefutable links between the wellbeing of children and the economic and social progress of nations – they provide a compelling agenda for strengthening policies and investments to ensure that all children grow up within protective family care, and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.

Following the genocide in Rwanda, over a million reed-thin and weary refugees poured into the Goma refugee camp in what was then Zaire. In the midst of cholera, relief workers brought infants and children to make-shift orphanages in an effort to save lives. Little babies were lined up like loaves of bread on cots, given vaccines to stave off preventable illnesses and fed routinely through IVs. Yet they still died by the hundreds. It’s called “failure to thrive”—the lack of human contact and nurturance required to live.

I looked into the eyes of many of these Rwandan babies who “failed to thrive”. It was an experience that continues to haunt me to this day. In a brief moment, I witnessed the flicker of God-given potential dim – a desperate fight at first, then resignation and a ghost-like stare until death. It’s the opposite of when I looked into my own son’s eyes and, for the first time, he recognized me and responded with delight!

Last year 6.9 million children died from preventable causes. We have the science to explain what happens within the bodies and brains of children who face deprivation, exploitation and danger. We have the evidence that demonstrates how early intervention break cycles of poverty, inequality and violence. We have empirical data that shows investments made early in the lives of children yield greater returns than at any other point in the life cycle. We have other champions and partner organizations on the ground prepared to roll up their sleeves and scale up what is proven to work. We work with governments all over the world that are prepared to partner to do more and better on behalf of their children in need.

In June, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, hosted the Child Survival Call to Action. As an important follow on to this global effort, this week the first-ever U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (PDF) will be released. It is a testament to the fact that the U.S. government takes the science – and the investment – seriously. With significant investments in international development, the technical expertise and research capabilities embedded within key agencies, and diplomatic outreach, the U.S. government is well positioned to lead and mobilize around this sensible and strategic global agenda for children in adversity – children who face poverty, live on the streets or in institutions, are exploited for their labor or sex, recruited into armed groups, affected by HIV/AIDS, or separated from their families as a result of conflict or disaster.

The Action Plan I have helped to develop outlines objectives that will deliver ambitious and positive results for children. It also identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change.

Yet, this work is about more than science, or sound economic investments. It is about the miracle and potential of each child, and our profound duty to care for our children, and in so doing, protect our future.

I have spent 40 years working to create a world in which all children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger. The U.S. Government Action Plan moves us closer towards this vision. I invite you to join this global conspiracy of goodness.

Dr. Boothby has taken a leave of absence from Columbia University, where he is the Allan Rosenfield Professor of Clinical Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, he has lead several research initiatives, including the Child Protection in Crisis (CPC) Learning Network—a constellation of over 150 agencies working in 32 countries on the development of an evidence base for efficacious child health and protection programming. Through the CPC Network, Dr. Boothby established university based research centers and graduate training programs in Africa, Asian and the Middle East.

USAID Reforms Aim to Strengthen Local Institutions and Systems

Susan Reichle is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning. Photo Credit: USAID.

This post originally appeared in The Guardian.

“No country wants to be dependent on another. No proud leader in this room wants to ask for aid. No family wants to be beholden to the assistance of other … But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop – moving from poverty to prosperity.”

These words from President Barack Obama on 22 September 2010 at the United Nations embody the changes underway at USAid as we reform the way we engage in development. For a while we have known that development takes time, evidence demonstrates that our resources are best spent when we invest in strengthening the host country institutions so that they can stand on their own. This does not only mean working directly with governments so that they become the ‘owners’ of their future but with local civil society, the private sector and others as well. This has not always been the case.

As USAid and development came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, the agency utilised both large scale projects to address development challenges, and placed USAid staff in host country ministries and local organisations to stimulate reform. In the 1980s, we shifted some of our resources to ‘non-project assistance’ by conditioning support to host country governments on their adoption of policy reform in specific sectors. The 1990s brought a period of downsizing for USAid during which significant staff reductions shifted resources towards institutional contractors and NGOs with whom we partnered to achieve development results.

Palestinians unload bags of flour donated by USAid at a depot in the West Bank village of Anin near Jenin. Photo Credit: Mohammed Ballas/AP.

In 2005, the international development community endorsed the Paris Agenda for Aid Effectiveness. Three years later in Accra, Ghana, the international community once again put country ownership high on the agenda to move the needle of development. Just a year ago in Busan, South Korea, the international community recognised that all development actors, including the private sector and emerging donors, were critical to ensuring resources were aligned behind host country priorities to achieve development impact.

