Aidex Voices

From SDG effectiveness to PSEA and gender equality, this is part two of our breakdown of key learnings from the UN’s Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week.

Questions are key to PSEA

In light of ‘reverse sexual abuse’ – where aid workers themselves are victims, asking ourselves questions is key to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse, says Director of CHS Alliance Tanya Wood. How have we allowed this to happen? Have we challenged our colleagues enough? Do you have the right policies and accountability mechanisms built in your organisation? Are we doing enough in the sector? Are we having the right discussions with the right people in the room?

Tina Tinde, Gender and Diversity Coordinator of the IFRC remarked on the issue with accessing enough funding and the missing link between assisting survivors with first engendering local trust. Tinde raised an important point about the lack of positive examples of survivors who have confirmed they were satisfied with the way their case was handled by the organisation in question. “If we don’t have any cases” she says, “then what are we doing wrong?” The key is having safe and accessible reporting mechanisms. HNPW 6

IASC AAP/PSEA Task Team Coordinator for UNHCR, Tanya Axisa says “the best way to figure out risk is to ask the community questions like, ‘how do you feel about aid workers here? Do you trust them?’”, because if communities do not feel safe enough to complain then we aren’t engaging with them in the right way.

Whilst it is easy to develop international phone numbers, can women the women who need them even have the technology to access them? Do people with disabilities have ways to raise complaints? Do children have access to these?  Do communities know what is right and wrong behaviour? And so on.

Axisa firmly believes the link between PSEA and AAP (Accountability to Affected Persons) must be strengthened to ensure processes are being carried out properly on the ground. “If you are a survivor of SEA, do you know what you are entitled to?”. Translating policies and resources into languages that can be disseminated into refugee camps for instance is a straightforward way to empower survivors with assistance.

PSEA Project Coordinator for IOM, Alexandra Hileman said principle minimal steps should be installed by every organisation, such as multiple checklists and PSEA guidelines. By collectively implementing these into country-specific working plans, all members of the network can strengthen their approach and effectiveness.

Claire Goudsmit, a Senior Auditor at HQAI said “harmonising processes to work with the index so that the audit process is systematically and statistically collecting same data across audits will mean we can then analyse how organisations are collectively working towards implementing these systems.” How we deal with contradictions that arise with regards to issues around confidentiality for instance.

On reflection, PSEA continues to be very technical and complex, which stops us from regurgitating buzzwords and stock phrases. There is almost a discomfort in how much more difficult it is to deliver and listen to sessions on this topic matter because of how new it is and our lack of experience in responding to it. For working environments and cultures to improve, these practical steps must be easier to digest and implement and share.

Do SDGs shrink the humanitarian space?

With 193-member states adopting the framework, the Sustainable Development Goals offer a unique opportunity to hold goals accountable. Whilst there is no strong resistance to the SDGs within the humanitarian space, it is important to address the disconnect in the planning processes of humanitarian and development actors. HNPW5

The session co-hosted by the Swiss government and SDG Lab emphasised the need for the sector to reach the point where humanitarian and development are assumed as one. When there is a sudden onset of a response, there is usually not enough time to collaborate with the government as the focus is on securing as much funding as possible to assist the immediate crisis.

The average length of modern-day displacement-crises are exceeding 10 years on average. With crises frequently complex and protacted, there is a growing need to address long-term needs. Perhaps the way forward is building better consistency in funding streams and more joint-planning. As no one knows how long a response will last and consequently how much will be needed, so it is important for development actors to be a part of the response from the very beginning with an approach that assumes the crisis is ongoing in order to avoid funding being cut short.

Moving forward with gender equality in humanitarian responses

How do we make gender equality a humanitarian objective? In this group exercise we discussed the need to include an assessment from the beginning to end of a cycle inclusive of women and girls and the structural issues they face that hinders their accessibility to decision-making.

An issue raised is many organisations have gender equity in policy and strategy work, but not gender equality. Should we be adopting new systems, or do we focus on influencing current structures and cultures by making our response gender-transformative with more involvement of women and addressing toxic masculinity? Or is it a simple matter of providing equal opportunities?


Step one is to identify the needs and services, because whilst the goal is to enable equal access, first we must work out how to reach women and girls directly. “A lot of the time you try to provide adaptive services, but if that is done with neglect of the actual need, then the response isn’t as effective”, says Lisa Akero, a gender specialist at IFRC who advocates more local participatory engagement.

Including the women and girls in the community we are trying to help is empowering, which is why it is so important to enhance localisation and adequately handle the quality of local participation. Ensuring our own workforces are diverse at all levels is imperative to reflect the communities we are assisting to build trust and understanding, and there must be strict enforcement of minimum standards – the uncompromising basics that ensure safe access to everyone.

Whilst ‘diversity’ and ‘protection’ are used a lot to justify why we need gender equality and can be packaged to better resonate with colleagues, we must be wary of discussing diversity without diluting gender specifically.

Most importantly, it is increasingly apparent that gender inclusivity must be a part of planning processes from start to finish and only by securing commitment from the leadership can we break down the silos necessary to achieve gender equality within the humanitarian sphere.