The international NGO sector is a multibillion dollar industry and one vital to the survival, stabilisation and reconstruction of communities globally, but what happens when those tasked with providing relief become the perpetrators of abuse, asks MUHAMMAD SHEIK.
The term â€œnon-governmental organisationâ€ (NGO) was created under Article 71 of the Charter of the newly formed United Nations in 1945. An NGO can be any kind of organization provided that it is independent from government influence and is not-for-profit.
Global disparities in wealth and inequality, environmental catastrophes, and an increase in global populations make the need for a transparent, effective and inclusive aid agenda vital. According to the National Forum of NGOs there are an estimated 10 million NGOs worldwide. If NGOs were a country, they would have the fifth largest economy in the world. Nearly one in three (31.5%) people worldwide donated to charity in 2015 and one in four people (24%) volunteered. Gender inequalities at senior management levels are still profound within the NGO sector. Three out of every four employees are female, but the majority of leadership positions at NGOs are still predominantly held by men.
The hierarchical structure of NGOs today paint a picture of a continuation of male stereotypes while issues pertaining to race and identity are still being grappled within a grossly simplistic manner. These ideas have largely given credence to the patriarchal norms still occupying the hallways, boardrooms, and aid camps of some of the worldâ€
In 2011, reports surfaced of incidents of sexual abuse by Oxfam staffer in Haiti. Three members accused of sexual exploitation threatened another to remain silent regarding the witnessing of sexual misconduct and abhorrent displays of misogyny by aid workers toward local Haitian women. After sustained pressure, and an internal investigation aimed at portraying transparency within the organization, Oxfam this week released a redacted report online detailing the incidents but leaving out the names of the seven accused until the full report is handed over to Haitian authorities. According to Oxfam, the report is a result of interviews with over 40 witnesses.
Perhaps the most scathing indictment against Oxfamâ€
â€˜Phased and dignified?’ Give me a break. After what he had done, he should have been publicly masqueraded and shamed. Where is the dignity of the victims he so blatantly used and discarded? This doesnâ€
The truth is that many millions of aid workers do phenomenal work in helping to rehabilitate, counsel, and uplift the voiceless masses often found in hopeless situations. It is a few misogynistic bigots who have besmeared the good name of a fine and noble calling.
The Oxfam report no doubt evokes powerful emotions, no doubt shock will be among those, but should we really be shocked?
While recently reporting from the refugee camps of Coxâ€
One of the biggest scandals to plague the United Nations in recent years has been the systematic rape and torture of young women in Bangui in the Central African Republic.
Since the U.N. peacekeeping mission began in 2014, its employees have been formally accused of sexually abusing or exploiting 42 local civilians, most of them underage girls. In a scathing expose by Washington Post bureau chief in Nairobi, Kevin Sieff in 2016, the emboldened headline read â€œSometimes when Iâ€
During their investigations, United Nations officials tasked with documenting and reporting the atrocities recorded these cases not as rape but as â€œtransactionalâ€ sex, in which acts are exchanged for money or food. New Zealand born UN doctor Andrew Thomson said that upon seeing the extent to which young lives had been shattered by the sexual exploitation of UN peacekeepers began telling villagers, â€œIf blue helmeted UN peacekeepers show up in your town or village and offer to protect you, run.â€ The quote is now used as part of conflict and transformation studies modules in universities across the world. The book he co-authored titled Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell On Earth was published in October 2004 in a shroud of controversy as officials as high up as Kofi Annan tried to stop the book from being published.
The Oxfam report doesnâ€
On the one hand, ethnicity is considered a primordial or inherited group characteristic that some scholars would argue is biologically based. On the other hand, ethnicity has been conceptualised as an instrument, a contextual, fluid, and negotiable aspect of identity, as emeritus professor of peace and conflict studies Michael Pugh states, â€œa tool used by individuals, groups, or elites to obtain some larger, typically material endâ€.
The hierarchical structure of aid organisations such as Oxfam reveal realities which are symptomatic of deeper societal issues. The latest expose is testament to these societal misconceptions. Gender neutrality has been viewed as an effective tool but can also be viewed as a cop-out. Most organisations use the term not to stamp out discrimination but to avoid engaging with gender issues. It is implemented to appease rights groups and appear compliant while maintaining the same social composition it always has. Excuses are no longer good enough, change is needed now.
The report can be accessed here.
Muhammad Sheik is a Current Affairs Producer/Presenter at Cii Radio and is currently studying towards his Masters in International Relations. He reads a lot, sleeps a little and never forgets to stop and smell the roses.
The views expressed in this article are the authorâ€
Featured image viaÂ Wikimedia Commons