The UK should not use the sexual abuse scandal surrounding Oxfam as a reason to “shut down” important humanitarian work, a senior UN figure said today in response to a British threat to defund NGOs.
Purna Sen, Policy Director at UN Women, told Apolitical at the End Violence Solutions Summit in Stockholm that: “Women have been trying to raise these issues for many, many years: it’s not a surprise to many of us that this has been happening. But this opportunity shouldn’t be used to shut down organisations doing really important work, but to examine our own practices – whether that’s the UN or the British government.
“In the UK there are issues of sexual abuse in Parliament all the way through to the issue of sexual exploitation of girls in care. What we have to recognise is the everyday nature of sexual abuse and exploitation across the world, and the failure of institutions to believe and support the women and girls who have been abused.”
Sen’s comments followed a combative speech at the summit by Penny Mordaunt, UK Secretary of State for International Development, who said: “No organisation is too big, or our work with them too complex, for me to hesitate to cut funding for them. If our standards are not met, the British taxpayer will not fund you.
“Unless you create a culture that prioritises the safety of vulnerable people and ensures victims and whistleblowers can come forward without fear, we will not work with you,” Mordaunt said.
Mordaunt announced that she will meet with the National Crime Agency tomorrow in the wake of allegations that senior Oxfam aid workers regularly visited sex workers in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, which one whistleblower described as “a full-on Caligula orgy” in an interview with The Times.
Mordaunt’s speech comes only a day after Deputy Chief Executive of Oxfam Penny Lawrence resigned from her post, though the furore over the scandal continues.
“What we need is a detailed and collaborative discussion,” Sen argued. “In humanitarian settings, there are incredibly high pressures on organisations to find experienced staff really quickly. In those cases, sometimes due diligence isn’t adequately upheld, and organisations can have too much of an eye to their reputation, rather than those in whose name they go to work.”
Mordaunt’s comments came at a high-level summit to end violence against children, attended by members of the UN, the WHO, and representatives from more than 15 governments. Her comments served as a reminder of the urgent need to combat sexual violence, not merely when reports surface, but before it can take place.
(Picture Credit: Flickr/DFID)