It’s Not A Favour. Your Employer Owes You A Duty Of Care #Oxfam #MeToo #AidToo #ShePaysThePrice #TimesUp

 

13716249_980884165361607_8025600674350808537_nIt was difficult reading the IDC report on SEA in the Aid Sector. It took me three attempts to finally finish it. I cried twice.

Despite the many reassurances that the proposed Safe Guarding Summit in October 2018  would be victim focused the IDC’s discussions and recommendations seemed to focus on beneficiaries not staff, domestic or foreign, on reporting instead of victims and survivors care and well being and on programs retaining access in beneficiary countries. 

A lot of questions arose from my reading – 

What is the strategy for being victim focused? What does that mean? Will the summit treat staff and beneficiaries as a single category? Is the duty of care to beneficiaries greater than or less than the duty of care owed to staff? What duty of care do IAO’s owe national staff? If national staff conditions of employment are subject to national laws does that make IAO’s required to find out what laws are applicable and inform the national staff? What if national laws do not protect from SEA specifically? What should IAO’s do? What of international staff who are being told that their only protection may be in the jurisdiction of the country where the offence happened?

When IDC and the IAO’s say they want to involve and focus on victims and survivors, how will  they do this? And what? As objects? As subjects? What would be the questions and expectations? How will the victims and survivors be informed about their rights? Will they have legal representation? Because every IAO will have at least ten lawyers on speed dial. Is there tortious liability? Was there negligence? Will  they discuss and make commitments to victims legal rights and IAO’s legal obligations? 

Who represents the rights of African female workers? What sorts of protection do African female workers want? What sorts of protections and safeguards do international workers want? Whether the women are pink or brown what protection do they want? What does protection mean to them collectively and as diverse groups? At Oxfam national staff had unions? What is their role and relationship of national unions to the U.K. unions?

As I said the IDC report emphasised reporting and not immediate and urgent intervention to victims, both medical and legal. Sexual assault is a traumatic  experience. If a worker came in with a mangled hand no one would say ‘Go and tell HR before I treat your hand’ but the first response is usually questioning the complainants story. Sexual exploitation & abuse are the only traumatic events that are addressed with aspersions against the victim. There seems to be less concern for the victim than the abuser.

Its not enough to ask us to report sexual abuse and exploitation, past, present or future. Abusers past, present and future need to be held accountable. Its not enough to write you are doing everything to prevent SEA. Prevention can’t help us now. We want justice. We’re not crying out for sympathy. Telling our stories is not enough. We’re crying out for justice. Telling our stories has to mean something because the telling and retelling of it is also traumatic. You cannot  gawk at our humiliation, say ‘sorry’ then walk away with promises it won’t happen again, you must do something.

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By Favianna Rodriguez, contemporary US political poster designer of Afro-Peruvian heritage

Because I’m also a lawyer I decided to explore the legal aspects of SEA of staff. During my research I came across two possible grounds for liability – breach of duty of care and vicarious liability for sexual abuse. According to Kemp & Merkelbach in a 2011 policy paper  International Aid Organisations (IAO’s) are subject to the same legal rules as other large organisations and owe a duty of care to their employees, breach of which can be actionable and lead to liability. 

Excerpts From: Can you get sued? – November 2011 © SMI, Kemp & Merkelbach 

The ‘humanitarian enterprise’ is no longer a matter of well-intended philanthropy or charity but must be considered a global multi-billion dollar ‘business’.  9

The corollary is that IAOs are subject to the same basic ground rules as other enterprises – be they commercial, public or associative in nature – and thus subject to scrutiny irrespective of declarations of community-wide principles, standards and guidelines. 9

The premise of the research – developed and confirmed in the legal review – is that: 

Non-profit international humanitarian aid agencies are legally responsible for the safety and well-being of their staff, and can be held liable and are thus exposed to litigation on the basis of (national) law. 24

Generally speaking, employees are owed the highest level of responsibility as they have a reduced capacity to act voluntarily 28

IAOs can also be liable for the faults of their employees during the performance of their duties. This is known as vicarious liability. As a point of best practice, IAOs are advised to provide adequate training, instruction and supervision of its staff to minimise the risk of injury. 

Further, IAOs may be held liable for negligence at common law if it can be shown that:

      • a duty of care is owed to the claimant

      • breach of the duty of care

      • the organisation’s negligent conduct (including the conduct of its employees or agents under its control) caused actionable damage to the claimant

      • the damage suffered is not too remote  50

This principle was tested in a legal case heard in Norway in 2012. The claim was for compensation for economic and non-economic loss after a kidnapping and injury, by Steven Patrick Dennis against the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The Court ruled in favour of Dennis, awarded damages, and found gross negligence on the part of the NRC. (There was, as appears from the judgment, no issue that the Norwegian courts had jurisdiction to hear the claim: Canadian Dennis’s contract of employment was with a Norwegian employer headquartered in Oslo. The parties proceeded on the basis that Norwegian law applied.) 

Can this principle apply to cases of sexual assault?

Terrence Donovan of Kingsley Napley thinks so and had this to say in answer to a question – 

Q. Can the Oxfam employees who claim they were assaulted by their managers in the UK bring cases for compensation? 

A: Yes, and they will be conventional personal injury claims.”

So from a legal perspective employees including volunteers who have been sexually assaulted while at Oxfam GB in the past 3 years may have actionable cause against Oxfam and should definitely and immediately see a personal injury lawyer in the U.K. In addition they may be able to apply for compensation under The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Because I am not a U.K. citizen or resident I could not take advantage of these laws but there is legal remedy for sexual harassment in the workplace for Nigerian workers under human rights protections and for personal injury under the Employees Compensation Act 2013. Both actions would originate in the National Industrial Court of Nigeria. 

Another question is what effect a suit will have on a claimant? Will she still get to keep her job after filing such a claim for instance? Or could the employer threaten to withhold her reference if she file’s a claim? How will it affect future career prospects at another organisation? So obviously it is not a cut and dried proposition. I spoke to Steve Dennis about his experience. 

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Why is legal action important? It will make organisations more careful or force them to make speedy restitution/settlement. Nothing impacts organisational behaviour quite like liabilities – whether as settlements or higher insurance premiums. As a matter of fact I’m pretty sure the insurance companies will be the ones that will draft acceptable industry standards for preventing sexual assault eventually. A judgement will set powerful precedent and case law. It would reinforce statutory rights and extend legal rights.

It is not enough to ask victims and survivors to report. Something must happen. Once a formal report is made there must be priority protection and care for the complainant. There also need to be clear guidelines and standards for burden of proof. It should be mandatory for safeguarding staff to give standard legal advice to a complainant and discuss legal options in addition to in-house administrative procedures with the complainant as soon as the complainant is comfortable to do so.

IAO’s probably spend more on legal fees than they invest in safeguarding. 

Disturbingly I read several comments in the report saying sexual abuse and exploitation being common within the communities where the IAOs worked as if this somehow excuses the behaviour or the lukewarm attitude towards stopping it. It should not have been mentioned at all. Or if mentioned at all it should have been framed with the same paternalism that drives programming. IAO programs claim the moral high ground except when it involves sexual behaviour towards staff and of staff? What’s that?

