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. 

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

A Review of Oluremi Obasanjo’s Bitter Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo (From The Archives)

December 10, 2008 at 10:25am

OLUREMI OBASANJO: PORTRAIT OF A FEMINIST POSTER GIRL?

By Lesley Gene Agams

A privileged idyllic childhood, a precocious adolescence and a striving dogged socially conscious woman. That is the sense I get of Oluremi Obasanjo from her recently released book Bitter Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo. Although she often comes across as naïve, gullible and coarse there is no masking the raw ambition and sense of achievement lurking covertly like a cunning animal.

Bitter Sweet offers a rare insight into a young girl’s life in pre independence Nigeria. Her story of going off to Lagos with only a female cousin was a surprise, as was her sneaking away from an event in Ibadan to visit her beau’s house. Even more astonishing was her un-chaperoned trip to London to meet Obasanjo before they were even married. It’s rare to hear such honest accounts about young women of that era enjoying such freedom. To hear it told by the social matrons, back in 1950 all girls were on chaperoned lock down till their bride price was paid and rings on their fingers.

Oluremi’s story also offers important insight for the Nigerian women’s movement and victim’s activists all over the world. It provides a rare viewpoint into the psyches of a high profile domestic violence victim and her equally high profile abuser. The question ‘why do victims stay?’ is one of the most contentious in academic and legal literature on violence against women globally. There is no agreement as to the dynamics but there is a growing recognition that victims cannot always exercise agency and walk away. This is a rare portrait of a narcissist, his codependent and their traumatized and troubled offspring.

Here we have the unfiltered voice of a victim and an abuser known all over the world. This isn’t the transcript of a case study interview where the interviewer asks leading questions or a counselor offers culturally biased speculation about the motives behind an anonymous patient’s experience. We have a cultural and social context that provides incredibly rich information. A number of commentators have compared it to a Nollywood script but this is not fiction. Why did Oluremi stay? Why does she still call this man her husband and ‘the only man I have known’?

Her story is significant because of who she was married to, her experience with Obasanjo is the experience of millions of Nigerian women. Thanks to her book we may be able to bring attention to their stories and begin a rational discourse on violence against women and domestic violence, two issues that have failed to enrage the Nigerian public or engage the Nigerian media. Oluremi is just one of the lucky ones. Apollonia Ukpabio endured 25 years of escalating violence till her skull was cracked open with a machete. Miraculously she survived. Her husband is on trial for the attack. Why did she stay? She believed God and church wanted her to protect and defend her marriage no matter what. Others have died.

The challenges of being married to Nigerian elites are especially made obvious in her narrative. It’s the story that does not get told, the male entitlement, the female consent and often the mutual infidelity. It’s really difficult to complain when living a really privileged life in a really poor environment. I know many a Nigerian matron that felt Princess Diana should have put up and shut up. The ‘old school’ belief is that a woman should marry for economic security not love, and if it’s companionship you crave find it with the women and/or your children. The wisdom of the matrons for a woman thinking of leaving her husband is territorial– don’t be foolish, why leave your turf for some other woman to take over? Fight for your matrimonial haven and sanctuary. Oluremi had a lot to fight for.

For me one of the more disquieting revelations of this book is how powerful and rich men are manipulated to accept and expect exploitation through their sexual extravagance. According to Oluremi, Obasanjo’s aunt became one of his ‘pimps’ and weak minded male that he was “he abandoned his Lugard quarters for five days because he didn’t want a divorcee, who was even a mother of two. Later, he gave in and the woman had a child…” I know people like that, they will never go to see a powerful man without ‘an offering’, usually a young pretty girl. The most disgusting personal encounter I recall was a middle aged couple that brought their 15 year old daughter dressed like a hooker to see a certain big man they wanted a favor from. I was there. I’ve often wondered about the ‘powerful’ men that fall for that one.

All families are dysfunctional and some may seem more dysfunctional than others but it seems too much of a coincidence that Obasanjo’s narcissistic, high risk behavior and mood swings only emerged after the civil war. Could he have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? This is not uncommon in soldiers, even Nigerian soldiers. I handled a divorce case a while back, the husband, an armed forces man, had just returned from an active mission and was exhibiting classic symptoms of PTSD. The administration couldn’t offer him any help. He refused to admit he had a problem, his wife did not know how to handle it, his marriage collapsed under the strain. He reacted pretty much the way Obasanjo did, contesting custody, refusing to pay child support and becoming increasingly abusive; contemporary Okonkwo figures, tormented, paranoid and insecure, things falling apart around them.

