One of the most detrimental obstructions to providing justice for these missing women is the little information and statistics on the matter. Movements arose from just how prevalent this problem is in the indigenous community. While indigenous women collectively are familiar with this issue, information about these disappearances are often limited to those close to the community. Discussion makes change. In our current political climate, with the #MeToo movement and so many more organized attempts to ensure social justice, it is important that we continue to maintain attention on this trend of missing women. First Nations advocates and their efforts pressured to Justin Trudeau’s Parliament to acknowledge the issue. In 2016, as a response to the attention brought to the missing indigenous women in Canada, Justin Trudeau called for a national inquiry commission on the topic. While there has been flaws in the development of the inquiry, it shows there is change. Some of the most crucial impacts towards a solution is the actions made by those who know the issue first hand, indigenous women. For example, a Southern Cheyenne cartographer named Annita Lucchesi, took matters into her own hands by creating the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Database and documented over 2,000 cases throughout North America. This is a great start to a solution but much of the progress has been made in North America and we still need to increase focus on the rest of the indigenous communities around the world. If we continue to draw attention to this matter there is promise that this issue will be addressed globally and indigenous women throughout all regions can unify in hopes to end this pattern.The more this topic is shared and discussed on social and traditional media the more human rights defenders world-wide will fight for the voice and rights of indigenous women that disappear as a result of hate or sexual violence.
Jennifer is a University of Westminster, London alumna. She is an International Law LLM graduate. Her interests include international human rights law (particularly for minority groups) and issues concerning international development.
7. #AidToo and Intersectionality
In an era where international development organisations aim to pinkwash their agendas on tackling gender disparity in the workplace by employing women both on field and at managerial levels, albeit women are still facing basic obstruction to their rights. More than ever before, opinions and experiences are being voiced out loud onto social media platforms, traditional media outlets, through blogs, tweets, conferences and more. According to an article written by journalist and IFFP co-founder, Shaista Aziz who makes an interesting statement: “As we have been arguing for years, the focus instead should be on tackling the huge power imbalances, structural racism, sexism and patriarchy embedded in a neo-colonial aid system that allows sexual predators to do harm, including to the very people it professes to assist” says Aziz to the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/18/aidtoo-sexual-abuse-charity-sector.
During the 18th October London conference hosted by the UK Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt to address sexual abuse in the aid sector, Mordaunt was interrupted by Alexia Pepper de Caires, “a prominent activist who conspicuously boycotted the event”. Pepper de Caires, slipped onto the stage and interrupted with her own brief speech. During the initially tense 1m:31s, Alexia Pepper de Caires expressed that she was “disgusted” that Save the Children were selected for a new safeguarding contract by the Department for International Development (DfiD), in light of unresolved sexual assault allegations dating back as far as 2011. De Caires has campaigned for the organisation’s CEO and board members to take more responsibility over its earlier failings around allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. Mimicking Aziz’s statements, she said women who had worked on the issues “for decades” had been sidelined. “We do not need fancy new systems,” she noted. “We do not need technology, we need systematic change” and to understand issues of “sexism, racism, and abuse of power.” https://www.irinnews.org/news-feature/2018/10/18/safeguarding-aid-sector-sex-abuse-shaky-start De Caires added that “victims were not being heard; and the agenda, speaker list, and planning process all came under heavy fire in private and across social media. On top of all that, critics charged that the event was elitist and white-dominated” according to an article by IRIN News.
As a prevention mechanism, DfiD claimed: “Those in the aid sector will be able to submit a request for checks on prospective employees against national criminal records and Interpol criminal databases,”. Additionally, “Interpol will process the requests and when an individual who represents a threat to vulnerable beneficiaries is identified, they will work with the relevant authorities to determine the course of action.” However, another “NGO official said the majority of cases aren’t even reported, so there would be no trail to follow”. Despite DifD’s idea, Aziz adds, “no amount of snazzy IT systems will stop sexual abuse. It is only through an independent mechanism holding power (currently overwhelmingly white, male and privileged) to account in this sector that victims and survivors will be protected.”