Too often, INGOs have adopted a paternalist white saviour posture to VAWG/GBV and SRHR in developing countries, treating them as principally a problem of social norms and attitudes peculiar to the black and brown peoples of the Global South, with “their” harmful traditional practices, backward patriarchal cultures and failed states. By posing sexual violence and abuse in the South as a problem of the racialised other, and by contrast, presenting NGOs as white saviours, the sector has allowed itself to drift down a treacherously slow river of denial and obfuscation about its own sexual abuse problem until it has hit the fierce rapids of reality

– Nancy Kachingwe

Nancy makes a compelling case for intersectional feminist activism against SEA in her think piece for the GADN Network.   In her piece she lays out the ways in which feminist activism made VAWG/GBV a fundamental violation of women’s rights and the way feminists have been sidelined from decision making around VWAG/GBV. Feminist knowledge has been appropriated and made a cash cow for the industry that actually does little for women’s rights/empowerment. When I spoke to her she told me about women’s dissatisfaction with the response on the ground. She said no one is feeling safe and the power dynamics between NGO’s, donors, staff and consultants is preventing honest conversations.  The entire industry is propped up by money from IAOs like Oxfam. No body wants to rock the boat. No body can afford to rock the boat. The aid industry is just that and like I said in a previous post, the aid sector pays really well. You can do good and live well. 

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Nancy Kachingwe, Zimbabwe
If the aid sector has a safeguarding problem, it is firstly because it has a
misogyny problem — and a race problem, and a class problem, and an imperialism
problem.
– Nancy Kachingwe, Policy & Advocacy Advisor, South Feminist Alternatives

When I left my country shortly after burying my father in 2011 and travelled to the U.K. in the middle of those London riots to document the assault I experienced with the police I hoped it might corroborate any future allegations against Samuel Musa. Instead its one of hundreds of cases that happened at Oxfam and corroborates evidence of rampant sexism in the aid sector. The sector has a problem and not just individual employees that work there. Is it safe for women? According to Nancy, its not. More than 100 cases of assault were reported at Oxfam’s shops and offices in the U.K., some incidents involving minors and we are not witnessing a stampede of claims orchestrated by regulators, lawyers and the public? Imagine if …

The ‘Secret Aid Worker’ wrote  in the Guardian

If the humanitarian space is to practise what it preaches in terms of gender equality it needs to go further than investigating serious abuse and consider the sexism at the heart of many NGO work cultures.

Megan Rowling also writes the aid sector has a sexism problem . And Shaista Aziz agrees. Sexism and misogyny is preventing the legal resolution of SEA. While I may appreciate that the British public and the British government might not prioritise the just resolution of my case in particular since I am neither a British citizen nor resident, I would have thought they would more concerned about the fate of their own people. Or did someone set up a legal helpline already and I just don’t know about it? In the U.K. that is the response I would have expected. Almost 200 known victims.  Nancy’s analysis helped me understand the muted response.

Sexual violence and abuse have been treated as a low-priority issue, something swept under the carpet, almost taboo, because it threatens the imperialist and patriarchal interests of men at the top across the value chain. 

The charity sector according to the latest accounts and returns filed with the Charity Commission  had a total income of £76.7bn in the year to June 2018. An increase of £2.8Billion from last year. How much of this money is distributed by women? How much goes to women and women led organisations? Less than 1% of OECD assistance according to Nancy. Less than 1% of Canadian assistance according to a 2017 report by Canadian women’s funds.  Less than 1% of assistance aid the participants decided at the 2018 Feminist Republik that included donors. No matter how may inroads we make it still feels like A Boy’s Club. Boy’s Club was how everyone keeps on describing it. (I’m beginning to miss The Man’s World! Even though I grew up in a Woman’s World. I really look forward to a People’s World.)
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While some SEA cases may present jurisdiction challenges apparently not enough to say, exclude an Eritrean working for Oxfam GB in South Sudan from making a legal claim in the U.K. where OGB is based. Again see what Kemp & Merklebach have to say on the matter –

Indeed, employees are presumed to have only limited capacity to negotiate with their employer, so an agreement between the employer and the employee about a choice of law regarding a non- contractual liability made in advance of a potential claim is unlikely to be found to be “freely negotiated” and thus invalid.

In respect of contracts of employment, an agreement on jurisdiction will only be valid if: (i) it is entered into after the dispute has arisen, or; (ii) allows the employee to bring a claim in a court other than that of the member state that would have jurisdiction if the rules described above for employment contracts applied. Therefore, an exclusive jurisdiction clause in a contract of employment that is negotiated prior to, for example, an accident giving rise to a claim is likely to be ineffective.

Although personal injury claims are being made against IAOs it appears that many are settled out of Court and do not go as far as a Court decision because across the countries surveyed, reported Court decisions of such claims against IAOs are rare. The case studies referred to in this section, in the main, involve personal injury claims in the private sector. However, it is unlikely that the basic reasoning that the Courts would apply to IAOs would be substantially different.

Meanwhile, ‘international staff receive priority attention over national staff’ according to Kemp & Merkelbach (2011) –

For a significant proportion of IAOs, the contracting of national staff was decentralized to the field level. As a result, no uniformity exists and headquarters has no overview of the contractual situation of national staff. National staff contracts and inclusion of social welfare benefits as well as insurance depend upon the IAO’s country director/head of mission. Where headquarters guidelines do exist, a country director is expected to implement them. However, it was noted that there is no reporting requirement and that there is no headquarters control system to ensure that contractual guidelines and minimum standards are respected.

The discrepancy between consideration and treatment of international as compared to national/local staff poses fundamental ethical – as well as legal – problems that have only started to be addressed in the past few years. The question of health, safety & security of national staff has thus far remained underdeveloped despite genuine concern within the sector as to staff well-being.

This has far-reaching implications for IAOs and their operations, governance and executive, staff and their dependents, as well as for the sector as a whole. Since safety and security are not only an ethical and moral concern but a legal obligation, due safety and security are not mere personal, subjective matters of choice or conscience but must also answer to objective laws, regulations, standards and norms that can be objectively evaluated and are open to scrutiny – and can be enforced.

The IDC report mentioned but did not firmly condemn unfair employment practices both in the U.K and in Oxfam’s overseas programs including the practice of short term contracts that often leaves workers vulnerable and did not make any SMART recommendations  on eliminating the practice. Instead they recommended gender parity in this unfair environment.  I’m uncertain how the two correlate or how gender parity will relieve the unfair practice.

As  Elizabeth Griffin wrote in “The Ethical Responsibilities of Human Rights NGOs” –

“I find it astonishing that some human rights organisations and academic institutions teaching human rights still manage to avoid providing their employees with basic employment rights.”

Are women safe working for the aid sector?  Nancy says they do not feel safe. And a recent poll of aid workers from the north showed that more than 70% do not have confidence in the system.

 

Do short term contracts protect employers from personal injury claims?

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Because As A Strong Woman Your Well Being Is Never Your Priority

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Shining teeth in Moscow 2006

Being queer is empowering me to step away from hyper sexualised gender narratives.  Narratives that normalise or problematise hyper sexual relationship between the men and women. When I am neither a man or woman I can look at myself like a Person demand to be treated like a Person.  After the feminist republik,  the accountability summit and naming myself queer I began to see my personal situation in a whole different light. 

Hitherto I’ve been focusing on my unfair dismissal from Oxfam. I neglected to pursue that Oxfam might be liable in tortious negligence or under personal injury law or even human rights law. Like a deer caught in headlights I stared straight ahead. The first time I learnt that I may have had a personal injury claim was in July 2013 and I was told at the time it was two weeks away from the statute of limitation. It still did not click.

The legal issue between me and Oxfam should have been for personal injury and breach of duty of care. Not unfair dismissal. I didn’t want the job back anyway and I didn’t want another job in the sector. I admit I was seduced by the comfort of a generous salary. In low wage nations employment is not attractive to people like me. We innovate and entrepreneur. IAO’s changed all that. They compete for the best and brightest. And in the local context pay outrageous salaries. Its easy to be seduced. (But what they pay us is nothing compared to what they pay Old White Men that come to Africa claiming to be experts. I met one who received EUR10,000 per month. Late sixties. Asian wife in mid 20s. Or African wife late teens. They ARE a catch. But I digress. More later.)

