Explosive allegations of sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and rape have hit the World Health Organization.
The year-long investigation by Robert Flummerfelt, contributor to The New Humanitarian, based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nellie Peyton, West Africa correspondent for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, based in Dakar, Senegal found that doctors and other WHO workers responding to an ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo traded jobs and opportunities in exchange for sex.
The investigation found 30 of 51 women interviewed reported exploitation by men identified as working for the WHO on the ebola outbreak starting in 2018.
According to the findings published by the New Humanitarian:
The majority of the women said numerous men had either propositioned them, forced them to have sex in exchange for a job, or terminated their contracts when they refused.
The number and similarity of many of the accounts from women in the eastern city of Beni suggest the practice was widespread, with three organisations vowing to investigate the accusations uncovered by reporters. After being made aware of the allegations, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for them to be “investigated fully”
Women said they were plied with drinks, others ambushed in offices and hospitals, and some locked in rooms by men who promised jobs or threatened to fire them if they did not comply.
Some women were cooks, cleaners, and community outreach workers hired on short-term contracts, earning $50 to $100 a month – more than twice the normal wage. One woman was an Ebola survivor seeking psychological help. At least two women said they became pregnant as a result of their abuse.
The WHO said it was reviewing a “small number” of sexual abuse or exploitation reports in Congo but declined to say whether they took place during the Ebola outbreak in the east of the country, which ended in June after more than 2,200 deaths.
WHO is not the only United Nations agency plagued by sexual misconduct allegations in recent years.
According to a December 2019 report by Global News:
The United Nations’ AIDS agency “fired two staffers for financial and sexual misconduct, including a whistleblower whose allegations of being sexually assaulted sparked months of turmoil at the organization”. In March 2019, Martina Brostrom publicly accused a senior UNAIDS director of forcibly kissing her and trying to drag her out of a Bangkok elevator in 2015.
In June, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric issued a statement confirming that a short video posted to social media featured a 4x4 vehicle, containing personnel engaged in a sex act were “likely assigned to the UN Truce Supervision Organization” based in Jerusalem.
Regarding the New Humanitarian’s investigation, WHO spokeswoman Fadéla Chaib reiterated the agency’s “zero tolerance” sexual harassment policy. “We would not tolerate such behaviour by any of our staff, contractors, or partners.”