Editorial: Sexual harassment and abuse—the sinister underbelly
Source: The Lancet
April 17, 2018
This week, The Lancet, publishes a Special Report on allegations of sexual harassment and abuse at UNAIDS. The report suggests that UNAIDS has at best marginalised and at worst buried allegations of sexual harassment. Its responses have been unduly weak and unacceptable, and the announcements of remediation are too little too late. Furthermore, internal loyalty to the existing leadership seems to trump integrity in the organisation, and has contributed to a culture devoid of transparency and accountability. Most striking has been our correspondence with senior policy advisers at UNAIDS: the corporate and defensive lines they have taken and their seeming inability to understand the existential crisis that UNAIDS faces.
It is time to be honest about global health. Too often, some white, privileged, relatively well-off people from the Global North go to poor, powerless communities, where the normal rules of behaviour are put to one side and the potential for exploitation is high. It is a structural problem that goes beyond the UN and is symptomatic of a disease that appears to be endemic within global health—a disease, where the entitlements and privileges of a relatively wealthy white class are leading to the exploitation and abuse of those they work with in countries (for example, the recent cases of Oxfam and Save the Children) and the staff around them. The allegations at the UN point to the same being true in the structure of patriarchal organisations, where gender power dynamics are also at play. There is something particularly egregious about a field that is supposed to be based on principles of equity, human rights, and justice that has provided a cloak of protection against sexual harassment and abuse. Instead of being leaders in these areas, some of the principal perpetrators are from the global health community.
Pressure on the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michele Sidibé is mounting. What really matters is that these and other allegations of harassment are properly and independently investigated by an independent authority so that justice is delivered for these women. If these cases are proven true, then the people responsible need to leave the organisation with, if necessary, referral to the police for criminal investigation. Zero tolerance should mean zero tolerance. — The Lancet
UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe