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.
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.