On February 15, Oxfam entered the role of sexual abuse scandals after the #MeToo movement swept over Hollywood and other organizations, reaching further spheres, such as sports, politics, diplomacy and the evangelical church. Despite the unexpectedness humanitarian missions inspire for such actions, Oxfam, as well as other aid agencies, have disclosed sexual abuse allegations against their staff that have surprised the world.
The most upsetting aspects are that complaints had already been issued against the men who were authors to these episodes since 2012 in Haiti and the organization handled it very quietly, minimizing the acts and not communicating the crimes committed to the future employers, also in the aid agency domain (Read here.) The other reason is that in face of a post-earthquake (2010) fragilized country, Haitian women and girls were consensually and not consensually involved in paid sexual relations with the aid workers, in exchange for money or even in exchange for the aid supplies they were entitled to, as the victims have declared.
This scenario conflated in a massive withdrawal of seven thousand donors, as Oxfam is the 4th largest donor receiver organization in the world. As a consequence, Oxfam has been grilled by the Members of the Parliament (MP) in a session to disclose the sexual misconduct allegations, after receiving 26 more when the story broke out, and risk losing their government funding. Oxfam’s Chief Executive, Mark Goldrin, when questioned about the accusations argued this should not be handled in a manner that will conflate with the objectivities of anti-aid groups. In a collective response, different aid agencies have signed and published an open letter apologizing and issuing new norms to prevent these episodes from happening. Oxfam has also declared the creation of an independent commission in order to investigate further the case.
Such a landscape of asymmetrical power relations and precariousness proposes the examination of consent as a flexible term. If the aid workers paid five times more and sex workers even competed for the foreigners in a country hit by a natural disaster, consent loses its ambiguity in sexual relations. The “freedom to bother”, as the French Manifesto criticizes #MeToo, is not acceptable in this picture and consent cannot be seen through the same frame, but rather gain the perspective of the Haiti unique experience.
This event usher us to wonder whether humanitarian “missions”, which already imply a relation between savior and saved, and not by chance are replicated between a colonizer and a colonized country in most case-scenarios, does not linger or even amplifies the unequal power structures between countries, classes, colors, races, gender and perform lines of force where all these markers of difference relate to one another. Despite all the good they do, what would be the place for humanitarian missions if more structural solutions were prioritized in a debate that involved social and economic democracy around the world? However, humanitarian work has different aspects, works in different ways, for different goals etc. We cannot generalize missions as a whole uniform complex. And we cannot forget they are very necessary right now in many countries, for disaster relief, for sexual and reproductive rights in the age of the Global Gag Rule, for civil conflicts etc.
In addition, the impact of #MeToo in other organizations has led to reform and dismissals, however for Oxfam and other aid agencies, the results have impacted in their funding. This act can be used as an attempt to justify the end of overseas aid, criticized by conservatives, when it should help in having a more realistic view about what development is and why foreign aid actually matters, since it highlights the inequality reproduced between internationals and locals.
The Sexuality Policy Watch has reunited some news and articles around the Oxfam scandal that try to entail a wider vision of analysis to this revolving problem:
Oxfam, British Charity, Admits Sexual Misconduct by Workers in Haiti – The New York Times
NGOs should not be allowed to operate above the law – Al Jazeera
Oxfam Executive Quits as Furor Grows Over Misconduct – The New York Times
Haiti Suspends Oxfam Great Britain After Sex Scandal – The New York Times
Oxfam Says Workers in Haiti Threatened Witness to Misconduct – The New York Times
When Charity Workers Turn Predatory – The New York Times
Lessons for charities from Oxfam scandal – Politico
Oxfam’s ‘day of reckoning’ – Politico
‘But what about the aid worker?’ – Al Jazeera
‘Aid staff would pay more’: sex workers in Haiti speak out – The Guardian
What’s it all about, Oxfam? – openDemocracy
Oxfam apologises to Haiti over sex allegations – The Guardian
What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2? – openDemocracy
Aid workers aren’t saints and they can ‘go bad’ – I know I did – The Independent
Does aid do more harm than good? – The Spectator
Oxfam scandal is a body blow for the whole UK charity sector – The Guardian