System-wide collaboration for addressing sexual misconduct

July 3, 2023

Sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment – referred to by WHO as sexual misconduct – can only be effective if all UN and humanitarian agencies work together. WHO contributes to UN-wide efforts to address the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) posed by the hundreds of implementing partners who deliver on behalf of the UN system.

On 21 June 2023, WHO participated in “Empower to Protect: Strengthening Partnerships against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse,” a side event of the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS).

WHO, along with other UN agencies and partners, presented the UN Implementing Partner Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Capacity Tool. This new digital module – the first of its kind – works across the UN to harmonize efforts to assess the current capacities of implementing partners (including government institutions, inter-governmental organizations, and civil society organizations (CSOs), including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)) to prevent and respond to SEA, and help strengthen those capacities. The tool is housed within the UN Partner Portal, an online platform for simplifying and harmonizing UN work processes for partnering with civil society organizations (CSOs).

Dr Gaya Gamhewage, Director of the Department of Prevention and Response to Sexual Misconduct at WHO, moderated the event, underscoring that the tool represents “a groundbreaking collaboration happening where it should happen: at the field level.” However, she cautioned that tools and platforms are secondary to the real goal – that of safeguarding the populations WHO is entrusted to serve.

Coordination and harmonization of efforts between WHO, other UN entities and NGOs is a critical step for preventing and managing the risks of SEA, in addition to better protecting people served by these organizations.

WHO’s participation in this side event was due to its membership of the Implementing Partners Protocol Working Group (IPPWG), which is composed of UN entities, and provides technical knowledge.

Following the ECOSOC event, the IPPWG held face-to-face training sessions at WHO headquarters on 23 June 2023, where UN agencies, CSOs and NGOs were invited to get hands-on knowledge of the new PSEA Capacity Tool’s functionalities, thus deepening the Organization’s collaborative work.

During the training’s opening roundtable discussion, participants exchanged and reflected on the importance and experiences of PSEA organizational systems. The training sessions then offered step-by-step guidance on the PSEA module, including hands-on exercises.

WHO will take a phased approach to addressing sexual misconduct risks posed by its implementing partners. The Organization will first roll out the tool to assess and strengthen the Organization’s implementing partners in 10 priority countries, working closely with UN partners.

WHO is also contributing to the work of the UN system on addressing sexual harassment. On 23 June, Dr Gaya Gamhewage led a workshop related to the work of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) Task Force on Addressing Sexual Harassment within UN organizations. This event was part of workstream 1 on “prevention and behavioral science.” WHO is leading result 3, relating to assessment monitoring tools to measure behavior change within communication campaigns and trainings on the prevention of sexual harassment developed and distributed.

The workshop’s objective was to identify behavioral changes that each agency aims to address around sexual harassment, key approaches for assessing behavior, and ideas and actions related to other areas of work in the field.

Participants from WHO, the World Food Programme, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Office at Geneva shared how they used different behavior change models in various campaigns and trainings for addressing sexual harassment.

They then brainstormed on different target behaviors for key stakeholders related to sexual harassment prevention, detection and response. For their own awareness-raising campaigns and internal actions, Dr Gamhewage encouraged the participants to think about what they want those key target audiences to “know, feel and do” in order to affect change.

“We have learnt a lot in the past two years, but we have a long way to go and a lot to learn from other agencies,” says Dr Gamhewage. “It is essential that while WHO builds up its capacity to address sexual misconduct, we work even more closely with UN and humanitarian partners, so that we can support system-wide change to better address the scourge of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.”

WHO has the release.

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