Since taking office, USAid administrator Rajiv Shah has initiated a series of reforms under USAid Forward to create new approaches to development by working directly through local systems to improve sustainable results.

This transition to localise aid means that we will be testing a host country’s ability to “use their own pipes” – whether that is a government ministry or civil society. While this approach comes with its own set of challenges, it requires a change in mindset – from both inside and outside USAid – which includes a willingness to manage and mitigate risk and to focus on the long term.

The challenges notwithstanding, I am optimistic that these reforms to USAid’s development model will succeed. They began three years ago when officers around the globe called on the to develop a business model that embraced aid effectiveness. We had demand from below as well as from senior leadership at the top. This occurred at the same time as the international community was calling for local ownership and country system strengthening. The stars were truly aligned.

At the time, the agency was in the middle of almost doubling the size of its foreign service. This allowed more officers to engage directly with host country counterparts in government, civil society and the private sector. Given that the majority of the foreign service officers now have fewer than five years in USAid, we had fresh eyes and energy to undertake new approaches to development.

We developed new diagnostic tools to mitigate risk, created planning rubrics to ensure that we choose capable and appropriate institutions as partners and invest in high quality evaluations, which we feed back into project design and implementation. This emphasis has changed the way we do business. For example, we seek to strengthen a country’s health system even as we work intensively with partners to deliver medicine. Similarly, we engage in policy dialogue to achieve systemic education reform while constructing schools in conflict zones across the world.

In the end, we believe that this new way of doing business is an opportunity. It gives us tighter focus on local systems as well as a broader reach to engage more citizens, which, we hope, will result in more sustainable outcomes and proficient use of taxpayer dollars. Just as you would trust a new driver to take the wheel in order to learn how to drive, we must trust our host country partners to drive their own results.

This trust comes with responsibility and requires a commitment by host countries to transparency. Citizen activism, open government and true partnership are key ingredients to strengthening country systems which ultimately moves countries from poverty to prosperity.

Susan Reichle is assistant to the administrator at USAid

Albanian Farmers Weather Changing Economic Environment

A view of greenhouses upon entering Goriçan, Albania. Photo Credit: Clare Masson, USAID Albania.

Just after arriving in Albania, I accompanied Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs,Phil Reeker, on a visit to Goriçan, a small village tucked in the lush, green hills of central Albania, to meet with a group of farmers assisted by USAID. Upon entering the village, it was evident that agriculture is important to this community. Nestled in Goriçan’s rolling hills and valleys are dozens upon dozens of greenhouses dotting almost every corner of the landscape. In the last 10 years, a group of enterprising farmers have invested heavily in greenhouses, making it possible to harvest year-round production of high-value vegetables. The result has been a transformation of not only the village landscape but also the economic livelihoods of the community.

Unforeseen by Albanian farmers 10 years ago, but increasingly apparent today, their investments have created an important buffer for the community now faced with a return of guest-workers, primarily from Greece, and other consequences of the economic crisis impacting Albania and the region.

Two members of the Hortigor Farmers Association who recently returned from Greece in Goriçan. Photo Credit: Clare Masson, USAID Albania.

Like many rural communities in Albania since the 1990s, Goriçan lost many young workers who migrated as guest workers to Greece and neighboring countries to escape the widespread poverty and instability that characterized Albania’s post-Communist transition. While many left, some farmers remained, and with the early support of USAID, helped lay the foundation for transformational and sustainable development in the community. Starting in 2003, USAID sent two farmers from Goriçan (along with others from other parts of Albania) to specialized training in Croatia and Hungary, and helped the community establish Albania’s first farmer’s association named “Hortigor”, and provided grants to rehabilitate roads and build a consolidation warehouse.

Today, Hortigor members from Goriçan and 10 surrounding villages own 45 “hectares” of greenhouses. These have become major producers of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and eggplants in Albania. In fact, I learned that Hortigor member greenhouses represent one-third of all greenhouse area operating in the village and 15 percent of all greenhouses in Albania!

USAID Albania Mission Director Jim Barnhart and others at the DCA Signing Ceremony. Photo Credit: Clare Masson, USAID Albania.

