Dozens of Congolese women say they were exploited by international aid workers. These are men who work for the World Health Organization (WHO) or other leading NGOs. Local NGO employees confirm the testimonials.
More than 50 women from the Congolese city of Beni have accused WHO and other NGOs of sexual exploitation and abuse during the Ebola crisis between 2018 and 2020. The perpetrators are said to be mainly men who pretend to be international aid workers. According to the women, Belgian aid workers were also involved, but they do not mention their names or the organizations they worked for.
The majority of women speak of dishonorable proposals, sex in exchange for a job, or the threat of being fired if they refused to accept the proposal. The women were offered short-term contracts and earned $ 50 to $ 100 a month, a wage double that of a normal Congolese wage.
Many aid workers and local NGO workers confirm the allegations. The fact that there are so many similar testimonials of abuse suggests the practice was widespread. It is not about women in a specific position: the victims worked as a cook, cleaner or social worker.
“I don’t know anyone on the relief team who hasn’t experienced it,” says a 44-year-old woman who was offered a job in exchange for sex with a man who would work for the WHO. All victims, at least two of whom would be pregnant, testified anonymously for fear of reprisals. That’s also why they never reported the incidents before, and because they were ashamed of what happened.
António Gutierrez, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, of which the WHO is a part, calls for “a full investigation” into the allegations. The WHO reports that it has started an investigation and emphasizes that there is a ‘zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual exploitation and abuse’.
“It is reprehensible to betray people we help in such a way,” said a statement. “Anyone identified as a data subject will be held accountable, and faced with dire consequences, including dismissal.”
Just two years ago, Oxfam’s UK arm became involved in a sexual abuse scandal. Belgian employee Roland Van Hauwermeiren was involved in sexual abuse in places where he came to provide aid, including in Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake. for NGOs.
This charter obliges all organizations to develop an ethical code and to invest in awareness raising and training about integrity. In addition, they must conduct regular checks, install a confidential advice and reporting point and report annually on the follow-up of complaints.
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