Updated: Jun 26
By: Maria-Jose Alvarez and Eric Frasco
The humanitarian and development system continues to have a diversity-and-inclusion problem. The history and present of the aid system is steeped in an imbalance of power, with power largely in the hands of those who critics call "WEIRD" (Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic). And it is evident on all fronts.
Sexual abuse and harassment are also grave issues in the sectors, as female workers and volunteers have reported that global humanitarian organizations have often resorted to victim-blaming and the covering up of abuses in the past. In 2018, CBS released a report detailing how the Peace Corps had failed to protect its female volunteers, with up to 38% saying they had suffered some sort of sexual abuse.
In an effort to catalyze progress in sexual abuse mitigation and help, the office of UN Women released a publication detailing a cross-sectoral approach to addressing sexual harassment. This includes a zero-tolerance policy, shared databases and screenings, initiatives to strengthen investigative capacity, and hotlines. However, there remains a long way to go to ensure the safety and representation of women in these sectors.
Representation of People of Color (POC) is also lacking across the board. In the UK charity sector for example, only 3% of chief executives are POC. 54% of POC employees have experienced racial discrimination at work. And as with continued issues of sexual and gender-based violence in aid organizations, reporting mechanisms on racism and discrimination remain thin or flawed.
The Grand Bargain commitment to localization - the goal to increase the role of national and grassroots actors and place greater value on local knowledge in the sector - has also been making slow progress, at best. And often, "progress" is defined as devolving power to Country Offices within a broader, hierarchical system with a Western HQ at the helm. At best, organizations such as the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement are locally led and staffed but supported by Western partners. However, even these organically local actors operate in a system built by (mostly male) white actors.
It may also be time to let go of the long-held tradition of "neutrality". After UN Secretary-General António Guterres endorsed a memo stating that staff "participation in public demonstrations [in relation to Black Lives Matter] in the current circumstances may not be consistent with the independence and impartiality required of us", we need to ask ourselves seriously - are aid organizations still fit for purpose?
In an effort to highlight the progress that has been and is yet to be made in the international development and aid sectors concerning diversity and inclusion, the RE: Project has partnered with the Women in International Affairs Network (WIAN), a digital platform and lifestyle brand connecting women with resources, advice & opportunities in international affairs based in London, UK, to create a podcast interview series about the career experience of remarkable women from the international development and humanitarian sector.
Stay tuned to see the amazing content we’ve created in the coming weeks!
Here are their bios
Chris Franks has worked in the aid and development sectors for over four decades. Chris is based in Sydney, Australia and she is currently Chair at Women in Aid & Development, a networking group that encourages and inspires women working in the aid, development and humanitarian sectors to secure leadership roles, and the sector to achieve gender equity. Chris also has experience working in Cufa, an International Development Working Group, Habitat for Humanity Australia, Family Planning NSW, among other humanitarian organizations.
Bhanvi Anand is currently based in Sydney, Australia and is the Director of Education Initiatives at PNG Sustainable Development Program, a fund that invests in initiatives supporting the development of communities in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea through a focus on health, education and upliftment of livelihoods. Prior to joining PNG, Bhanvi worked across various finance, banking and strategy roles within the Commonwealth Bank and as an independent consultant. She seeks to solve social problems through data-driven development and impact programs, particularly in the areas of financial exclusion and vulnerability. Lastly, she is a passionate advocate for creating diverse and inclusive workplaces.
Shani Cain is currently the CEO of the Oaktree Foundation, Australia's largest youth-led international development agency with over 250,000 supporters. She is also a Board Member for ACFID and Executive Member for the Campaign For Australian Aid. Shani previously worked in settlement, community development and advocacy at the Centre for Multicultural Youth. She is someone who actively believes in the ability to change the world and is passionate about youth, gender and climate.
Casey McDermott (Interview pending)
Casey McDermott has thorough sector-specific experience in the aid in emergency preparedness and response, humanitarian aid, and disaster risk management/reduction (DRM/DRR) working for and with various large INGOs and IOs, including CARE International, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Department for International Development (DFID), International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Casey has years of field experience in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and believes in the diversity of teams to ensure all voices are heard.
Chinyere Sussan Ezinwa (Interview pending)
Ezinwa Chinyere is the coordinator of Girls in parliament Anambra State, a public speaker, passionate volunteer, Girl-child advocate, and social entrepreneur. She has been working to empower young girls on building healthy self-esteem and preparing them to become job creators rather than job seekers. She has a keen interest in humanitarian, gender and social change, and has worked as Project Manager at Whispering Hope Africa Initiative and as a volunteer for the Youngstar Foundation.
More speaks coming up soon!
Through this podcast series, we want to highlight the experiences of women from a variety of ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and how their careers could be better supported.
Women working in HR, diversity and inclusion roles or international programs who wish to be involved will be interviewed about gender and race-related issues. They'll also be asked about the obstacles they faced, how they overcame them and advice for women embarking on their careers.
*Women who wish to participate but are uncomfortable discussing these issues and topics on video can be included via a podcast, blog and/or anonymous involvement. Additionally, individuals do not have to answer questions they are uncomfortable with.