USAID assistance, in recent seasons, has reached more than $2.8 million dollars in export sales from Goriçan and the surrounding areas, but future developments and investments will depend on the availability and access that many farmers have to commercial credit. To date, there has been little lending in Albania. I was very pleased to sign, as my first official duty as Albanian Mission Director, a Development Credit Authority agreement with two local banks. It is our hope that our $15 million dollar loan guarantee will help to lower barriers to credit, and encourage banks to offer appropriate loan products to enterprising farmers in communities like Goriçan. This marks a logical transition for USAID Albania to move from traditional technical assistance towards sustainable, private-sector led growth in the sector.

As a leader in agriculture development, and as a result of USAID’s smart and targeted development assistance, Goriçan is well-positioned to absorb the skills and know-how of returned migrants from Greece, and implement them at home. I look forward to following the community’s progress as it seeks to expand into large-scale commercial farming that will be able to supply large, reliable and high quality agricultural produce throughout the Balkan region. I am proud of the work that USAID Albania has done to support the agriculture sector and I look forward to future engagement.

Still, I am mindful of the continued need and the pressures that the Eurozone crisis is putting on Albania, particularly its rural areas. Approximately 50 percent of the Albanian workforce is active in agriculture, and despite progress in developing the sector in recent years, Albania still has a 9:1 import to export ratio for agriculture. Small landholdings, weak property rights and rule of law concerns have also inhibited growth. Clearly, there is still room for improvement.

FrontLines Releases November/December 2012 Issue

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Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn more about the continuing benefits of projects that have graduated from Agency assistance, and how new organizations and programs are energizing development work around the world. Some highlights:

  • Indian children at one of Pratham Education’s “learning camps.” In September, Pratham Education Foundation received a $300,000 grant from USAID as one of 32 winners of the multi-donor All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development. Photo Credit: Pratham Education Foundation.

    All Children Reading is USAID’s latest push to break the cycle of illiteracy and introduce the developing world’s youngest citizens to the joys and benefits of learning to read.

  • Bring together the tech savvy and the humane-minded and the result is USAID’s first Hackathon – a confab with both groups working together to design workable solutions to hunger worldwide.
  • In a boon to justice and equality for Kenyan women, some of the country’s all-male, local courts are going co-ed.
  • Latin American & Caribbean chief Mark Feierstein says he was proud to help close USAID’s Panama mission this year: “It’s the development milestone that our partner countries strive to achieve—to reach the point where they can propel their own development without the need for foreign assistance.”
  • The Global Give Back Circle started six years ago as a small mentoring program, but now offers a range of services to more than 500 vulnerable women in nine countries, who each vow to pay it forward.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, please subscribe.

How I Was Inspired to Solve Global Problems

As a senior studying public relations, I never thought about working abroad. I had the epiphany one day and decided to include international development in my career plans. I was attracted to the idea after Dr. Shah’s visit at Howard University on October 15. I was excited to learn and understand my role in international development, if there was one. Dr. Shah gave me hope that international development has a place for anyone who is willing to serve.

Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks to students at Howard University on October 15, 2012. Photo Credit: Patricia Adams, USAID.

The event opened with an inspiring and appropriate video by the university’s Communications Department, highlighting the efforts of School of Dentistry students who helped Haitians develop dental hygiene products during the annual Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program. The opening presentation conveyed the commitment and passion Howard students have for international development and set the tone for the event.

While being a student at Howard, I participated in two domestic ASB programs: New Orleans and D.C. These two, week-long service projects changed my life. The people who were affected by me and other Howard students mentoring their children or cleaning their environment were extremely grateful. When I watched the video of the students in Haiti, it inspired me further to do international development because of the strong interest I already have in helping people.

However, the opening video was just the beginning of my inspiration to be involved in development.

Howard’s Provost Dr. Wayne Frederick spoke on the legacy of Howard’s commitment to international development. He stated that “opportunity remains promise”, which was the perfect transition into honoring the late Congressman Donald Payne, a pioneer in international development policy and his family.

“Howard University’s mantra is social justice,” said William Payne, Donald Payne’s brother. He continued, “And, I believe my brother’s work embodied social justice.”

Dr. Shah commended Howard for its work in international involvement, and excitingly introduced the new Donald Payne Fellowship at Howard University, giving more students the opportunity to go abroad and contribute to America’s positive contribution to humanity’s global needs. The fellowship provides up to $90,000 in benefits, and funds a two-year Masters degree for fellows and provides them with internship opportunities on Capitol Hill and overseas.