It was fortuitous I attended the accountability meeting. I don’t go out much anymore. I’ve become reclusive. I almost didn’t notice how much I’ve changed. I’ve been struggling with insomnia, flashbacks, depression, self doubt, anxiety, loss of confidence, guilt and shame.  Atrocities are being committed across Nigeria and no one is being held accountable. Because there are no consequences for bad behaviour. People do not learn from words they learn from experience. Killings are not the only atrocities. Sexual assault and rape are atrocities too.  

As the revelations against Oxfam and the Aid sector piled up, culminating in the IDC Report released on 31 July 2018,  the scale, the audacity and the sheer disregard for women’s well being including my own overwhelmed me. IAOs were scrambling to cover their ass, regulators were scrambling to show that they are alive, state departments were scrambling to show they were taking care of tax payers money.  Winnie grovelled. Goldring obfuscated. Dame Stocking dithered.  The media scrambled to eke out the news cycle. Reporters and producers called me from all over the world. 

Even the Daily Mail got in touch and offered to ghost write my story. Back in October after The Times article came out and Oxfam reacted so blandly I joked they would react more vigorously when The Sun or The Daily Mail carried their story of misdeeds. Little did I know.  I turned the Daily Mail down. I read The Daily Mail about once a month to catch up on the social life of the rich and famous. I call it My Guilty Pleasure. I could immediately imagine what the headlines might be. 

The Times headline was difficult enough. “Lesley Agams: Oxfam official pushed me on to hotel bed and grabbed my belt.” I was mortified when I read that. This is after all a global publication. I know its what happened and what I said but it still came as a shock. In my wildest dreams I did not expect that the first time my name appears in global headlines it would be like that.  The thought that I could go down in history as Lesley Agams the woman who an Oxfam official tried to rape was distressing. And it would’ve been on the front-page if not for Catalonia. Thank goddess for Catalonia!

I pushed my feelings aside and focused on my desire for justice and accountability. This was an opportunity for justice, I told myself. This was an opportunity to hold Oxfam GB accountable. This was an opportunity for me and for the other women I was sure were silently and passively experiencing the same thing to get justice. This was an opportunity to change how the entire sector treats its female employees.  

Before I agreed to work with The Times on the October story I did my research. I studied their audience.  When the media requests came pouring in after the Haiti scandal broke I adopted a similar strategy. What audience did I want to reach? I settled for BBC’s Newsnight but was rather disappointed to be asked at the end of my interview whether people should still give aid. Its not about Aid. Its about People. Like me. See us. 

A couple people noticed the strain I was obviously under during the interview and reached out to support and sympathise with me. (Thank you for caring. You know who you are. I love you.) The Newsnight story ended with a statement from Samuel Musa insisting my dismissal was for ‘other reasons’. Does that mean I deserve to get raped?Does it even matter why I was dismissed?    

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You can see the full Newsnight segment here. Trigger warning. It triggers me watching it.

Meanwhile I was being asked to retell my story again and again. Being more self aware of my well being I decided to tell it one time last time and gave a 30 min interview to Mercy Abang a Nigerian journalist.  You may have seen it or not. It got 172 views on YouTube. Ask me. What was my target audience? I met Mercy when Amy Costello at Tiny Sparks interviewed me for a podcast on sexual harassment on the sector in October 2017. The interview with Mercy was for the record.  I wanted to tell my own story, my own way. She was the only one that promised not to cut it for soundbites. 

After the October 2017 Times publication Mark Goldring, Winnie Byanyima and Penny Lawrence continued to defend Oxfam’s 2010 decision to dismiss me and insisted that due care had been taken in the investigation of the sexual assault after they were made aware of it. Their own records did not support this assertion and members of their own staff pointed this out to them. My personnel file which I obtained through a subject access request in December 2017 had vital records missing.

When in November 2017 Mark Goldring first wrote to me, I asked for an independent review of my case and to be allowed to exercise of my right to select an investigator. He  wrote back to me sometime after 6 December 2017 denying my request and claiming he had personally reviewed my case and stood by both the dismissal and the investigation of the sexual assault. His apology was buried somewhere at the end of the email. It was so nonchalant and dismissive I was deeply offended.

I managed to get through the holidays. I experienced depression and anxiety attacks. I lost appetite. I lost weight. I had difficulty sleeping. I had difficulty with focus and concentration. Then in February 2018 the story about Oxfam in Haiti broke. Sean O’Neill sent me a message to alert me.  Oxfam responded robustly this time. It was like watching your bully get bullied.  But there were more insinuations about my performance and further justification of my dismissal in 2010. They made no more mention of the attempted rape. Then Dame Barbara came on television and tried to excuse her terrible handling of the Haiti scandal. Her sanctimonious chirping about respect for women and women’s rights after her handling of my 2012 appeal made me livid. I was angry. I had a meltdown on Twitter.

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Then I fell really sick. I had to contact my therapist in the U.K. Soon after that l emailed the wonderful supportive people that I met since October 2017 telling them I had to step back for my health. It was taking its toll. I don’t know if they understood. I heard some disappointment here and there but I had to prioritise my self care. At that point nothing else mattered. I just knew I needed to step away and soothe myself back to health. 

Well I feel stronger now. Clearer. More focused. Angrier. But my anger is white hot and like Leslie Jamison’s and Audre Lordes’ a tool now. Things are different. I’m not alone. We are many, staff and beneficiaries. Oxfam knew what was going on and deliberately, cynically and opportunistically chose to ignore our safety and well being.

We spoke about it at the feminist republik; the dangers of this epithet of strong woman we so readily accept and use to dismiss and let others use to dismiss our pain and need for attention and healing. Till it becomes a epitaph. Because you know. We’re women. We’re African women. We can’t afford to have a breakdown. Life as we know it will collapse. The very fibre of community and society will disintegrate. Families will unravel. And all hell will break loose. Look around. All hell is breaking loose already. And not just in Africa. Look at what’s happening in America and Europe. We are witnessing the systematic dismantling of a liberal democracy and a rise in fascism.

The strong woman trope is a scam.  Once you accept it you let people off the hook. You absorb their abuse, their thoughtlessness, their patronising rhetoric and melodramatic promises of reform instead  holding them accountable. 

I’m not doing strong woman anymore. My well being and health are too precious. I manage my stress levels very carefully now. I could relate with the experience described in Hope’s Letter. It made me ask how did it happen? Oxfam sent me for a mandatory  health test before making me a job offer. All was well. Less than two months later I was diagnosed with a stress related auto-immune condition. That’s how toxic the working environment was. First of all there was way too much sexism. The few women there were support staff. Not program staff and not decision makers.  I wanted to quit after just two weeks. But you know what they say – winners don’t quit. Don’t believe cliches. 

 

I was deeply resented at the Nigeria office and I wrote to Samuel Musa on numerous occasions about the gendered problems I was having with staff. We held several mediation meetings. It was a war. On so many levels. One day I found a huge mangled rat on the threshold of my office. It meant nothing to me till I mentioned it to a religious Nigerian colleague. I remember thinking to myself – seriously? Could it be that bad? By the time I was dismissed I decided to resolve the problem myself or leave and informed the regional management team. I didn’t expect to be dismissed. I thought there were rules. The Oxfam rules which I had been introduced to as soon as I signed the doted line on my employment contract. Anyway, I did achieve something I’m really proud of before I was dismissed. I cleaned up  the accounts department. The acting CD before me had systematically dismantled it. The new accounts staff  were proud to work with me and still came to me for advice on handling ethical situations long after I left Oxfam.