Every year NGO’s garner massive funds from governmental donor agencies to implement projects all over the world, mostly in fragile environments. Save the Children and OXFAM are both facing serious allegations, “the charity watchdog (at OXFAM) received 633 serious incident reports in August, 464 of which related to safeguarding concerns including exploitation and abuse of aid beneficiaries, child protection cases and sexual harassment.” Mordaunt claims: “I want to underscore how seriously we take the sexual harassment cases reported at our headquarters in 2012 and 2015. We are cooperating fully with the Charity Commission’s inquiry to ensure that a complete and truthful account of these cases emerges. I speak for everyone at Save the Children when I say that we are absolutely committed to building back trust in our organisation – from the children and communities that we serve, to our donors and supporters and UK taxpayers.”https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/26/scandal-hit-save-the-children-cut-off-from-uk-government-funding
The latest scandals surrounding the Aid sector have spurred a discussion on social media, in an article by the Guardian “DfID funding for another NGO, Oxfam, after it was accused of covering up claims that staff used sex workers while delivering aid to Haiti in 2011.” Dfid promises: “What you saw in Haiti was a complete abuse of power and that cannot happen again.” International development Secretary Penny Mordaunt stated: “Following the launch of a statutory inquiry by the Charity Commission, Save the Children UK has decided to withdraw from bidding for new UK Government funding until DFID is satisfied that they can meet the high standards we expect of all our partners”. In addition she claims that: “I am committed to driving up standards across the aid sector and I expect every organisation that we work with to have rigorous reporting and complaints mechanisms in place to protect beneficiaries and employees alike.”
The incidents that have recently occurred in the Aid sector have depicted fundamental issues with the feminist movement in and of itself. Intersectional feminism aims to disseminate the issues facing those who don’t enjoy the same privilege, opportunities and power as other women. Moreover, De Caires has shed a light by discussing #Aidtoo issues circulating women who have been abused, harassed or mistreated in such organisations given the lack of representation of victims at the conference. It is very inconsiderate and offensive that women’s firsthand experiences were spoken of but are not given the platform to speak for themselves. Instead, women are replaced by high level privileged women who discuss the issue from their own scope and knowledge. “Even in the runup to the conference, red flags were raised, according to several senior aid workers (most of them female) who monitored the planning and attended or followed the conference online. They, in messages with IRIN, pointed to criticisms that ranged from not allowing enough time for audience questions to a lack of diversity among speakers”. https://www.irinnews.org/news-feature/2018/10/18/safeguarding-aid-sector-sex-abuse-shaky-start
Nouran Ragrag (@nuranyrr)
Nouran is a humanitarian worker focusing on gender-based issues in Libya. She is an International Relations graduate who is passionate about issues relating to women empowerment and gender in international development and foreign policy. Nouran has been an activist since 2011, she uses her Twitter and blog on Medium as platforms to raise marginalised women's voices and advocate for women's empowerment. She is also a member of the IFFPUK team.
8. Interview with Shaista Aziz
Chloe: What is your work on NGO Safe Space about?
Shaista: NGO safe space is a platform to amplify the voices of survivors of sexual harassment and abuse in the aid sector. Primarily, those survivors are women however men have also come forward to provide us with information about their experiences. Also, our platform fully understands the need to be intersectional so we are aware of the fact that primarily women of color are the least likely to come forward and report any of these abuses to anyone but especially to people who work inside the organisation. So that’s what we’re doing and how do we do that? We have put out a number of surveys we have collected data, we’ve asked critical questions, we’ve been doing lots of media around advocacy work, we’ve been lobbying key actors including the government and the minister for international development and we’ve also got in touch with other organizations who work from a various perspective and we describe ourselves as a feminist collective.
Chloe: Since the start of the #Metoo movement, there has been an outpouring of the disclosures from women surrounding sexual violence. Since beginning the #Aidtoo movement, have you experienced the same outpouring of disclosure? Why or why not?
Shaista: Well, I think outpouring is a really interesting word because there’s definitely been disclosure but it’s been around for a long time. This #aidtoo is not new just like #metoo is not new. #Metoo has been around for more than 10 years. As we all know, started by Tarana Burke, a black woman, you know? We know all those things now, right? And same goes for aid, there’s been multiple investigations and inquiries into UN aid workers, sexual exploitation of vulnerable children, women, men, boys, in multiple locations around the world. It’s been going on for a very, very long time. So nobody, in all honesty, can deny that they know these things are taking place. The question is, what do they want to do about it? And the response is, not much, if they can get away with it, right?
