Sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment are rooted in systemic fractures in organizational culture.
They rest in power and gender differentials driven by one or several factors that place an individual at a power advantage, allowing for the misuse of that advantage to manifest itself in various forms of abuse of power. In the humanitarian and development context, sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment are different forms of sexual misconduct, one perpetrated against those we serve and the other against humanitarian and development workers themselves, respectively. However, from both the lens of organizational culture as well as practical and operational programming, they arise out of the same imbalances, have a similar impact on the victim, necessitate similar preventative measures when addressing root causes, and require similar services and recourse measures in responding to cases when they arise.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement and the growing attention on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the humanitarian sector, many organizations began focusing on these elements and taking a closer look at their own inner workings and workplace culture to examine root causes of such forms of misconduct. While different organizations embarked on different approaches to do this, clear areas of focus and attention were and remain common.
At its roots, every organizational culture is guided by a certain value system and set of principles that define how individuals use the authority and power they hold. These systems and principles vary from organization to organization, particularly since all organizations approach and define workplace culture differently. This makes it difficult to take a singular comprehensive approach to defining organizational culture, and tackling problems associated with it, both in individual organizations and the sector as a whole. At the same time, the nuances in how each organization defines and guides its culture also provide opportunity for multiple ways of tackling the issues associated with its different elements in a multi-pronged approach.
Work around culture is granular and needs long-term investment, and often requires numerous and sometimes small and targeted interventions to ensure that it is approached with an appreciation for its multi-dimensional nature. This is all the more complex when looking at culture as it pertains to difficult and sensitive areas such as sexual misconduct. The links are intrinsic, demanding a methodical and thoughtful approach to ensure that all root causes are considered even when the direct link to sexual misconduct is not immediately clear. This includes considerations of power differentials on the basis of gender, age, race, sexual orientation, contractual status, grade and level, unconscious bias, and ethnic or religious background, among others. How these differentials are able to manifest themselves can have direct implications on the kind of environment created and whether or not sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment can take place, individuals feel safe reporting, and proper response to victim needs can be guaranteed.
Ultimately, to combat such abuses, one must begin by exploring their very foundations in the attitudes, behaviour, values, and the culture that give rise to them. It is with this in mind that this collection was compiled as an initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, under his IASC Championship on the Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment. The collection of initiatives is intended to highlight the work undertaken by humanitarian organizations on organizational culture with the objective of specifically curbing the underlying elements at the centre of sexual misconduct.
While most organizations have numerous initiatives in place feeding into their broader work on workplace culture, this collection is meant to provide some examples and inspiration for this growing area of work. It is intended to offer a selection so that organizations can continue to learn from, and expand on, the work done by others in effective and meaningful ways. It is by no means comprehensive. No single initiative provides a holistic solution, but the combination of the initiatives highlighted here provide examples of the different approaches being implemented with a common objective: to ensure that workplace and organizational culture fosters an environment that is inclusive, empowering and safe from sexual misconduct, both for the people being served by, and those carrying out, humanitarian work.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges in most areas of work, including on the prevention and response to sexual misconduct and on organizational culture, it has also provided opportunities to explore new ways of working, mobilizing action, and innovation in this area of work. Many of the initiatives included here have been adapted for the new reality of work and the consequences that has had on various elements of organizational culture.
This selection of initiatives was collected on the basis of voluntary contributions made by the organizations included here following various calls for participation through a number of IASC structures, including Results Group 2, and individual outreach. It includes specific initiatives on one or more target areas within the larger efforts around organizational culture. However, it does not include some of the invaluable work with a more general approach in areas such capacity building, leadership support, staff welfare and wellbeing, and administrative change. Numerous efforts are in place to support the recrafting of the workplace for a more staff friendly environment on a broader scale by organizations and networks such as CHS Alliance and UNGLOBE, among many others.
Contact information is provided for the responsible entity for each of the initiatives included. We encourage you to utilize these examples in your work on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment and on organizational culture, and to reach out to the respective contact if you have further questions regarding a specific initiative.