Oluchi Ihedoro is a dedicated consultant with 9 years of experience implementing development and humanitarian programs. She is passionate about capacity strengthening of individuals, organisations, private and public bodies to be better at what they do. Oluchi is available for work in Nigeria. She works in English, Igbo and some Hausa. Find out more about Oluchi in our Safeguarding Consultants Directory here.
The news of the rape of Aisha Umar, a female internally displaced person (IDP) by a male aid worker in Borno State, Nigeria has re-emphasised the need for safeguarding as an essential tool to ensuring that the “Do no harm” principle is imbibed in the work we do.
Our primary objective as aid workers is to provide support to the people in need to help relieve them from their current condition. It is also the duty of every organisation to carry out this responsibility without inflicting further harm to the project participants, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Sadly, incidents keep surfacing to reveal how aid workers misuse the power vested on them to cause further harm to the people in the forms of Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH), and other forms of harm.
Unfortunately, even with awareness raising and calls for organisations to strengthen their safeguarding policies, practices and procedures, many still fall short of meeting basic safeguarding principles. This could be attributed to grave misconceptions, such as:
- Safeguarding concerns do not exist in our context
- Our staff and associates are trustworthy and cannot abuse our project participants
- There has never been any SEAH report in our organisation, hence, it does not exist, and we do not need to bother ourselves about it
- Safeguarding is a foreign affair and should not be our priority
- Safeguarding is not a funded project, hence should not take much of our time, energy and attention
- Safeguarding is just a compliance issue so all we need to do is meet the donors’ primary requirements, and that’s all
- Sincerely implementing safeguarding is tantamount to causing reputational damage for our organisation
- Safeguarding is just for staff to implement; leaders have other more important issues to focus on
On the contrary, safeguarding is the responsibility of everyone and every organisation to ensure the protection of the project participants from harms, and this forms the primary objective of our work.
Every organisation and its staff members must be accountable to the people and community they serve!
Organisations must strengthen their safeguarding systems in line with the International standards on Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Sexual Harassment summarised on RSH platform.
It is very important to note that if your organisation has not yet recorded any safeguarding breach, it does not mean that it does not exist within your system.
On the contrary, it could mean that you have not put the right structures in place to harness these concerns and respond to them! Again, sweeping safeguarding concerns within your system under the carpet does not help protect your organisation’s reputation or that of your privileged staff member, rather it will cause more reputational damage to your organisation in no distant time.
This is a call for every organisation to strengthen their safeguarding systems! The role of leadership in achieving this cannot be over-emphasised. Truth be told, safeguarding requires a top-down approach to work. Hence, it is time for leaders to take the bull by the horn.
Here are some tips to help strengthen your organisation’s safeguarding system:
- Understand the relevance of having a strengthened safeguarding system and ensure that your organisation commits to zero tolerance of safeguarding breach
- Be conscious of saving lives from further harm because of your programming
- Ensure a robust safeguarding policy and code of conduct and make it a living document in your organisation.
- Organisational leadership including the Board of Trustees (BoT)/directors must own their safeguarding commitment and model it. See the training package for the BoT here, designed by the RSH Nigeria Hub.
- Ensure that the international safeguarding standards are upheld
- The key components of safeguarding; prevention, reporting and response, must be strengthened in your organisation
- Sanctions to every safeguarding breach must be administered without fear or favour; this will serve as a deterrent to potential perpetrators
- Activate the sense of responsibility and accountability among all your staff and representatives
- Ensure a safe organisational culture to promote whistleblowing of safeguarding concerns
- Make safeguarding a top priority in your organisation and integrate it in all your programming.
Above all, understand that safeguarding is not about “ticking of boxes”!