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UN WOMEN and UNFPA scale up protection from sexual exploitation and abuse in the humanitarian response in Tigray

Mekelle - Tigray, Ethiopia – “As humanitarians, we have a collective duty to do no harm and protect the communities we serve from any form of sexual exploitation and abuse,” said Ms. Dennia Gayle, UNFPA Country Representative, during a PSEA training conducted by UN Women supported by UNFPA in Mekelle, Tigray.

Under the leadership of UN Women and with the support of UNFPA, 34 new humanitarian partners from INGOs, NGOs and the Government were trained from 1st to 3rd of June in Mekelle to act as focal points to improve access to critical information and protection for vulnerable populations.

An additional 17 humanitarian actors based in Shire were trained by UNFPA on May 29 to expand community-based reporting mechanisms and quality assistance to SEA survivors.

Risks of sexual exploitation and abuse escalate during times of crisis. Disrupted social protection networks during mass displacement, and breakdown of law enforcement systems paves the way for perpetrators to abuse and exploit with impunity. Conditions of vulnerability, deprivation or fear, create a high-risk environment for exploitative behavior or wrongdoing. Aid workers, as people with immense power, may coerce others into sexual relationships in exchange for food, medicine or safety.

UNFPA and UN Women as co-leads of the Ethiopia Network to Protect from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, known as the Ethiopia PSEA Network, have been training humanitarian workers on prevention, reporting and response to any abuse and scaling up efforts across Tigray.

“In emergency operations, with a surge in new and non-traditional responders, it is critical to highlight, prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse through training and awareness as well as by ensuring that the Ethiopia PSEA Network Code of Conduct is upheld by all,” Ms. Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative in Ethiopia.

Survivors’ rights at the core of UNFPA response

The PSEA trainings help to understand how the power imbalances and dynamics of a particular conflict or crisis may prompt a surge of cases of sexual exploitation and abuse as well as the devastating consequences for survivors, the community and humanitarian actors.

Participants also learn how to better prevent and respond to any complaints, including referral pathways, to better assist survivors.

“All of our actions may be guided by a survivor-centered approach which means that the needs and rights of survivors are placed at the core of the response. Survivors must be treated with dignity and respect, and their rights to privacy, safety and support must be prioritized,” said Mr. Ephraim Karanja, GBV AoR Coordinator and one of the training facilitators.

Those humanitarian workers will act as focal points with other aid workers in their area of response to improve access to critical information and protection for vulnerable populations.  

“This training has been an eye-opening experience for me. Even when my organization has a PSEA policy and a reporting mechanism, I now feel myself in a position to train other humanitarian actors and ensure accountability to affected populations," said Robel Tadesse, Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Coordinator at World Vision after attending the 3-day training in Mekelle, Tigray.

Stepping up support on PSEA in Tigray response

Across the conflict-affected regions in Northern Ethiopia, UN WOMEN, UNFPA and humanitarian partners are scaling up actions to prevent and respond to these abuses, ranging from ensuring the availability of reporting mechanisms to continued expansion of efforts to better reach survivors and provide them with assistance.

“With support from the Ethiopia PSEA Network and the Inter-Agency Accountability Working Group (IAAWG), we have now managed to establish two regional and joint PSEA-AAP Networks in Tigray. That is, one in Shire and one in Mekelle,” said Maria Kjersen, Gender and Humanitarian Specialist in UN Women.

In partnership with the PSEA Network, further training will be rolled-out in the months ahead to ensure the higher accountability standards across the multi-sectoral response in Tigray.