“As humanitarians, we have a collective responsibility to prevent and safely respond to sexual abuse and exploitation in Iraq,” said Jennifer Emond, a UNFPA specialist on the subject, during a training programme in Iraq.
Risk of sexual exploitation and abuse escalate during times of crisis. Community protection systems are disrupted when populations are displaced, and breakdown in law enforcement enable perpetrators to abuse with impunity. Under conditions of deprivation and fear, people with power – even aid workers – may coerce others into sexual relationships in exchange for food, medicine or safety.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its partners are working to end these abuses through a range of actions known as “protection from sexual exploitation and abuse” (PSEA).
UNFPA and the World Food Programme (WFP) are together co-chairing the Iraq Network to Protect from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. For the last two months, UNFPA and its PSEA network partners have been training humanitarian workers across Iraq on the principles of PSEA, including how to prevent abuses and respond if they occur.
“So far, we have trained up to 400 humanitarian workers in Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk, Baghdad, Basra, Soran and Erbil,” Ms. Emond said.
Those aid workers will themselves act as trainers, reaching out to hundreds more with critical information that can improve protections for vulnerable populations.
Improving reporting and protections
The trainings help humanitarian staff understand how sexual exploitation and abuse can occur in different scenarios, as well as the consequences for survivors, the community and all humanitarian actors. Participants are taught to understand the power imbalance between aid actors and vulnerable populations, and to realize what behaviour is not acceptable.