So, yes, the disclosures have been coming but what I’ve found really humbling this year is- as somebody who has been writing about aid and as someone who’s been working in the aid sector for more than 15 years and in big, international aid organizations- when I’ve been writing about the race dynamics, the power dynamics, the patriarchy inside these institutions; I’ve had a huge response. I’ve had like hundreds of people emailing me from around the world. Every time a woman talks, in particular, every time a layer of silence is removed, a silencing is removed; the flood gates open and more and more people come forward. Everytime we have spoken at conferences or events we have been invited to, we’ve had disclosures in the room. We’ve had people come forward in the room to talk about their sexual abuse and it’s been very powerful and very moving. Including one woman who is from South Asia who is a visible muslim woman like me and once I finished speaking at one of the universities where we were asked to talk in, she disclosed the sexual assault that took place to the entire group of strangers. I mean that is, I think, extraordinary. And she said that, one of the reasons why she did it was because she saw another visible muslim woman who she could relate to and she felt that she could say what she needed to say because there was an all-woman of color panel. And this is the exact reason why we need to see representation and we need to see all women being represented in this movement and we need to hear the voices of all women, if we’re serious about tackling the abuse that impacts all women.
Chloe: For Aid and charity workers who are in the exact same position you are were in, what advice do you have?
Shaista: Well it’s very difficult because for the most vulnerable women who then are women of color and those who are not deemed to be, in inverted commas, expats- i.e. they’re not white- and from the first so-called first world, then it means they have less privileges and less protection they are more easily identifiable which is one of the reasons why so many are unwilling to go one record but what we would say is that find a peer, if you can, to provide you with some support. If you can find a mental health practitioner who can provide you with counselling. Obviously, I’m fully aware that not all of these things are available in different contexts around the world and also find a way to anonymously, if you can, report, what’s happened because there needs to be accountability for these behaviours and even though we fully understand why so many women are unable to report those abuses, there are mechanisms out there so get clued up find out what your rights are because nobody will ever give you anybody any information that will further their rights. We have to do that ourselves.
Chloe: From your background in the aid sector, what would you say are the systemic factors in play that allow sexualized and gendered violence to take place in the aid sector and why does it go unchallenged?
Shaista: The main one is the power imbalance, that’s huge structural power imbalance because aid’s roots are colonial, it’s part of neocolonialism and the way aid is administered is through a western white lens and that power that the aid industry has comes from the western white world.
So we’re talking about large amounts of money spent on buildings like the UN headquarters in New York, we’re talking about big international NGOs with big headquarters in Geneva and Paris, London, you know all those European capitals that they exist in. So the first and foremost is power but there’s racialized power and then that massive power imbalance then leads to these abuses which are without a doubt impacting people in the so-called ‘developing world’ much more than they are in the developed world. We also have a situation where headquarters in these countries and organisations where there’s been reports come through of sexual harassment and abuse inside these headquarters but that’s also just a reflection of the way power manifests generally which is power is male and is white. And, where it’s not male, it’s white and female and it’s women mirroring the same very toxic behaviours that men are busy implementing in these places.
Chloe: Who does your movement speak to or how can the average aid sector employee implement your example in their respective organizations?
Shaista: Well I don’t think there is an average aid employee because, as I said you have to look at the power imbalance within the aid sectors. You have people living in western capitals, cities where they obviously have more power and autonomy and agency than in other parts of the world where people, particularly women, are more dependent on those jobs. So, I think it’s difficult to be able to really clearly to give a really clear answer to that.
But who does the movement speak to? It speaks to anyone who has experienced these types of abuses, it definitely has been speaking to them because they have been communicating back to us. And, it also speaks to women who identify as feminists particularly intersectional feminists and it speaks to anyone who is looking to change the status quo in aid and /seek/ anyone who is seeking accountability.