This was my favorite part of the event because it gave me insight on a great opportunity to catapult my interests in international development! Now, as a graduating senior, this fellowship is definitely something I will look into as I plan the next stages of my life! Overall, the fellowship is a great opportunity for all Howard students, and I am proud that my school was a part of it.

At the event, a USAID video which quoted President Kennedy, who created USAID over 50 years ago, stated, “Our problems are man-made, therefore, they can be solved by man.” The Donald Payne Fellowship will give students like those at Howard, a resource to help solve global problems.

For more information about the USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship, visit paynefellows.org.

 

Video of the Week: Clean Cookstoves: Saving Trees and Lives in Tanzania

This video features the work of a USAID funded project “Building Actors and Leaders for Advancing Community Excellence in Development” (BALANCED). BALANCED focuses their efforts to combine sustainable livelihood generation, natural resource conservation and empowerment of women through the provision of clean cookstoves. This is just an example of one of the USAID funded population, health and environment (PHE) projects that focus on addressing development in an integrated fashion, and conserving natural resources while simultaneously improving the lives of people, especially women and children.

Seeking Justice: Investigating and Prosecuting Gender-Based Violence

Susana SáCouto (right) is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law. Chanté Lasco (left) is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator. Photo Credit: WCRO.

This blog post coincides with USAID’s blog series on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV). GBV is a human rights and public health issue that limits individual and societal development with high human and economic costs.  For more information about how USAID is combatting GBV, please visit our website.

This year has seen the continued prevalence of widespread and devastating gender-based attacks on women and girls around the world, from new outbreaks of sexual violence at the hands of a new militia entering the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the shooting of Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, targeted for seeking educational opportunities for herself and other girls.

Such tragedies are examples of how far we have to go as a global community to ensure the safety and well-being of those vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Yet, the past 20 years have also seen remarkable progress in holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable on the international level.

Such violence is now recognized as conduct that can constitute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Indeed, the statutes governing international and internationalized criminal courts, including the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), have all recognized that sexual and gender-based crimes are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

The ICC, in particular, has included the broadest number of sexual and gender based crimes within its jurisdiction, including not only rape but also sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilization, while also including a residual “sexual violence” clause intended to apply to serious sexual assaults that are of comparable gravity to those explicitly included.

These tools represent significant milestones in addressing SGBV but they are just that—tools. Without prosecutors and judges applying these tools to hold perpetrators accountable, and without pressure from activists to push the ICC and other institutions to continue making progress, too many sexual and gender-based attacks will continue to be under-investigated and inadequately prosecuted.

For instance, the sexual and gender-based crimes that SCSL prosecutors could have charged members of the Civilian Defence Force, a security force in Sierra Leone that fought against rebel groups during the conflict in Sierra Leone from 1996 to 1999, resulting in widespread atrocities committed against civilians, were not included in the indictment against the accused. The result was the exclusion of evidence of widespread rapes and sexual slavery from the trial and the silencing of victims present and willing to testify to the full range of harms they suffered.

Similarly at the ICC, the Prosecutor failed to add similar charges against Thomas Dyilo Lubanga, former Commander-in-Chief of a rebel group’s military wing who was convicted by the ICC of conscripting children under 15 years in armed conflict that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2002 to 2003. Despite evidence that members of Mr. Lubanga’s militia were responsible for acts of sexual violence against abducted girls, female child soldiers and other civilians, such acts were not included in the Prosecution’s charging document against the accused.  In its final judgment, the Trial Chamber held that the Prosecution’s failure to include SGBV charges meant the Chamber could not make any findings of fact on the issue of sexual violence.

These are but two examples, out of many, in which the hard-won advances have become missed opportunities. Until the international community demonstrates that we care about these crimes and we expect accountability, SGBV victims will not have access to the level of justice they deserve.

For more information about the War Crimes Research Office, please visit our website.

Susana SáCouto is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law (WCL), which promotes the development and enforcement of international criminal and humanitarian law.

Chanté Lasco is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator, managing the Gender Jurisprudence Collections, a unique research database tracking the treatment of SGBV in international criminal jurisprudence.

A Reflection on the Human Spirit on International Human Rights Day

Jonathan Hale is deputy assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia. Photo Credit: USAID.

The 20th century was marked by dark episodes of violence, repression and mass killing around world especially in Europe. Hitler killed between 11 to 14 million Jews and other minorities, and Stalin was responsible for the death of more than 20 million Soviet citizens. The exact numbers may never be known and the depth of individual suffering is also incomprehensible. Beyond what happened in wars, regimes themselves were responsible for massive human rights violations against their own people.  Rule by fear was the order of the day.

