Sexual harassment and abuse of power in aid: a brief reflection on the culture of silence, “machismo” and impunity
A recent article told us about sexual abuse within UN organisations: “The United Nations has allowed sexual harassment and assault to flourish in its offices around the world, with accusers ignored and perpetrators free to act with impunity.” Sadly it is hardly breaking news. Still I think the silence around ongoing abuse of power requires some reflection over important questions:
How does this kind of workplace violence affect people whose work is about alleviating the suffering of others?
How does it impact on their work with people in crisis?
What can we do to change this kind of “macho culture” that still floods organisations that are supposed to “do no harm” and that uphold values and principles?
Maybe the time has come for people within aid organisations to seriously think about how they live out the values that they preach.
I’m personally sick and tired of those who lecture the world, and behind close doors are hypocrites. I won’t go as far as preferring the openly disgraceful ideas and behaviours of Donald, but at least we know where he stands.
Maybe we need another form of “hypocrisy” which goes like this: “think what you like in private, but at work behave with respect”. I learned this when working for a British institution that employed hundreds of people, and found the approach pragmatic and effective. Staff were not asked to endorse values around equality and diversity, etc. but we were asked to behave as if we did – at least while at work. It didn’t matter what we thought, it mattered how we behaved. Some may find this type of political correctness lacking solid values. I wonder if those solid values paraded across the globe are serving us well.
The pragmatic approach I described created an inclusive and friendly environment that attracted people who genuinely wanted to work in a civilised place. If you had to fake it, you did, and we all benefitted from a respectful climate. If you could not even fake it, you eventually moved on elsewhere, who knows, maybe to a value-driven organisation where you were asked to stand by “universal” principles of inclusiveness, honouring equality and diversity, standing for justice, fighting poverty (blah blah blah)…but then were allowed to behave as you pleased.