All that being said there is a lot that makes me uncomfortable about this book, it’s no master piece but its not meant to be. I found Oluremi’s total lack of self consciousness very disturbing, she seems to be saying of course I slapped that girl and of course I bit that woman and of course I made embarrassing scenes and even fought a truck full of soldiers, like it’s all normal. I found that eerie. The scene on page 66 where she attacks Mowo Sofowora, like a frenzied mother hen and then having fended off the interloper, clucks protectively around her chicks is totally dissonating and disturbing. All narrated like it’s totally normal, there is no moral debate as to the appropriateness of action. She is not the only female (or male) I know that considers her response to this sort of ‘provocation’ perfectly normal and unquestionably right. I find that frightening and sad.

Even more disturbing evidence of a venal, anachronistic world view was her calling Murtala’s ADC the day after she was informed of her child’s death and being morbidly counseled to see the incident as some sort of answer to her prayers to be back in Obasanjo’s house. Just access to this ‘big powerful man’ who happened to be the-father-of-her-children-who-he-had-custody of had become a goal. Her disappointment and resentment towards her sister in law who precipitated her hasty ouster five days later seemed to coldly over shadow her grief at losing a child. Her insecurity is overwhelming; she is willing to forgive Obasanjo the death of her child but not his sister. Her apparent devotion to him despite everything borders on an obsession. Is she a cold ruthless woman or the traumatized victim of a narcissist?

Then there was the bizarre description of their courtship, she presents herself as a passive and entitled recipient of Obasanjo’s courting. He wrote her letters, sent her books and gifts and eventually she said yes. Surely that’s not the whole story. What exactly did the shoeless son of a village drunk say to the spoilt railway master’s precocious daughter that convinced her that Obasanjo was worth waiting seven years for? It’s obvious he was a man on the fast track to power but Oluremi’s narrative while indicating that does not provide any insight into the motivation for any of his actions. Why did he want to study geology? Why did he change his mind for a military career? Is she absolving herself of all responsibility or did she really not know? Or is she just not telling? Loyal to the bitter end?

Whatever her motives for staying or for telling her story now Oluremi did not deserve the treatment she received from her husband. No man or woman deserves abuse and violence, and all women deserve the right to say to the man they married ‘I can’t live with you anymore’ and still be humanely treated with their children as Nigerian citizens protected by a constitution. We need to stop the abuse. We need to break the cycle of violence.

I have reaffirmed or learnt a number of things from reading this gripping account of lives interrupted;

1. There is an urgent need to review the Matrimonial Causes Act and extend its jurisdiction to women married under customary law; it is an archaic piece of legislation that offers little protection to women considering divorce or separation and their children. The customary law systems that the majorities of woman have access to in Nigeria are heavily biased against women and make seeking separation or divorce traumatic and humiliating.
2. We desperately need to introduce parenting skills to our education curricula. Children are often at greatest risk of long term harm and damage from their parent’s ignorance. Teaching children parenting skills is as important as teaching them to say no, zip up, life skills or whatever else we choose to call sex education. Teaching them religion is not enough.
3. The Nigerian armed forces need to increase their transition support for veterans returning from war, especially the psychological support they provide. Wars are dehumanizing and brutalizing, veterans and their family members need assistance re-integrating after prolonged exposure to the violence and brutality of armed conflict and barracks life.
4. Nigerian media need to learn how to write more sensitively about women and women’s issues. Most of media commentators including female commentators brushed aside her story and condemned her for telling it. Stark testimony to how such tragedies can play out to an inevitably sad outcome while hidden in plain view.

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Interim Child Custody Order Under Matrimonial Causes Act in Nigeria

Section 71 of the Matrimonial Causes Act is clear that the ‘courts shall regard the interests of the children as the paramount consideration when awarding custody of children in a matrimonial cause under the MCA.

This is supported by extensive case law.

The Supreme Court in WILLIAMS V WILLIAMS (1987) LPELR-8050 set out the principles on which custody is decided clearly;

“(1) Where in any proceedings before any court the custody or upbringing of a minor is in question, the court in deciding the question shall regard the welfare of the minor as the first and paramount consideration and shall not take into consideration whether from any other point of view the claim of the father in respect of such custody is superior to that of the mother or the claim of the mother is superior to that of the father.

In Nwosu v. Nwosu (2012) 8 NWLR Pt 1301 – the court of appeal further held –

On the right of parents over custody of children of a marriage

The Court held both parties have equal rights in matters of custody of the children. In other words a mother has equal rights with the father over the children. In the instant case the appellant had equal legal interest in the children of the marriage and a right to protect that legal interest.

On Equal Rights of parents over custody of the children of the marriage

In regard to custody or upbringing of a minor a mother shall have the same rights and authority as the law allows the father and the rights and authority of the mother and the father shall be equal and exercisable by either with out the other.