On this 2012 International Human Rights Day, the final day of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe continue to deal with the legacy of that history and continue to come to terms with it. Over the last several years, I have spoken with many USAID Foreign Service Nationals who have told me their stories of what happened to their grandparents or their parents or in some cases in Bosnia harrowing stories of their own families’ ordeals. They pointed out that 20 years ago we never would have been able to have such a conversation.  Sadly, at the same time there are still far too many reports of human rights abuses in the region – of those who speak out against corruption, who speak up for their rights and whose political views still sometimes face peril – incarceration, beatings, or even death.

Mass grave in Guba, Azerbaijan - alleged victims of mass killings of Azerbaijani, Jewish, Lezgi by Bolsheviks in March 1918. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hale.

During the darkest times of the Soviet period, people still found a way to express dissent whether openly or through literature, art, and music. The same is true today – people will not be silenced, the human spirit is too strong. This morning I met activists from Belarus to discuss ongoing challenges. In Belarus, the government arbitrarily arrests and imprisons citizens for criticizing officials, for participating in demonstrations and for other political reasons. There are hundreds of politically motivated imprisonments and no accountability for past politically motivated disappearances. And yet brave Belarusians like those I just met continue to seek a way to press for protection of their rights and to improve the lives of their families.

A cadre of human rights activists across the former Soviet Union who devote their lives to bringing human rights protections to every individual remain active. As the Belorussian activists expressed concerns about the conditions of confinement of fellow activists in Belarus, it was clear that even today this is still a perilous endeavor to demand protections for the most fundamental rights. We admire the efforts of these individuals and are reminded of the special place that the U.S. possess in the hearts and minds of the human rights defenders from around the world.

The American people have long stood with repressed people in Europe and Eurasia and around the world. In the 21st Century, we will continue to support those who speak out for universal human rights, freedom and dignity.

Coding for Hunger: Not Development as Usual

Dr. Maura O'Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID. Photo Credit: USAID

This post originally appeared on Global Food for Thought.

Barbara’s mother was desperate – there was nothing in the house to feed her children or herself.  All that remained was a bag of seed that she’d been planning to sow on her small plot of land.  Could the seeds be eaten as food?  She could no longer look at her children whose bodies were aching from hunger.

There was one huge risk: the seeds contained potentially lethal pesticides intended to encourage higher yields. As countless mothers have done, she tested the seeds on herself.  Barbara and her siblings watched fearfully as their mother ate a handful.  Would she die, become ill, or just be fine?

Even if eating the seeds led to survival, there would be no crops to harvest in six months.  Would they starve later?  Years after this harrowing experience, Barbara palpably captured this moment in her book, Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter.

In Alabama that night, nobody got sick.  But we must do better by our neighbors in the U.S. and globally.

One billion people suffer from chronic hunger and face terrible choices daily.  A billion is a hard word to grasp, but imagine if every man, woman, and child in the largest cities in the U.S. – including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Atlanta – would never get enough to eat or had a chance to thrive.

Technology and business have recently brought dramatic global improvements in areas like health, agricultural productivity.  Through social media, we can harness crowd-sourced wisdom and rapid diffusion networks to imagine a day in our lifetime where families everywhere can take pride in the accomplishments of their healthy children.

What are we seeing in this tech cauldron that’s knocking our socks off?  Kat Townsend, a Special Assistant for Engagement at USAID, worked with The Chicago Council to choose six examples using big data, videos, and randomized control trials to reduce hunger.  USAID showcased these examples at a Council event on food security at the G8 to demonstrate how low-cost technologies can accelerate and scale food security.

I’m especially excited about Digital Green, founded by young Indian entrepreneur Rikin Gandhi.  Digital Green enables local farmers make short videos giving specific advice on many topics, with viewers rating videos just as we push ‘Like’ on Facebook. Farmers now watch nearly 2,500 relevant videos- which average 11,000 viewers per video- on their cellphones. Talk about a social diffusion network!

