Protecting the people we serve

by Julie Delahanty | November 15, 2018
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There is no greater responsibility than to ensure the safety and dignity of the people we serve. The critical mistakes that were made in Haiti in 2011 have pushed us to deep introspection as we ask ourselves how an organization dedicated to gender equality and women’s rights could have made these mistakes. Oxfam is fully committed to making the changes needed to ensure a safe environment and a culture of zero tolerance to sexual misconduct. We are doing everything we can to stamp out sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment from all parts of our confederation to protect those we work with and to ensure justice for the survivors of abuse.

In February 2018, we put forward a 10-Point Action Plan to strengthen Oxfam’s policies and practices on safeguarding and to transform our organizational culture. You can find the plan here. We have made significant progress on the Action Plan, including establishing an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Culture and Accountability. led by women’s rights experts who are looking at all aspects of Oxfam’s culture, policies and practices. The Commission is spending time in communities, listening to people’s perspectives and will be providing strong recommendations for changes we can make. The Commission includes a reference group made up of survivors of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment who are helping shape those recommendations. The only way to change is to lay bare the cracks in the foundation so that we can repair it. Oxfam will be publicly sharing the recommendations and the final report of the Commission.

As part of the Action Plan we have invested in increased training of staff in all countries; in ensuring that we have “Safeguarding Focal Points” where people can go for advice, grievances and to promote awareness; in more whistleblowing hotlines; in a stronger reference system that makes it harder for perpetrators to move from one organization to another;  and in training over 100 investigators across Oxfam to handle cases of abuse, harassment and misconduct in confidential and appropriate ways. In addition, we now have a centralized database from which we are publicly disclosing information every six months on our investigations. I hope you will take some time to review the full progress report that we just published which outlines the work being done throughout Oxfam.

In addition to the internal, institutional work we can do to prevent and address sexual misconduct, we also need to understand and address the unequal power dynamics that drive gender inequality and exploitation within our own organization and around the world. Much of our 10-Point Action Plan is aimed at changing our culture. But it is also important that we think about why women are vulnerable to this abuse and exploitation and build on the best of our work to support women's leadership and combat attitudes that tolerate violence against women and girls. That’s why we’ve launched our campaign What She Knows Matters. The campaign is aimed at ensuring that in all humanitarian crises, we are listening more closely and responding to the needs and interests of women and girls and are putting power and decision-making in their hands.

I am incredibly motivated to continue to work hard in Canada and internationally to make the changes that are needed to Oxfam and to the international development and humanitarian sector as a whole.  In addition to sitting on the Oxfam Safeguarding Task Force, I am co-chairing the Canadian Council for International Cooperation’s (CCIC) Steering Committee to Prevent and Address Sexual Misconduct in the International Development and Humanitarian sector. This committee is working to ensure that the entire sector commits to making the changes necessary to end sexual misconduct and that we help each other to do that together.  Along with Global Affairs Canada, I am working with the committee to ensure that we have the proper tools, safeguards and policies in place to protect the people we serve.  The Government of Canada invited me to represent Canadian civil society organizations at the recent International Safeguarding Summit hosted by the UK International Development Secretary. The Summit was a serious effort by the entire international community to commit to making the needed changes collectively.

Now more than ever, I am convinced that Oxfam’s work needs to continue. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many supporters who have kept faith with us. I am extremely grateful for the continued support of our donors, the Canadian government, our peers and our partners.  Only together, can we continue Oxfam’s important work - to protect the vulnerable, to champion their rights and to end the injustice of inequality and global poverty for good.

With much gratitude,

Julie Delahanty
Executive Director
Oxfam Canada

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