I mean, it’s an area, it’s an industry that’s really, really, really difficult to pin down in terms of accountability because basically it’s the worst of all worlds. So basically it’s got the world of politics, it’s got the world of massive donors and donation of money and then you’ve got the media element to it so all of those three sectors are embedded in the aid sector so this it’s why it’s so hard to create change and get any form of accountability from this sector. It’s proven very difficult for a lot of women. A lot of journalists and those who are traditionally supposed to be holding power to account; they themselves have said that they are-are stunned by the inability of survivors and victims to speak and one reason for that is because we’ve heard directly from journalists who’ve been talking to women who have suffered this type of abuse and the quotes from the journalists is that these women are terrified and they refuse to go on record. And I think that’s really revealing and, as I’ve said, at the heart of all of this is patriarchy and power but then if you throw in large amounts of money from donors like international governments and other entities then it makes all of this even more toxic.
Chloe: Many other organisations and individuals would have shied away from alienating such public and powerful figures in the aid sector. What do you feel is sacrificed and what do you feel is gained by taking such a strong move or action?
Shaista: Well, I wouldn’t even say it’s a strong move or action. I’ll just say it’s a necessary intervention, it’s a necessary and ethical approach to doing this work because this issue is, if you are professing to save the world and if you are professing X, Y and Z then you have to put that into action. If you’re not willing to put that into action then it means you’re just basically a hypocrite.
Chloe: So, is aid “broken”? Is the concept of “Aid” too flawed to function and if so what models could replace it? And, if not, what is your vision for the future of aid?
Shaista: Aid is definitely broken because aid is part of the neocolonial machine and it always has been. I just think there’s just starting to be the beginnings of more awareness around the harm that it’s been doing.
I mean there are some things that aid has done that has been beneficial so for example, humanitarian aid in the immediate aftermath of an emergency to keep people alive is obviously a good thing but the aid mechanism has to change because it is deeply rooted in racism. It’s structural racism in the countries where aid agencies are operating are the parts of the world that were pillaged and looted during the days of the empire and there’s no acknowledgement of that, there’s no acknowledgement of why these countries are, in inverted commas, poor.
There’s constant references to continents like africa which are sometimes only depicted as a country when it’s a continent and all of this imagery of, you know, like, the fly on the child’s face- the poverty and the deprivation- but there’s never any context given to us as to why such a large continent which is so mineral rich is poor or has had massive structural inequalities. There’s never any reference to that and I think that is what aid needs to be informed of.
But also we with the shadow governments development teams approach to aid which is about justice- trade justice- and it’s about shifting the balance of power between the so-called developing world and the developed world and it’s about understanding why those relationships and why those dynamics have been so unequal for so long. And so that’s why it needs to change.
And, also people don’t want a handout- people are not looking for handouts. People are looking for fair opportunities to earn a decent wage where they can actually live with dignity in their country. So for example, over the last 10 years, within the UK, our NHS has been propped up by nurses from around the world, including nurses from Zimbabwe including Kenya including other parts of the world. Though, there’s been a massive brain drain in those countries and the healthcare system in those countries has almost collapsed because, you know, their educated and their best medical staff have left the country because they are going to get paid much more in a country like the UK, for example. So, if you think about that, we have to think about how we extract from other parts of the world. We take from there and then we have the audacity to allegedly give back in aid- it doesn’t make any sense.
Also, our foreign policy has been an utter disaster for a very, very long time. And, if you look at a country like Yemen, for example, which is still not getting the level of coverage that it should get in the news. The amount of aid that Britain gives in comparison to the amount of money that it’s getting in arms sales with the Saudi regime which is busy dropping bombs on Yemen is just not comparable- it’s outrageous. It’s been going on for a very, very long time. So we have to look at all of the intersections between aid and race and gender and class and we have to look at how we’re doing and we’re creating this policy so it’s not a complete disaster.
So I do think aid’s broken and I think it needs to be massively reformed. I actually think, in an ideal situation, we shouldn’t have aid organizations. I think we should have civil society actors who are given the resources that these big, international aid organizations are given. If you look at models like India, where farmers from very marginalized groups, for example, how they’ve organised, how they’ve created massive, people-led movements and women have been at the forefront of this. I think there’s a lot we can learn from that and we in the west in particular and we in the aid organizations, in particular, have gotten used to white-washing everything so even when it comes to so-called “Women’s empowerment”, they don’t want to name the problems, they don;t want to name the issues, they don’t want to name what’s going on but they actually want to call themselves feminist organisations and they want to, allegedly, advocate for women.