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My dismissal does not matter as much as my well being. I feel better already acknowledging it. Its a big step for me to acknowledge my need for self care. It feels revolutionary to be prioritising my well being. It’s my right. Its my responsibility. It is my duty.  It can be hard for a ‘strong African woman’ to admit to injury and a need for support. In a dog eat dog world, physical or mental injury can make one feel very vulnerable. As an social rights activist it can also make one feel very guilty.

“Honour your anger,” Martin Knops said to me. He could have helped me deal with my injury first. When I went to him in August 2010 after the assault I was looking for help to recover from the trauma of my experience not a push to go to Human Resources.

Like John Oliver the host of ‘last Week Tonight’ said on his segment on sexual harassment in the workplace.

“HR exists to protect the Organisation  from liability not necessarily to seek justice on an employees behalf.”

I wrote to Martin Knops again in July 2013 literally begging him for help – 

“I have been struggling since the incident physically and emotionally. I am confused, I am still angry and I need help.  I would like appeal to you as a doctor, I appeal to your humanity, I appeal to your conscience and to your compassion. Please help me.”

He did not respond.  There was no human in the humanitarian.

Honour your loss, Tony Robbins would say. And then tell yourself a different story.  

So I did you know. 

Nigerian Industrial Court: Rules for Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Claims

Who said Nigeria doesn’t have sexual harassment in the workplace laws?

The National Industrial Court was set up by constitutional amendment on 14 December 2010 and ratified by the state houses of assembly in February 2010. 

Jurisdiction: The National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters –

(a)

relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, wcl fare of labour, employee, worker and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith; 

(b)

relating to, connected with or arising from Factories Act,Trade Disputes Act, Trade Unions Act, Labour Act, Employees’ Compensation Act or any other Act or Law relating to labour, employment, industrial relations, workplace or any other enactment replacing the Acts or Laws; 

In 2017 the NICN amended its civil procedure rules to include provisions on workplace sexual harassment. Order 14(1) of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Civil Procedure Rules 2017 provides that where a claimant alleges sexual harassment in the workplace, it should be indicated if the sexual harassment is;

 

“a. Physical conduct of a sexual nature: such as unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape, strip search by or in the presence of the opposite sex, gesture that constitutes the alleged sexual harassment ; and/or 

  1. A verbal form of sexual harassment: such as unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex related jokes or insults, or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body, unwelcome and inappropriate enquiries about a person’s sex life and unwelcome whistling at a person or group of persons, any document, material or exhibit in further support of the claim; and/or 
  1. A non-verbal form of sexual harassment which includes unwelcome gestures, indecent exposures, and unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects ; and/or 
  2. Quid pro quo harassment where an owner, employer, supervisor, member of management or co-employee undertakes or attempts to influence or influences the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increments or other benefits of an employee or job applicant in exchange for sexual favours.” 

 

In 2013 the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) had awarded damages in Pastor (Mrs.) Abimbola Patricia Yakubu V Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria& Anor (Suit No NICN/LA/673/2013; judgement delivered on the 24th November, 2016.) The claimant said she was at various times subjected to sexual and seductive gestures, promiscuous and obscene talk, demand for sexual favours and indecent marriage proposal from the 2nd defendant while she was in the employment of the 1st defendant. The NICN held that the claimant’s right to human dignity and self-worth was violated and awarded the sum of NGN5Million as damages in her favour.

 

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Let’s Press For Progress on Prosecuting SEA in the Aid Sector

 

In the past few weeks there has been significant outcry and comment on the activities of international development agencies in countries where they work spreading aid and apparently disease and immorality. Their crimes against women have been exposed for all to see. Their crimes in Haiti, in Chad, in South Sudan, in Syria. Even crimes  sexual exploitation and abuse crimes committed by international agencies in the United Kingdom.

In the ensuing hand wringing and apologies we have heard again and again – from DIFD, from the Charity Commission, from Penny Mordaunt and even form the UN how they are learning and working to make it better. How they are improving safe guarding and whistle blowing procedures and mechanisms and how they are supporting and helping the women that have been abused and exploited by agents of these organisations.

I am yet to hear of one single woman that has been helped. I am yet to hear of one single women that has been supported. I am yet to hear of one single women that has been rehabilitated or restored. I am yet to hear of one single predator facing criminal, civil  or even long term professional consequences. All I have heard is how the agencies are ‘improving’ and ‘learning’ and how deeply and truly sorry they are. How much they regret the impact of the abuse on the abused.

Femi Oke raised this issue in her insightful video on the Haitian women that were raped by UN staff and left with children they can scarce afford to care for. She asked the UN Under Secretary General why its taking so long to actually give these women justice. And I would like to ask everyone all over the world that is piously and opportunistically claiming they stand with the victims why is it taking so long? You believe her? So what?

Everyone says they cannot turn back time and undo the sins and crimes of the past. Everyone seems to claim that all they can do is ‘prevent.’ I would like to know how well attempts at prevention have worked so far. Have we prevented war crimes? We have been talking and writing about it since 1945. Have we been able to prevent famine and poverty? After decades of fighting both? Have we been able to prevent disease and death? Murder? Rape? Corruption? Greed? Crime?

I laud the efforts at prevention but I do declare that prevention has not yet prevented anything.

There is only one way to deal with crimes. And sexual assault and rape and domestic violence and all the other crimes of violence against women and men too. And that is to punish the perpetrators, the violent, the criminals. There must be consequences for bad behaviour. And the bad behaviour has to be identified correctly because right now the only people that seem to be suffering the consequences of SEA are the women who are the victims.

Of course the prospect of punishing men for sexual assault sexual crimes and sexual harassment seems like a daunting one. Which man will escape punishment? Which man will not be implicated? Because men (and the women that enable them) seem to believe that there are few men that would be found innocent. I do not believe this. I believe that there are many men in the world that are not predatory in their sexual and social behaviour.

Ban Ki Moon, Winnie Binyanyima, Mark Goldberg, Caroline Thompson, Barbara Stocking have all come out and made grovelling public apologies and expressed how bad they feel about the ongoing sexual exploitation and abuse in the international development sector. But nothing has changed. The first reports of SEA in aid organisations may have emerged as early as 2008. I raised the alarm in 2010. Helen Evans raised the alarm in 2014. We are now in 2018 and some people are still ‘learning’ and ‘improving.’  Whether you take that from 2008 or 2014 that is enough time to get a first degree, a graduate degree or even a PhD. What are they still learning pray tell me?

Jane Holl Lute that was appointed to coordinate and strengthen the UN response to SEA went on record to say ‘that for the women of the world this is an ever present danger. there is no where women are safe, there is no family, no church, no school, no organisation, no work place.”

I say that is a woman that gave up before she even started. I reject her premise. There ARE places and spaces where women are safe. And we create them. Femi Oke asked her an important question – why are there so few cases that actually get to court? Ms. Lute’s response – I don’t know the answer to that.

I do. There is no real political will to actually get any cases before the courts. And if any case were to make it before the court the same organisations now extolling their regret would pay very expensive lawyers to discredit and tear apart the women that dared to complain. Save the Children have already sent lawyers to shut down media that report on their crimes. Oxfam’s PR machine has moved forward extolling the great work they purportedly do now that the initial outrage has subsided.

Its all hypocrisy. Its all platitudes and fancy grammar. Just because some clever people have mastered the speakese of gender equality does not make them gender complaint. That was the very problem that I tried to highlight at Oxfam when I was their country director in Nigeria in the aftermath of my assault and even before.

