Greater transparency on SEAH through harmonised reporting – views from two governmental donors

30 November 2022

interview with Elizabeth Pender (BHA) & Dr Kweku Ackom (FCDO)

To confront sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment (SEAH) by aid workers, we need to better understand the extent of the problem across the aid system, and how this unacceptable behaviour manifests. To do this CHS Alliance and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response have united to initiate a SEAH Harmonised Reporting Scheme. With funding from the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), the Scheme aims to increase  transparency on SEAH by aid workers across different organisations and countries.

To find out the difference the new harmonisation Scheme could make, we hear from two donor representatives; Dr Kweku Ackom, Health Advisor, Safeguarding Unit, FCDO and Elizabeth Pender, Senior Advisor, Safe and Accountable Programming, USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).

Why do we need more harmonisation of SEAH data collection and reporting?

Elizabeth, BHA: While awareness of SEAH in aid work has significantly increased over the last years, we continue to see a concerning trend of under-reporting, minimal transparency, and a lack of consistency in how humanitarian actors respond to incidents. These factors may be linked to limited technical capacity, insufficient systems in place to collect and maintain data, or a reticence to share due to worries of being penalised by donors.

We need to flip the narrative around reporting by underscoring it as one of the key ways we will be better able to prevent and respond to SEAH incidents. Harmonising SEAH data collection and reporting can be one way of enabling better transparency, building strong response systems and being more evidence driven in how we address SEAH. All these factors are vital to create a safer, more enabling and responsive reporting environment.

Kweku, FCDO: Currently it is difficult to make sense of and use data on SEAH. Very little is reported publicly making it impossible to get a true sense of the scale of the problem. Even the cases that are reported on are often not comparable; organisations report different things in different ways, depending on their donors or internal systems. Not having like-for-like information on SEAH data from different organisations means that we cannot get an accurate picture of what is happening where. This also makes it hard to understand how well organisations are responding to and supporting victims and survivors of abuse.

What do you hope the Scheme will achieve?

Kweku, FCDO: The aid sector needs to tackle SEAH robustly and holistically. By making reports of SEAH from across different aid organisations more harmonised, I believe the new Scheme will help address under-reporting, improve transparency and accountability, and ultimately improve prevention and outcomes for victims and survivors. How will it do this? Well, harmonising reports of SEAH from across the aid sector will lead to more comparable data. This will mean we can better analyse patterns and develop evidence driven strategies and interventions to help target areas – both thematically and in terms of locations – with the highest risks of SEAH.

An effective Scheme will make efficiency gains, improve reporting, enhance transparency, and ultimately make it easier for communities, victims / survivors and the public to hold aid actors accountable on preventing and responding to SEAH.

Elizabeth, BHA: The hope is that collecting and reporting on a minimum and agreed upon set of data points will allow for more meaningful trend analysis and learning around SEAH risks, as well as good and best practices in prevention and response. Currently, this kind of analysis and learning is conducted at the organisational level, limiting our ability to broaden and apply learning to local, national and global contexts. Analysis that cuts across organisations and agencies will be essential in informing how we understand SEAH risks in our humanitarian responses, and how we effectively address them.

Harmonised data collection will also build a deeper understanding of SEAH permissive settings, where we need to amplify efforts to proactively design and deliver safer programming interventions.

What is needed for the Scheme to succeed?

Elizabeth, BHA: There needs to be a shared understanding among donors and implementers alike that reporting should not be penalised, but rather encouraged and recognised as an opportunity to strengthen programmatic approaches, reinforce collective accountability and promote our zero tolerance for inaction in response to these reports. We will also need trust in the system. Every participating organisation must show real commitment to  sharing only the appropriate and relevant information, not including any Personal Identifiable Information and must trust that SEAH data-sharing platforms are equipped for safeguarding information.

Kweku, FCDO: The key to the success of the Scheme is for its supporters to engage, reach out and make the case for it across all stakeholders in the aid sector. It is also important to address concerns around data protection and confidentiality, as well as concerns that organisations risk being penalised for being transparent. We want to reassure organisations that signing up for the Scheme, reporting transparently and in doing so helping to address allegations is a positive step. We hope that donors’ endorsement of the Scheme will incentivise organisations to sign up to it and give them the confidence that it will help improve safeguarding practices.

The Scheme’s pilot phase launched in September 2022. Twenty-four organisations – including international NGOs, national NGOs and private sector organisations – are now testing out and feeding back on a proposed framework for reporting SEAH data in a harmonised way. CHS Alliance is encouraging more organisations to join and test the framework to create a system that works for all – especially for people who are victims/survivors of SEAH. The more organisations that join the Scheme, the better equipped the aid system will be to understand, prevented and responded to abuse in aid.

Find out more details on the Scheme and how your organisation can play a part in tackling power abuses in aid.