One of the questions that the court of appeal considered was whether or not the appellant (mother) had a right to take the children away from the matrimonial home before a formal order of custody made by a court of competent jurisdiction to determine the issue of custody.

The respondent (father) had asked an Owerri High Court to declare his wife did not have the right to remove the children from their school and relocate then elsewhere without a prior order of the court. The court of first instance sought to compel the mother to return the children till a determination of custody.

The mother appealed the judgement and her appeal was upheld. The court cited the previous Supreme Court ruling in Williams v. Williams (1987) that held both parents have the same right to custody of children pending a custody hearing.

“The law would be an ass indeed if a parent who has inherent legal interest in the children can’t do something to protect the children before the law can take its course” said Ogunwumiju JCA in his lead judgement in Nwosu v. Nwosu.

The court upheld a mother’s right to remove herself and her children from the matrimonial home in the event of  breakdown of the marriage, threat or fear violence and maintaining status quo ante bellum pending matrimonial proceedings.

Counsel for the respondent (father) went on to argue the children of the marriage were of ‘Igbo extraction’ and their father ‘rich and willing to have them around’. The court held that “the reasons given by the learned trial judge in arriving at the conclusion that the appellant (mother) had no legal right to take the children from the matrimonial home were unconstitutional”

“I have no hesitation in arriving at the conclusion that these declarations of the rights of the parents in relation to these children were based on a wrong premise which is that the rights of a very rich father are superior to the rights of the less affluent mother who is from a different tribe. There is discrimination on the basis of tribe, sex and financial means.” – Ogunwumiju JCA

In Tabansi v. Tabansi (2009) 12 NWLR Pt 1155 the lead judgement of the Court of Appeal delivered by Alagao JCA held that

“Except the conduct of the wife is morally reprehensible it is better in an estranged marriage for the child of the marriage, more so if that child is a girl of tender age to be left in the care and custody of the wife.”

A party to matrimonial proceedings can simultaneously file an ex parte motion for interim custody when filing a petition under the MCA under Order 14 Rule 23 (1)(c) which provides that;

23(1) “Where proceedings for ancillary relief have been instituted  seeking an order with respect to the custody, guardianship, welfare, advancement or education of a child of the marriage pending the disposal of proceedings , the court may in a case of urgency, hear the proceedings, and make an order in the proceedings, ex parte.”

When filing an ex parte motion (which basically means that the applicant is asking the court to make a ruling without notifying the respondent, the other party in the matter) support it with an affidavit of urgency and also file a motion on notice with the same requests and arguments that will be served on the respondent while the interim order is in effect. And interim order will last for 7 days and within that time the court will want to invite the respondent to come and give his or her side of the story too. If the interim order lapses before the motion on notice is heard or decided the applicant’s lawyer can and should make a further oral application to the court to extend the life of the interim order.

This interim order will provide the legal basis for the applicant to retain custody of the children pending hearing of the motion on notice which will decide custody pending the resolution of the substantive suit which may be for divorce, nullity or judicial separation. The interim order will them be served together with the notice of petition and the motion on notice on the respondent.

Once an order is secured give the applicant the original copy and they can move with the children without fear of the other party taking them away or causing other mischief (like reporting to police they were kidnapped as some parents erroneously do) The applicant can prevent the respondent, the other party in the suit from taking the children forcibly away from him or her and should that party do so they will be in contempt of a court order.

Can The Attorney General Of Nigeria Open An Inquiry Into Sugabelly’s Charges Against Mohammed Audu?

The Nigerian Law of Trafficking & How It May Apply to @Sugabelly

It would be interesting to read up on the precedents but I think that Audu and his pals can be prosecuted under this Act –

 

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS (PROHIBITION) ENFORCEMENT & ADMINISTRATION ACT 2015

Section 13 (1) All acts of human trafficking are prohibited in Nigeria
(2) Any person who recruits, transports, transfers, harbours or receives another person by means of –
threat or use of force or other forms of coercion abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability; or
giving or receiving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of the person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation of that person…

commits and offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than two year sand a fine of not less than NGN250,000.00

13 (5) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in the definition of trafficking in persons in this act shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in the definition has been used.

Section 15 Any person who –

(a) by use of deception,coercion, debt bondage or any other means, induces any person under the age of 18 years to go from one place to another to do any act with the intent that such person may be or knowing that it is likely that the person will be forced or seduce into illicit intercourse with another person – is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 5 years and a fine of NGN500,000

Section 16 (1) Any person that procures or recruits any other person under the age of 18 years to be subjected to prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation with himself, any person or persons, either in Nigeria or anywhere else commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less that 7 years and a fine of not less than NGN1,000,000.

 

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