A male program manager actually suggested that I ‘tease’ him when issuing instructions instead of just telling him what to do. You know – why don’t you smile a little first, some sugar with the medicine. He actually used that word. He didn’t even get a slap on the wrist when I reported it. One of the deputy regional directors was a complete rake. He did not see that his constant sexually charged comments were NOT gender friendly. And when I tried to point it out to them what I got was outrage – and denial. After all – one of them said to me – I ensure that at least 50% of my beneficiaries are women. Now with hindsight I am again struck by how sinister that sounds. Did insisting that more beneficiaries of the aid Oxfam and other organisations were handing out unintentionally make women more vulnerable?

My abuser at Oxfam in his response to my accusation of sexual assault said in his defence when asked why he didn’t respond to my email demanding an apology and a promise to desist from further SEA that ‘she wanted to use her gender against me’ echoing an earlier petition by one of my male program officers who wrote to the regional office that I ‘wanted to dominate my environment.’ I’m still trying to understand exactly what they meant. Surely these are leadership qualities that were being very cynically used against me.  And only a problem because I am a woman. Which male executive would be reported for trying to dominate his environment?

I wish I can say that I am impressed by the measures the UN, DFID, Oxfam, Save the Children, the  UK’s Charity Commission et al are taking to ‘prevent’ SEA. I am not. And you shouldn’t be either. They are just saying what they need to say to ensure that the money keeps rolling in and that their lifestyle and their power stays intact. If that means grovelling for the media and the public so be it.

I’ll be impressed when they actually prosecute or punish someone, and I don’t mean just dismiss them or let them resign and move on to other organisations. I mean real consequences, like the kind that the victims and whistle blowers have had to suffer. Loss of income, bullying, loss of status and respect, and credibility. I’m pretty certain that Penny Lawrence has already received her first consultancy contract from Oxfam or one of their friends. They won’t let let lose her house through failure to pay her mortgage or her children lose their education opportunities. They will reward her for making a ‘sacrifice to the cause.’  And the cause is Big Money. And Power.

For everyone $1 that flows into ‘poor countries’ from ‘rich countries’ $24 flow from these same poor countries to the rich. The aid industry was is worth $130BILLION a year but the net outflows to the rich countries of the south is over $1 TRILLION. Like Russell Brand so eloquently put it ‘the neutral governing and regulating bodies are in fact the administrative henchmen of a system of globalisation that is based on the exploitation of poorer countries.’

We really need to rethink aid. For most of my time working in development I avoided the debates around foreign aid. I avoided them because it would have been hypocritical of me as an employee and hence a beneficiary of foreign aid to criticise aid. It created too much cognitive dissonance. And I really thought I could change the system from the inside. I thought they would listen to me as a national and as an expert on her environment. Did they? Of course not.

I left Ashoka not only because they didn’t pay me enough for the kind of hours they expected me to keep but also because they really didn’t want to promote appropriate development. Oxfam offered more money. Now I know why. Its how they keep everyone compliant. Notice that during most of the scandal only a handful of former employees dared to come forward and say anything against the aid cartel in Africa? Who wants to lose a well paid job or consultancy on a continent that isn’t creating jobs and isn’t paying a living wage for most jobs? Mostly the aid agencies just exploit our bleeding hearts. We’re just the foot soldiers that do their dirty work while they divide the spoils. And like we all know, foot soldiers are not supposed to question the capo or the boss. I did a lot of that. Not sorry.

I’m not going to tell anyone what to do. Give money to humanitarian causes or not give money. Work for humanitarian causes or not work for them. Go to Africa or any other country you think is less privileged than yours and build a school or a hospital or not. Support the left or support the right. Those are individual and personal choices. Do whatever makes you feel good.

I feel pretty good. I brought attention to the SEA of female staff working for BINGOs in Africa. Don’t worry, they’ll get around to that eventually. All its going to take is just one more whistle blower to prove their hypocrisy even in the wake of the scandals of the past 6 months. Right now they’re prioritising SEA of beneficiaries and not employees because the legal liability is less onerous. It won’t be long now. Abusers abuse. They cant help themselves. And somewhere out  there, there is another woman just like me who won’t keep quite.

Happy International Women’s Day.

 

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Art by Favianna Rodriguez, US artist/activist of Latina and Afro-Peruvian roots

Independence Day Statement from #NGWomen4Peace

 

On 7 September 2017, women from across Nigeria met in Abuja to discuss the need:

  1. for a platform (NGWomen4Peace) for women to voice their concerns about key issues which negatively impact on us, our children and our families and
  2. to organise women to promote a stronger sense of ownership and belonging in the country and build our confidence to contribute positively to making a difference to the present alarming trajectory of our country.

#NGWomen4Peace is a movement of women and women’s groups representing all parts of Nigeria concerned with the current state of affairs and focused on ensuring that Nigeria remains a country of peace, prosperity and participation for all.

We have observed the following:

  • An increased wave of hate speech and inciting statements,
  • An increased spate of violent conflicts around the country, and
  • That women, who bear the brunt of the violent conflict, are not consulted when ethnic, religious and political groups publish their statements which threaten the peace and security of Nigerians.
  • That despite almost two decades of activism women are still not proportionally represented in politics, peace and security decision making and governance

We acknowledge the efforts of the security sector, the humanitarian community, CSO, religious and traditional authorities and individuals who are trying to manage the problem. We have mobilised to add our voices and assert our rights as citizens, as mothers, as women and as one half of the population of this nation in pursuit of peace, dialogue and deescalation.

OUR DEMANDS

We are not begging. We are not asking. We are insisting. We are demanding

DIALOGUE & DEESCALATION

An immediate cessation of all hostilities across the country and a demand for all stake holders and state and non state actors to begin a process of deescalation and dialogue that will include women in proportional representation as active participants, negotiators, referees, observers and peace keepers.

The are numerous violent conflicts ongoing all across the country – in the north east, in north central, in the south east, in the south south, a nation wide conflict nomadic pastoralists and farming communities.

Nigerian women demand that all violence end immediately and all parties and stakeholders begin a process of dialogue.  Whatever the demands – restructuring, devolution, inclusion, marginalisation, secession, religious freedom, ethnic protectionism – they can and must be negotiated. We will no longer tolerate the blood of our children be spilled to sustain untenable positions of violent insurrection and dominance in a democratic federation.

No Be Fight. We are a civilised and modern nation. We will dialogue and we must start with immediate deescalation.

We call on Arewa Youths, IPOB, Boko Haram, Oduduwa, Ohaneze, the Federal Government and its agencies.

INCLUSION

Increasing women’ s active and full participation in politics, peace and security negotiations, decision making, conflict resolution and peace agreements. There are over 200 MDAs in Nigeria and women must be proportionally included and represented in all. For immediate action –

  • The newly formed House of Representatives committee saddled with the responsibility of fostering national unity led by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yusuf Sulaiman Lasun should appoint a female representative as its deputy and of the nine other positions at least half should be filled with women.
  • Project Steering Committee for the implementation of the 54.5 million euros support project for the North-east inaugurated in August 2017 should have at least 50% female membership, line ministries that are on the committee must nominate women to fill their position.
  • The National Judicial Council (NJC) under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, established a Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) to monitor judges and courts handling corruption and financial crimes cases in the country. The membership of the committee is almost entirely male, with a lone female representing the NGO sector. We demand a review and women to be immediately take 50% of the membership.
  • Immediate implementation of Chapter 2 Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria especially section 14(3) and (4) on Federal character to immediately implement representative inclusion of women in all federal, state and local government agencies and a 50% affirmative action policy.

We will in collaboration with our members and allies over the next 30 days continue to identify and various committees, bodies and institutions where women are not adequately represented and demand inclusion and nominate capable women for inclusion. We will use legal means and judicial process as appropriate and various other means of protest and pressure where appropriate.

