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Review Finds Sexual Misconduct Failures Within Oxfam

21 January 2019 at 4:31 pm
Luke Michael
Oxfam International is beset by systemic problems that have allowed sexual misconduct to sometimes go unaddressed, an independent interim review has found.

Luke Michael | 21 January 2019 at 4:31 pm


Review Finds Sexual Misconduct Failures Within Oxfam
21 January 2019 at 4:31 pm

Oxfam International is beset by systemic problems that have allowed sexual misconduct to sometimes go unaddressed, an independent interim review has found.

The UK report said Oxfam’s safeguarding system clearly needed significant improvement and called for deep transformation around how people in power were held to account within the organisation.

The independent commission found that the organisation had prioritised what it aimed to achieve over how it was done, which came at a cost for the staff and the communities Oxfam served.

“At the heart of this issue is how power is managed and trust is earned and kept. The risks associated with reporting allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are often high; preventing and responding to such incidents requires the [organisation’s] full commitment,” the interim report said.

Oxfam established the independent commission last year to conduct a wide-ranging review of its culture, accountability and safeguarding policies, in wake of a sexual misconduct scandal that rocked the organisation.

It emerged in February 2018 that Oxfam staff members, who were deployed in Haiti to provide aid, paid earthquake survivors for sex.

Members of the commission observed Oxfam programs in five countries, consulting many staff and stakeholders, and found sexual misconduct was only one of many concerns, as it was “symptomatic of larger systemic problems” that needed addressing.

“The commission has found that both the lack of robust policies and procedures across the confederation, as well as their poor implementation, have enabled an environment that permits sexual misconduct to be misunderstood at best and unaddressed at worst,” the report said.

“Going beyond sexual misconduct, the [commission] has heard from staff who feel that Oxfam’s environment and processes for preventing and responding to harassment and bullying are deficient to the point that staff morale is compromised at times.”

The report identified four emerging recommendations, calling on Oxfam leadership to strengthen safeguarding policies, enable stakeholders to act through stronger systems when they see sexual misconduct, create space for staff to challenge bullying, and invest in personal and team reflections on how to improve Oxfam’s culture and behavior.

Oxfam said in a statement it welcomed the report as an important step to help it tackle the root causes of abuse and power imbalances within the organisation.   

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International executive director, said the organisation would use the emerging recommendations to bolster its ongoing improvements to truly have “zero tolerance” to abuse.

“It is painfully clear that Oxfam is not immune from sexual and other forms of abuse that stem from the abuse of power. To those who have experienced such unacceptable behaviour: we are sorry, I am sorry, and we will follow up on any cases passed to us by the commission as a matter of urgency,” Byanyima said.

“As a global organisation that campaigns to improve the lives of women around the world, we are determined to be accountable to ourselves and to others for the highest standards.”

According to Oxfam’s latest quarterly report, the organisation has increased the number of staff safeguarding experts in the past year, and has rolled out a new Standard Operating Procedure for Reporting Misconduct.

Byanyima said: “I thank our staff and partners for the significant improvements they are helping to drive in our policies and culture. I and Oxfam’s other senior leaders are acutely aware of our responsibilities to ensure that our vital work… takes place in a safe and respectful environment.”

Oxfam’s well-publicised issues have also had an effect in Australia, with the scandal prompting an independent review examining sexual misconduct in the Australian aid sector. ­

The review found 76 alleged incidents of sexual misconduct by aid workers over a three year period, with children found to be among the victims.

The final report from the independent Oxfam review is due in May 2019.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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