So none of things make sense and I think, increasingly, in a fractured and polarised world they make even less sense. And, so, I do think it’s broken, it’s been broken for a very long time. Aid is an industry without a shadow of a doubt. Different parts of the industry feed other parts of the industry and it’s all reliant on one anothr, so this why there’s such a strong attempt to reinforce it.
Chloe: Okay, so last question: What next for #Aidtoo and NGO safe space?
Shaista: Well, we have just got started, let’s be clear about that. Our work has got massive traction which has been very humbling. We know that we’re just kind of scratching the surface.
We want to help dialogue with the International Development Department, with the British government. We want to hold them to account. We are busy supporting women through providing them with funding for some of their legal bills. We believe very strongly that there needs to be a legal fund set up for anybody who wishes to pursue a claim against their former employer. We also believe there needs to be access to legal advice, which should be free.
We believe that all survivors should receive psychosocial care. None of these things are in place. So we work with other women and other entities and other organizations to lobby for these things. So there’s lots of work that needs to be done. This is very much the start.
Chloe: Thank you so much Shaista for answering our questions so powerfully on this vital work. To connect with Shaista and support NGO Safe Space follow her on twitter @ShaistaAziz
Chloe is an international researcher and educator in sexual health and well-being with a strong interest in intersectional analyses of gendered violence and equitable policies. Chloe has helmed projects for various international feminist and anti-oppression organizations across Europe and the U.S.
She lives in London with her partner and has recently joined IFFP, co-directing Global Gender Policies Research and Partnerships.
9. A note from Male allies: Time for change
Foreign policy and international relations have traditionally revolved around set principles: political institutions, state actors, culture, and the status quo. Policy and decision-making has often rested with the political elite. However, one core dimension of expertise often omitted and absent from these policy-creating mechanisms is that of women’s voices and contributions. By not incorporating an inclusive or holistic model, and with the absence of gender, international development is not fully able to represent a balanced perspective or inclusion of voices. This disequilibrium does not allow society to function at its full potential.
As a male writing about the need for more female representation across foreign policy and international development, I do not profess to know all the answers or claim to represent women’s voices. However, for more balanced and equal representation of the female voice in foreign policy, men also have to play a part in ensuring that opportunities arise for voices to be heard and active participation is allowed without any hindrance and help curate a culture of support.
In contemporary society, indeed, there are more female representatives in politics for example than at any time in the past. We see this firsthand with leaders such as the German Chancellor Merkel. However there remains a tide of outstanding work required to create a platform and facilitation of women’s empowerment in order for more voices to be heard. Ultimately, the inclusion of voice through actions allows for impact on policy and governance.
In line with the concept of women’s empowerment we can observe gender gaps across society and policy. In the workplace, countless studies have indicated the stark differences between pay for males and females particularly at senior and board levels. These gender orientated pay gaps affect many women across societies and geographical regions. Economic equality is the central tenant and basis for prosperity in society and the development of individuals.
It has been 18 years now since the UN Security Council resolution 1325 which impacted countries such as Sweden amongst others. This resolution inspired many regions of the world to create and develop foreign policies that are centred around feminist philosophy promoting gender equality and women’s rights. There is a connection between women, peace and security which is important to recognise.
Hence why it is important to consider equality of opportunity and participation for females in societies across the globe. Women’s empowerment and inclusion in foreign policy will pave the way for gender equality, better pay structures which are reflective of fairness and not gender oppression and representation of voice in foreign political debate and affairs.
Majid is an entrepreneur based in the UK, he has an MSc from Manchester Metropolitan University in Community Psychology. Majid is also a writer and coach who has helped people from all over the world. Majid’s work includes digital marketing and international business development. Majid has been involved in the youth and community voluntary sector for over 15 years and is a professionally qualified youth worker and community organiser. He has travelled to different parts of the world undertaking and leading diverse projects in the fields of adult education, business and youth work in places such as Spain, Hungary, Sweden, Cyprus, Poland and Turkey.