Zonal and State Working committees of NGWomen4Peace will also articulate and announce specific demands that will be pursued at the zonal and state level to ensure dialogue, deescalation and inclusion of women and respect for the constitution and rule of law. These plans will be announced in a series of press conferences over the next week.

We will assess the response to our demands and our strategies for their enforcement over the next 30, 60 and 90 days and continue to adjust our actions to ensure compliance and update the press and our fellow Nigerians on progress towards peace and women’s inclusion in governance, conflict resolution, peace building and decision making.

We live in hope for a better Nigeria where every individual has equal opportunities to be the best they can be for themselves and their communities. Nothing good comes without hard work and sacrifice but we, Nigerian women, declare that we can and must build the country of our dreams without sacrificing the lives of innocents.

We continue to build a critical mass of women and women’s groups in a grand alliance of women waging peace and will launch the White Blouse Campaign for Peace to build women’s solidarity, visibility and support for our movement.

Signed By:

  1. Iheoma Obibi – Alliances for Africa, Imo State
  2. Esther Eshiet – After School Centre for Career Development, Akwa Ibom
  3. Mabel Ikoghode – Girls Power Initiative, Delta State
  4. Dr. Alice Musa – University of Madugiri, Borno State
  5. Dr. K. Kwari – University of Madugiri, Borno State
  6. Ayisha Osori- Self, Kaduna State
  7. Azeenah Mohamed – Independent, Nassara State
  8. Patricia Onyekwelu – WILPF Nigeria, Enugu State
  9. Ifeyinwa Omowole Nigeria Association of Women Journalist, Lagos State
  10. Ballason Gloria – House of Justice Kaduna State
  11. Osai Ojigho – Self, Delta State
  12. Nnenaya Emeremadu – CARA Development Foundation. Imo State
  13. Jemila Barkindo – Women Peace and Security Network, Adamawa State
  14. Amy Oyekan Monii Development Consultant, Delta State
  15. Ify Malo – Clean Tech Hub, Anambra State
  16. Eleanor Nwadinobi – Gender Expert, Abia State
  17. Olufunke Baruwa – Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Ekiti State
  18. Priscilla Achakpa – Women Environment Program, Benue State
  19. Blessing Usie – Open Society Justice Initiative, Delta State
  20. Felicia  Onibon – Change Managers International Network, Edo State
  21. Edna Mathews-Njoku – Joel Women Youth Development Initiative, Imo State
  22. Ndi Kato – NNidari Empowerment Foundation, Kaduna State
  23. Natasha Akpoti – Builders Hub Foundation, Kogi State
  24. Lesley Agams – Consultant, Abuja FCT
  25. Mariam Aldu – Self, Adamawa State
  26. Amina Salihu, Gender and Security Consultant
  27. Blessing Duru – Program Manager, Alliances for Africa
  28. Ogechi Ikeh – Program Officer, Nigerian Feminist Forum

UNDP Report – Journey to Extremism in Africa #NGWomen4Peace

The report released on 7 September 2017 unequivocally identifies poverty, deprivation and a lack of confidence in the leadership as key drivers of extremism.

It is particularly enlightening that the report sounds the alarm against military action and how that deepens extremism. In light of recent events in the South East of Nigeria it would appear that the Federal Government of Nigeria is fuelling extremism and not dousing it.  The full report is available here and the press release and highlights here.

Some excerpts from the report below.

The Journey to Extremism research unequivocally underscores the relevance of economic factors as drivers of recruitment.

The grievances associated with growing up in contexts where multidimensional poverty is high and far deeper than national averages, with the lived reality of unemployment and underemployment, render ‘economic factors’ a major source of frustration identified by those who joined violent extremist groups.

If an individual was studying or working, it emerged that that he or she would be less likely to become a member of an extremist organization.

Employment is the single most frequently cited ‘immediate need’ faced at the time of joining.

The research makes clear that a sense of grievance towards, and limited confidence in, government is widespread in the regions of Africa associated with the highest incidence of violent extremism.

Disaffection with government is highest by significant margins among the Journey to Extremism respondents who were recruited by violent extremist groups across several key indicators.

Grievances against security actors, as well as politicians, are particularly marked, with an average of 78 percent rating low levels of trust in the police, politicians and military.

Those most susceptible to recruitment express a significantly lower degree of confidence in the potential for democratic institutions to deliver progress or meaningful change.

The research specifically set out to discover what pushed a handful of individuals to join violent extremist groups, when many others facing similar sets of circumstances did not.

This specific moment or factor is referred to as the ‘tipping point’. The idea of a transformative trigger that pushes individuals decisively from the ‘at-risk’ category to actually taking the step of joining is substantiated by the Journey to Extremism data.

A striking 71 percent pointed to ‘government action’, including ‘killing of a family member or friend’ or ‘arrest of a family member or friend’, as the incident that prompted them to join.

These findings throw into stark relief the question of how counter-terrorism and wider security functions of governments in at-risk environments conduct themselves with regard to human rights and due process.

State security-actor conduct is revealed as a prominent accelerator of recruitment, rather than the reverse.

Emotions of ‘hope/excitement’ and ‘being part of something bigger’ were high among those who joined, indicating the ‘pull’ of opportunity for radical change
and rebellion against the status quo

Despite the highly personal aspects of the journey to extremism, local community social networks were also influential.

Indeed, the journey to extremism in Africa appears to rely significantly less heavily than in other regions on the Internet as a venue for recruitment.

Where there is injustice, deprivation and desperation, violent extremist ideologies present themselves as a challenge to the status quo and a form of escape.

Grievances against government and state security actors are particularly pronounced among those most vulnerable to recruitment, who also express deep-seated scepticism about the possibility of positive change.

The Journey to Extremism research provides startling new evidence of just how directly counter-productive security- driven responses can be when conducted insensitively.

These findings suggest that a dramatic reappraisal of state security-focused interventions is urgently required, including more effective oversight of human rights compliance, rule of law and state accountability.

Going forward, it is essential to long-term outcomes that international commitments – such as those shared across United Nations member states – to human rights and rule of law, citizens’ participation and protection, and accountability of state security forces be actively upheld by all.

It is also critical to ensure that there are no counter- productive results from counter-terrorism, particularly in regard to civic participation.

In the absence of ‘state legitimacy’, in the eyes of citizens living in high-risk areas, initiatives that focus exclusively on state capacity-building run the risk of perpetuating malign power structures, which are overt drivers of violent extremist recruitment in Africa.

The research suggests that improved public policy and delivery of good governance by African governments confronted with violent extremism will ultimately represent a far more effective source of counter- terrorism and PVE than continued overconcentration on security-focused interventions.

The Journey to Extremism findings call for a reinvigoration of commitment by states to upgrading the quality and accountability of institutions across service-delivery areas, at the national and sub- national levels, above all in at-risk areas.

Deepening the democratic process and closely guarding its integrity, beyond the moment of elections, into a wider commitment to an inclusive social contract between government and citizens, as well as meaningful opportunities for civic engagement and participation in the national development agenda, are also highly relevant policy responses.

Requiem

My heart is a going pitter patter reading the letter again, reliving it all. No. My heart is racing like a jack hammer! Remembering. A sexual assault. By my manager. Samuel Musa. While working at Oxfam GB.

That was in August 2010. I wrote the letter below to Barbara Stocking in desperation more than a year later.

Just like I searched desperately for legal support in Nigeria and when I couldn’t find any I went to search the UK in 2012. I spoke to so many lawyers. Every last  one of them asked me whether I had worked in the UK.

“I was based in Abuja. The only time I came to the UK was for that country directors conference where the assault happened.”

And they all said –

“Sorry. You’re not eligible to appear before the UK employment tribunal.”

