The recent reports regarding the conduct of staff working for international humanitarian and development charities, focusing on Oxfam, is a crucial reminder of the importance that charities should place on ensuring effective policies and practices in safeguarding, including commitments to recognise and uphold the dignity of local communities that the sector works with.
It is also a lesson on how unequal power relations can permeate the charity sector and replicate the kind of discriminatory and harmful behaviours that we see present in other sectors and in broader society.
Part of this picture is the very methodology of the traditional charitable approach to humanitarian crises and development in the global South – an approach where workers are brought in from largely Western countries to carry out and oversee humanitarian and development projects in communities that are very often living in extreme poverty, marginalised and seen as beneficiaries, as opposed to equal partners with agency, power and the ability to bring about their own change.
Throughout its history War on Want has focused on the structural causes of poverty and inequality rather than traditional aid projects. Our work with partners is what shapes the work that we do. These long-term partnerships ground our work in the aspirations of democratic social movements, ensuring that War on Want’s politics remain true to the hopes of those on the front line in the struggle. Our programmes are partnerships of equals, based on full respect for the ambitions and politics of all we work with.
Violence against women is a fundamental and systematic abuse of women’s human rights. It is an issue that War on Want works on together with women’s rights organisations, as part of our ongoing work to address the root causes of poverty and human rights abuses. Many of War on Want’s programme partnerships are directly focused on the empowerment of women as agents of change. We work in support of women challenging the dominance of male workers in national labour movements, striving to enable a new generation of women to break through the barriers of social and economic exploitation and take their place as leaders in the struggle. We work with women in the informal economy, fighting for equal recognition of their rights in the face of threats and violence at work and in the home.
We understand clearly our responsibility to ensure best practice from staff, trustees and volunteers alike in the work that we do, which includes exposing the ways in which traditional approaches to international development and aid reinforce unequal power relations. This applies to all of our relationships, including as trusted partners working with women’s groups, who have been at the forefront of fighting for justice on these issues for many years, often with very few resources.
We have in place policies and procedures regarding staff and trustee conduct including whistle-blowing, fraud and safeguarding policies, and we operate a zero tolerance approach. This is the case whether our staff are working in the office or elsewhere, including on overseas trips. We regularly review our policies to ensure that they are consistent with best practice and are clear with our staff, trustees and partners of the values, principles and conduct that we expect from them.
This issue should be a priority for the charity sector, and we commit to ensuring that for our part, we endeavour to model best practice policies, approaches and behaviour.
By War on Want