Put more women in top aid agency roles to combat sexual abuse, former Oxfam executive

Aid agencies should introduce a better gender balance in order to combat sexual abuse by mainly male staff, a former Oxfam executive has told MPs.

Such a move is “absolutely crucial” because of the link between abuse of predominantly female victims in developing countries and man-heavy senior teams, said Helen Evans – the charity’s former global head of safeguarding.

Ms Evans, who left the UK-based aid agency in 2015, has previously claimed she begged senior staff, ministers and the regulator to act on the sexual abuse allegations.

She told the Commons’ international development committee on Wednesday there was a strong correlation between the “tone” set by country director in terms of behaviour and what staff felt was permissible.

Ms Evans told MPs: “We know that the majority of abusers are men so if you have the majority of people in leadership positions are men and the majority of the country management teams are… men, there was definitely a correlation then in terms of prevalence of abuse.

“I think gender balance within the aid sector is an absolutely critical component of getting on top of this.”

She was speaking following the scandal that has engulfed the aid sector over abuse.

In February Oxfam issued an “unreserved apology” to the Government, donors, supporters and the people of Haiti over its handling of incidents including the alleged use of prostitutes by workers, in the earthquake-hit country in 2011.

Oxfam received £31.7 million in taxpayer funding in 2016/17.

But International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in February that future funding would not be considered until her department was satisfied Oxfam could meet the “high standards” expected.

Ms Evans also spoke on Wednesday of her “frustrations” while working at Oxfam when she was told the organisation lacked money to increase its safeguarding team from just her and a part-time assistant when more stories of sexual abuse came to light internally.

This was at a time when it has a five-strong anti-fraud team, she said.

She added: “I think there is a real challenge for the aid sector in terms of engaging with this issue.

“It’s really hard when you are working for an organisation, because you believe in it and you want to do good, to engage with something so difficult and hard to confront, that those who were meant to help were actually abusing, I think that has been a real barrier.”

The organisation has now increased its safeguarding team to four people, with two more to be hired, MPs were told.

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