Eventually I found a UK lawyer that said she might have been able to help me  but….

…we were already just days away from the statute of limitations for sexual assault. There was no way she could prepare and file the paper work in time.

I let it go then. Focused on putting myself back together again. It wasn’t the first time that man woman palaver (as we euphemistically call it in Nigeria) had terminated my job.

So this is the letter I wrote to Barbara Stocking after they confirmed my termination, as I was facing the loss of my home – after losing my job, my dad, my cat, my dog, my self esteem, my confidence. 

I stumbled across it looking for something else all together and it all just came back. I’d pushed the whole incident to the far recesses of my mind.  (My therapist gonna have something to say about that.) At first I cringed thinking maybe I was whining in the letter but as I read it I started to feel kinda good. I wrote from my heart. I spoke my truth. That’s all. Nothing to be ashamed of.

 

 

 

April 28, 2012

Dear Barbara,

It’s over a year now since I left your employ. I don’t know if you even noticed. Oxfam GB is such a big place. I don’t imagine you could possibly keep up with all your employees and I wasn’t there long enough. It wasn’t till my orientation at Oxford office in August 2010, almost 10 months after I started working for you that I actually started to understand the organization and my role. One important lesson I take away from my experience at Oxfam GB is to orient employees quickly, capably and to install controls to make sure the system works.

But that’s not why I write you. I’m writing to you because I believe the woman I met in August 2010 is a just, fair and above all compassionate person. There was nothing fair, just or compassionate about the way I was summarily dismissed from Oxfam GB in November 2010 or the way I was treated during my subsequent appeal. I tried so hard to reach Penny Lawrence. I remember her telling us during the orientation that she was always available to help and advice us with our problems and issues. She never spoke to me.

The 2 week visit in August 2010, my first to the UK was also where my trouble started. My line manager Mr. Samuel Musa, deputy regional director for West Africa at the time sexually assaulted me in his hotel room. Worried that my job, my working relationships and Oxfam GBs reputation could be in jeopardy, I didn’t listen to advice of friends to report the incident to the police. Instead I went to Martin Knops to treat my own pain and trauma and on his advice reported the incident to Catherine Layton then in the Human Resource department. I told her I was reporting ‘just in case’ Samuel tried to victimize me I wanted someone to know..

I realize now I should have made that report for a number of reasons. After all it wasn’t sexual harassment I was reporting. I was reporting a crime; sexual assault is after all a criminal offence. Of course all of us worked for Oxfam. Neither Catherine nor Martin suggested I report to the police. Catherine actually advised I speak to Samuel. Which I did. Eventually. It was almost a month later before I was able to talk to him on the phone about it. I told Catherine about the call. Because I had asked for assurance during the call and he didn’t give any I followed up with an email. He ignored it.

It had taken a whole lot of effort on my part to talk to him about it in the first place. I wasn’t comfortable raising the issue with him again. I did discuss with Catherine how we could address institutional sexual harassment. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of behavior in Oxfam GB’s Africa offices that would easily qualify for sexual harassment in the west and UK. I wasn’t the only victim. I felt that as Oxfam GB’s gender lead in West Africa I could have a wider institutional impact on the matter instead of making it all about me. I also didn’t want to be the lone female shouting ‘rape’. I had a lot of confused feelings.

Of course I was deeply traumatized by the experience. It was difficult working with Samuel after that. I had flash backs every time I saw an email from him, or had to speak with him on the phone and when I saw him late September in Dakar. I tried to be brave and strong but I was really uncomfortable and jumpy. Still with Catherine’s question about whether he knew his attention was unwanted ringing in my head I reiterated to him again I did not want his attention and asked for assurance he would never try to ‘make a pass at me’ again. But he didn’t make a pass at me the first time, it wasn’t a seduction or a wooing or ongoing sexual harassment at work; it was a traumatic and unexpected physical attack.

I ignored my pain and stepped up my efforts at work with some idea that if I just did my best my job would be safe. With 20/20 hind sight I see my mistake. There is no way I could have spoken to him about the incident in the terms that I did that he could do other than try to get rid of me as soon as possible. Anything else would have been literally working under the threat of an imminent report from me. Still I hoped, this was Oxfam GB after all, an international humanitarian agency with rules, surely I was safe.

On November 23, 2010, a Wednesday, Samuel Musa arrived Abuja from Dakar and handed me a letter summarily terminating my contract without reason. He gave me 2 days notice to vacate the office premises and immediately repossessed all Oxfam GB equipment including laptop and handsets making it difficult for me to reach anybody within the organization. My employment contract governed by Nigerian Law says that summary dismissal is in accordance with internal guidelines. Under these guidelines I am entitled to a weeks’ notice that I am being considered for summary dismissal. Under Nigerian law I am entitled to two weeks’ notice.

The law wasn’t upmost on my mind when I received the letter of termination. I was distraught that I was about to lose my job at the hands of the man who had sexually assaulted me less than 3 months before. I was in no emotional state for the appeal and under too much emotional distress by then to focus on that. The entire process became a sexual harassment investigation rather than an appeal of my wrongful termination. At the end of the emotionally devastating process where I had to re-live my assault again I was informed there was no corroboration to my allegations of sexual assault and my dismissal was in accordance with Nigerian law. That’s all.

Kathleen McGarva who handled my sexual assault complaint and my appeal (I wonder if that was proper?) decided that the email I wrote to Samuel and my correspondence with Catherine Layton and Martin Knops were not sufficient corroboration of my story and chose to accept Samuel’s version of the story which had even less corroboration than mine. He admitted I was in his room but unsurprisingly denied the course of events or that we went up together. He further claimed he ignored my email because he didn’t know what I was talking about. After denying my appeal Katherine said Oxfam GB would talk to him to find out how he could have handled the situation better. That sounded a lot like I was the lying trouble maker.

In April 2011 I finally wrote Katherine asking about the outcome of that exercise with Samuel. Was he punished? Was he queried? Was he reprimanded? I received her response on April 6, 2011 a Wednesday and was considering my reaction to send the following Monday when I was informed on Saturday April 9, 2011 my father died. I never did get a chance to react to Katherine’s last email after that news.

Katherine’s April email suggested that Oxfam GB were not interested in getting rid of a sexual predator in their employ much less how his actions had affected me or what I was going through personally. Oxfam GB seemed more interested in protecting themselves and I was the villain not the victim but it happened to me so I know what happened. In August 2011 I came to the UK and filed a criminal incident report with the Thames Valley Police accusing Samuel Musa of criminal sexual assault. They believed me but needed corroborating evidence to successfully prosecute. They also said if I had reported earlier there could have requested the hotels CCTV footage for corroboration. Still there is an incident report and number that it may serve as evidence should anyone else report Samuel for a similar thing.

I’m sure I wasn’t his first sexual assault and maybe not his last. Maybe he has been sexually exploiting women he managed? It is interesting that the Africa leadership teams have so few women. It was curious that Samuel resigned abruptly shortly after the police investigators visited the Oxfam GB offices. It may have been a coincidence. Did somebody else report him? What could HR have done differently? The fact that there was even a hint of criminal sexual assault in which the preponderance of evidence, thin though it was nevertheless was on my side should have raised enough doubt to make him justify his reasons for summary dismissal.

After my experience with Oxfam GB I really didn’t want to work for any other organization. This is not the first time I have had to make a career move or lose a job because of man woman trouble as we call it euphemistically in Nigeria. I had thought that I would be safe working with an international organization that had rules about such things. I have been sadly disappointed, in the time since my dismissal I have met and spoken to almost a dozen women with similar experiences. Male managers at INGOs are getting away with sexual abuse in the workplace, women are wrongfully losing jobs, some get stuck in court for years and exhaust their savings, others just don’t want to talk about it in public, still others are too busy trying to make ends meet to fight a foreign Goliath.