In September, USAID together with Nathaniel Manning – a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow from technology superstar Ushahidi - ran a weekend Hackathon for Hunger. Global teams of brilliant data geeks pounded out code on big data sets to solve hunger challenges.  Palantir used data compiled by the Grameen Foundation on crop blights, soil, and farmer feedback to generate a real-time heat map that helps farmers identify where crop infestations are happening.  Farmers also receive warning messages about looming crop diseases and where they may strike, giving farmers the chance to harvest early. PinApple’s website helps farmers can input their location for suggestions on the best crops to plant based on elevation, soil PH and annual rainfall.

We can’t solve food security by the mere push of a button from a programmer in Maputo or a policymaker in Bangladesh. What technology can do is bring information and tools to farmers, processors, and consumers in remote corners of the world. Data point by data point, we’re reaching those who need it most…one video and SMS at a time.

Tell us what other technologies or social media techniques you’re seeing that could defeat hunger. Disagree if you have your reasons.  We all have much to learn from one another.

Leave your thoughts here or continue the conversation on Twitter. Join me @MauraAtUSAID and follow Bertini and Glickman @GlobalAgDev; USAID @usaid; USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative @FeedtheFuture; Ushahidi @Ushahidi; Project Open Data @ProjectOpenData; Palantir Technologies @palantirTech; PinApple @PinApple, Kat Townsend @DiploKat; and Nat Manning @NatPManning.

Maura O’Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID. In the public, private and academic sectors, she has created entrepreneurial and public policy solutions for some of the toughest problems in the fields of energy, education, infrastructure financing and business development. She earned her PhD at the University of Washington, where her research focused on narrowmindedness and the errors it leads to in science, medicine, business and political decision making.

 

16 Day Challenge: Keeping International Workers Safe: Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence

Today is Day 16 of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.

This post coincides with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence event, “Who Takes Care of the Caregivers?  Providing Care and Safety for Staff in Gender-based Violence Settings,” that took place on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Inter-Agency Gender Working Group, funded by USAID.

Gender-based Violence (GBV) is an issue that impacts aid workers – not just beneficiaries and not just staff that works in GBV settings. This post examines agencies’ duty to care for their workers by preventing and responding to GBV.

Sarah Martin is a consultant and Specialist on Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence

The sexual assault of the journalists Lara Logan, Mona Eltahawy, and two unnamed British and French journalists in Egypt, shocked the world and brought the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) against Westerners working in the developing world to the forefront. Global statistics show that 1 out of 3 women has experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault and it’s not only “the locals” being affected*. Not only are journalists at risk but also aid staffers working in conflict settings or GBV program areas.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with several women globetrotters while writing a chapter of a book on security tips for international travelers. The women I spoke with have traveled extensively in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and they work for large international development organizations, human rights organizations, humanitarian NGOs, several different United Nations agencies and for international businesses. I asked them about their experiences as women while traveling and working overseas and what advice they had for other women doing the same. Many of them brought up their frustration that sexual harassment and sexual assault were not being adequately raised in security trainings and that there was little information in trainings or security manuals on how to support colleagues if they were assaulted. While aid agencies and organizations are increasingly providing more security trainings that simulate “hostile environments to prepare their employees for gunfire, kidnappings and other events in the field,” gender issues are not fully integrated.

Female development and aid workers have the same security concerns as their male counterparts – crime, landmine accidents and armed robberies do not discriminate based on gender. Yet women face another security threat that most men do not encounter – namely sexual harassment and sexual violence, in many cases by someone familiar to them – a co-worker, driver or a friend.  Still, security measures, trainings and manuals tend to be the same for men and women, and many agencies take a “gender-blind” approach to security. Unfortunately, this approach leaves out a major issue.  The answer isn’t restricting women’s access to “dangerous” areas but by making sure female employees are fully informed of the dangers.

International agencies and organizations have made strides in recent years addressing GBV around the world.  Aid workers are addressing the root causes of violence, improving prevention and protection services and strengthening legislation and enforcement policies.  Organizations are also taking critical steps to prevent sexual exploitation of their beneficiaries by staff.  Now we need to take the next logical step by also addressing the issue of sexual assault of aid workers as a real security concern. This means integrating the issue of sexual assault into security trainings and sensitizing the trainers and security personnel on how to address the issue, provide information to trainees on how to protect themselves, and deliver support in case the worst happens.  GBV is a human rights and public health issue, and if eliminating it is a goal, then it’s critical that we strive to protect everyone.

*Martin, Sarah (to be published May 14, 2013). Sexual Assault: Preventing And Responding As An International Traveler. In T. Spencer, Personal Security: A Guide for International Travelers. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

 

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