MSI’s “Protect and Respect” Approach

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We strongly believe that our staff and partners around the world have the right to be safe from sexual exploitation and abuse, all other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), and to work in respectful environments.

But research from the World Health Organization exposes the stark reality that one in three women worldwide has experienced GBV. In addition, The Center for Women’s Global Leadership reports that 50% of women will face GBV in their lifetime. In workplaces, both women and men experience forms of GBV, including sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse. And sadly, in the international development sector, many aid workers are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse in their workplaces. Beneficiaries and partners are also vulnerable to abuses perpetuated by aid workers.

For this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we will highlight some of our programs that contribute to preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). We’re also taking the opportunity to highlight our internal efforts by sharing aspects of our response to the international development community’s duty to better prevent sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA).

We know from direct experience that the people we work with and for – our local partners and our beneficiaries– and particularly the men, women and children that live in conflict and post-conflict settings, often experience heightened vulnerability. As part of our efforts to build resilience and to reduce vulnerabilities, we apply principles of respect and prevention not only to our staff, but our larger community: clients, partners, consultants, grantees and the communities our work affects.

As a start, we’ve re-envisioned our staff training as an entry point to improve our PSEA response. We are guided by a Code of Conduct that establishes the ethical behavior expected of our staff, including a zero-tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse. Our updated training reinforces our Code of Conduct but goes deeper by focusing on our company values of “protect and respect” as building blocks to support prevention and to increase equality and collective accountability. Through this training, we’re launching new conversations and learning as a foundation for how we will continue to take action and improve the way we implement development programs and projects.

Instead of drilling staff on their obligations for compliance, our updated training engages participants on what they can and should do to encourage positive behaviors and respectful, professional conduct. The training incorporates principles of a survivor-centered approach, such as respecting privacy, listening to survivor preferences, and providing information about additional resources. The training seeks to encourage ongoing dialogue and positive action to meet the complex demands for mitigating sexual exploitation and abuse in real time. With these elements of our training, we want to support a more inclusive and equitable workplace and to strengthen our culture of accountability.

We know that training is not enough, but it is a strategic entry point.

Through our training, we’re taking a step to encourage dialogue and action among our staff, and we’re developing improved approaches to incorporate MSI’s focus on “protect and respect” throughout our work. For example, we’re leveraging our internal knowledge to identify areas for improvement in our systems and to find new solutions. We’re also standing up a task force to combine our experience and insights to develop needed tools and guidance. We’re seeking to emphasize our external obligations, such as reporting, as well as expectations that staff bring PSEA concepts into all aspects of their work.

The 16 Days of Activism reminds us all of the scope and severity of the problem, but it takes commitment day in and day out to prevent GBV in international development. We are redoubling our efforts with staff to identify paths forward that prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, and all other forms of GBV, and create safe, respectful environments for everyone in our implementing community.

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