I’m a lawyer by training. I opened a small law firm instead of getting another job in the international development field. My 1 year experience at Oxfam GB was exhausting both emotionally and physically. I figure that being my own boss will reduce my vulnerability to sexual assault in the workplace. My practice focuses exclusively on women’s right and expanding legal protection from violence through litigation and legal precedent. I’m building a social enterprise to sustain the practice and my reputation as a writer. Kathleen was right; Oxfam GB didn’t break any Nigerian laws. I was the one that sent that legal opinion on Nigerian labor law to Samuel in October 2010.

Still I found the internal procedure for summary termination on Oxfam GB site confusing. My contract says internal procedure will apply in dismissal yet the site refers back to ‘local laws’. Meanwhile, my contract already says Nigerian law applies. Without knowing the in house rules for summary dismissal that clause of the contract is misleading. When I read it while negotiating my employment terms I reasonably thought it meant rules other than Nigerian law applied. I thought I was protected from unfair or wrongful dismissal and sexual victimization a common enough fear in Nigeria under our poorly applied and interpreted laws. Apparently I was wrong.

Why am I writing to you now?

An executive coach and consultant I worked with advised me to write to you personally and let you and Oxfam GB know exactly what is going on with me before proceeding with any further action. He is optimistic that Oxfam GB will do the right thing. I am hopeful that you Barbara will. I feel I was bullied by a big bad corporation, except Oxfam GB is supposed to be a ‘humanitarian’ organization, one of the ‘good guys’. How could they preach global love and charity and leave me out in the cold like this? Are Oxfam’s values just corporate jargon? I still wonder how I can possibly engage in a legal battle with a corporate behemoth like Oxfam GB that has more money and more lawyers than I can ever hope to. I’m intimidated from even trying but feel the injustice keenly.

I’m sitting in the eye of a hurricane right now. I have suffered terribly because of the assault and even more during and after the loss of my job. I’ve lost almost everything because of Samuel Musa and Oxfam GBs actions; my job, my health insurance, my father, who was my dependant and couldn’t continue diabetes treatment after I lost my health insurance and now I am about to lose my home. My small law practice is young and growing but even that is under threat.

If Catherine Layton, or Martin Knops or any other Oxfam GB employee had advised me to report to the police as soon as I described a sexual assault there may have been CCTV footage showing us arriving and me leaving his room and maybe corroboration of my ‘allegations’. There may have been witnesses available for trained questioning by the police. Dozens of Oxfam GB people were in the lobby that night when we left. Samuel Musa himself would have been available for the police to interrogate. If Samuel Musa had not been allowed to dismiss me without reason after sexually assaulting me I may still have my father, my house, my cat and my life.

I am writing this to you now because I was grievously injured by your employees and former employee’s actions and summarily and wrongfully dismissed without reason from my position as CD Nigeria programs and I feel that Oxfam GB my employers did not do enough to protect me or prevent the injury and subsequent suffering. It has taken me this long and many hours of consultation with lawyers and counselors to get here. While I’m still suffering the fall out of that injury, emotional, physical and financial, I finally have the mental and legal clarity to seek the rdress I believe that I deserve.

I hope this letter speaks to the humane part of you and not just the corporate goddess. I only seek justice, for myself and for my silent, disempowered or disenchanted African sisters. We are also a humanitarian cause. We’re also humankind. Barbara please show me that we are safe working for foreign agencies, even the BINGO’s and that the same rules that protect our female colleagues in head office will protect us in our work spaces scattered in the dark spots for gender rights on the continent too. Do not unilaterally listen to our kinsmen who fill your senior leadership positions in Africa and tell you African women will lie against them about rape or sexual assault or sexual harassment in the workplace because that is the excuse our men give for not tightening rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment laws.

I was a good employee; innovative, result oriented, driven, participatory, nurturing and above all ethical. I was one of few in the region that understood the implementation of the SMS. I was planning a fast track career development in the sector. I was systematically rooting out graft and corruption in the Nigerian program. I was also under systematic attack by the forces of graft and corruption. I wasn’t only working for you, I was also working for my country, for your donors and especially those little old English ladies that have a standing order with their bank to deduct GBP20 every month from their pension check and send to Oxfam GB, even if they are no longer your biggest contributors. I don’t deserve this. It feels so terribly wrong to be dismissed so nonchalantly and left so broken and devastated.

I appeal to you Barbara as the Chief Executive of Oxfam GB with whom all decisions finally rest for some sort of justice, relief, closure, damages and permission to move on. I hope you consider my appeal with wisdom and compassion.

I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime I remain;

Yours sincerely,

LesleyAgams

Lesley Gene Agams Esq.

 

 

 

This was her reply

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 10:32 AM

Dear Lesley

Thank you for your letter of 28th April 2012 concerning your period of employment with Oxfam GB.

I was aware of the circumstances surrounding your departure from Oxfam and am deeply saddened to hear how you now feel, and that you attribute this to the way that Oxfam handled your complaint. As you are aware, Oxfam is very concerned about gender inequality and committed to putting poor women’s rights at the heart of what we do. With this in mind I can assure you that Oxfam did take your complaint seriously and followed internal procedures carefully to fully investigate the points that you raised. Unfortunately , like the police, we found that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate your allegation of events that had taken place, some 3 months earlier. The allegation of sexual assault is an issue which we take very seriously and although we could not find evidence to confirm that the assault did take place, the matter was followed up and appropriate action was taken in line with our procedures. I appreciate that you were disappointed by these findings.

I understand that you did speak to both Catherine Layton (HR Adviser) and Martin Knops (Oxfam’s Counsellor) about events that took place whilst you were in the UK. At the time you did not categorise them as a criminal offence of sexual assault but as an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’ and indeed had asked to speak to them both ‘in confidence’. This confidentiality was maintained by them both as you had requested. Had you allowed Catherine to take this forward on your behalf as one of the options she suggested to you at the time, or indeed expressed it in the more serious language that you are now using, then the situation may have been different. This was the decision that you made at the time and I feel that it is not appropriate of you now to blame them for respecting your request for confidentiality.

With regard to your termination of employment from Oxfam, I am aware that you raised an appeal against this in line with our procedures. The appeal was heard by Kathleen McGarva, the Deputy International Director, and she was satisfied that the termination of your contract complied with the law in Nigeria which is the law that governed your contract of employment and that the termination was not due to sexual victimisation from a senior manager of staff. Kathleen is an experienced senior manager in Oxfam, based in Oxford who had no prior knowledge or involvement of this matter. I am satisfied that she considered your case very carefully in a fair and transparent manner when reaching her conclusion.

I am satisfied that that Oxfam has acted fairly in fully investigating your complaints and allegations and your request for damages is not appropriate.

Thank you for writing to me about bringing this to my attention.  I do wish you the very best for your future.

Best regards

Barbara

Barbara Stocking 

Chief Executive, Oxfam GB  

 

 

Maybe she was right, maybe it was all my fault. Except I’m pretty damn sure I DID describe it as a sexual assault, EXACTLY  as it happened, in very vivid detail too, to both Martin and Catherine.  Whatever could have given them the idea that is was an ‘incident in a hotel room where you refused to have sex with your manager’? (How sleazy does that even sound? Ugh!) Now they would have me second guessing myself!

I thought I was really over it. Just a couple weeks ago I was telling my friend that I had finally recovered from it all except the jack hammering of my heart says maybe not.

How do I feel about it now? I still feel angry. And powerless.

“Honour you anger” Martin Knops said to me all those years ago.

 

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