JThey've been revealed, Oxfam have been through the counterpart of a TV reality colonoscopy: the organization has been turned inside out and revealed beneath.
An independent investigation on sexual misconduct found abuse far beyond Haiti. The independent commission's conclusion, after visiting 20% of countries where Oxfam works, was that the issues were endemic.
Stories heard by the committee, or their jobs, if they refused to have sex with aid workers. The hierarchies would have been helpful, like the older women forced to wait in.
The investigation effectively called Oxfam hypocritical – gender justice as a core objective did not translate how the organization lived its values.
Everything in the Commission's report could be written about any international NGO. The issues are not unique to Oxfam or Save the Children, they are systemic across the aid system. Sexual abuse is about money and power, and these are the key pillars on which the system has been built. The rich donors of the north have all the money and all the power. Those who are beholden to their services have neither.
The aid system, as we've learned, is no longer immune to "me too" than any other sector, because gender-based violence and exploitation exists everywhere. So why does it feel so much more egregious?
Because it has a higher purpose and a higher duty of care. In search of the world's most vulnerable, they are supposed to be the saints, not the sinners. It feels like a stab in all of our hearts.
Is it possible to get back to such a low point?
Even if the commissioners' recommendations are implemented overnight, the problems will be reported. Endless efforts have been made in the last few years. To rebuild trust we need to go deeper: it's about Oxfam, yes, but it's also about the wider aid system, and how, as citizens of the world, we are reporting to it.
The first part is obvious: Oxfam and its counterparts will need to quickly implement the report's recommendations to deal with the issue.
The second, even more important thing they should do to look beyond this and discuss their relationship with the people that they seek to support.Is their role to be a headmaster, or a friend? A doctor or advocate? Gold boss ally? These are different roles and different starkly different ways of working. Unfortunately, Oxfam and others may think they are a friend, advocate and ally, but all too often act as headmaster, doctor and boss – and usually of the male variety.
Oxfam staff cited problems of capacity for southern organizations to provide assistance, referrals to pre-mature partnerships. They alluded to the lack, locally, of an understanding of This is the headmaster or boss role: they try to "solve" poverty and administer prescriptions, rather than walking in their struggle, including women. They blame these pressures rather than looking at their role as ally and friend. They do absurd things like conducting an English-only workshop in a French-speaking country.
The starting question should be: if we're all here to solve poverty and realize justice, including gender justice, how do we do this together and in solidarity? And they should do this in collaboration, as an investigation, not a top-down, project-driven solution.
From there, a complete overhaul of the system, they would be accountable to Oxfam, Action Aid or Save the Children for each other for charitable giving.
Some populist political leaders are pitting those in the global south against those struggling in the north. They blame our own austerity programs on the fact that we send money overseas. Agencies, as a consequence, struggle to show impact against defenses, because it is not easy.
Our failure as a business opportunity has been exploited and we have been able to exploit our business. We consume the resources of the south, enjoying the plowing of the markets, or selling the arms that fuel conflict.
Aid agencies pick up the pieces, enabled by their charity, but they are unable to address the structural problems of inequality and exist between the richer north and the impoverished south. This is not good enough. We want to believe in our goal, to do so, we also have to look at our own culpability.
As a nation, we expect value for money. The Department for International Development also has a VfM policy, defined as "the optimal use of resources to achieve intended outcomes". Those who should be grateful who should be grateful for the crumbs thrown their way. They are numbers, not people, and are reduced to a spreadsheet.
People in the global south do not want to rely on the charity of others. They want control over their own lives. Women and children certainly do not want to be sexually exploited. Investing is not just about systems. It's about solidarity. And solidarity requires that we invest in each other: in stopping exploitation, and in the time and resources it takes to build power from the bottom up. We need to reform our own economic and social systems that see the developing world as something to be exploited.
It seems obvious, but it is not the case that we are not helping people, but we are helping them, those with whom we are working, not in front of them.
The public wants to help, and to overcome these problems. But they need to see that agencies are up to the task. The report's first recommendation is that it should "reinvent the system" for protection. I would argue that they need to reinvent the international NGO system and the public's relationship with it.
Now that everything is out in the open, the hard work can really begin.