Aid workers are often the lifeline in fighting emerging diseases in developing countries. Sadly, some World Health Organization aid workers have faced criticisms on allegations of sexual abuse by about 20 Congolese women. A new interview by Thomson Reuters Foundation with these Congolese women birthed fresh claims of sexual abuse. The sexual abuse ranged from rape to coerced sex by some male aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Ebola crisis.
The United Nations recently discovered related sexual abuse allegations where male aid workers exploited the vulnerability of health-crisis-torn Congo. Notable among the exploitation tactics was the demand for sex in exchange for job offers. While this appears to be happening for a while, concerned authorities are yet to take decisive actions to end the menace.
More than 20 Congolese women said they were sexually abused by aid workers from organizations including UN agencies.
"If I give you work, what will you give me in return?," one message read. https://t.co/tax3f9fRc8
— Christine Murray (@chrissiemurray) May 13, 2021
From Fighting Ebola to Surviving Sexual Abuse
The call-out of the WHO aid workers happened after donors to the fight against Ebola put pressure on aid groups to focus on combating the sexual abuse of vulnerable people. This happened after an investigation carried out last year, where 52 women from Beni, Congo, made revelations about their plights in the hands of the aid workers. Following the revelations, the WHO and other organizations fired many aid workers. Also, they said they would soon dismiss some more.
Our reporting on widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of Congolese women by aid workers from @WHO and leading NGOs is the latest in a series of @newhumanitarian investigations into aid operations in the country. [thread]https://t.co/q2YzK6yk6d
— Philip Kleinfeld (@PKleinfeld) September 30, 2020
According to fourteen Butembo women, the men said they were World Health Organization workers. These fourteen Butembo women are among the twenty-two that aid workers sexually abused at the Butembo Ebola Aid Hub. Workers of seven organizations were found guilty of the sexual abuse allegations, including two from United Nations Agency.
One of the accused aid workers raped a woman while others coerced women into casual sexual relationships. Also, one woman had a mismanaged and failed abortion leading to her death. According to aid organizations, there are several other investigations underway.
What the WHO and Other Culpable Organizations Have To Say
The WHO said it received instructions to redirect all allegations to an independent commission set up last year to investigate such claims. The commission will then lead the investigations of the allegations and recommend solutions to the Director-General accordingly. Marcia Poole, the spokeswoman of the WHO said,
“WHO is committed to taking prompt and robust action, including collaborating with relevant national authorities on criminal proceedings, in all cases where WHO staff may be found guilty of perpetrating (sexual exploitation and abuse).”
Besides the World Health Organization, two Butembo women accused aid workers of the International Organization for Migration of sexual abuse. Also, another two women identified some aid workers with the Congo Ministry of Health as sexual abusers.
In response to the allegations, the International Organization for Migration said it had not been issued Butembo-related claims. The United Nations said it had not received any such claims relating to Butembo. Also, the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services could not confirm the claim made against a migration agency in Beni in 2020.
Ending the Cycle of Abuse by Aid Workers
Congolese women reveal how aid workers who are supposed to assist the country in tackling Ebola crisis, use their position of power to sexually abuse women. Truly appalling findings by @newhumanitarian A must-read:https://t.co/Cuw1sbXWtU
— Katia Mierzejewska (@KatMierzejewska) May 17, 2021
Recall that the widespread claims of sexual abuse sparked protests in Congo in 2020. East Congo is dubbed the ‘Rape Capital’ of the world due to incessant rape cases. The Congolese people took to the streets in 2020 to protest against the rape of their women. People all over the world have criticized aid workers for taking advantage of vulnerable women.
It is a good thing that Congolese women are speaking up because silence helps to embolden abusers. However, besides relieving the abusers of their job, they should also face the law for their crimes. Punishing offenders will not only bring relief to the victims but will also deter future offenders. Hopefully, the organization in the spotlight will take far-reaching actions and not just the usual media rhetorics.