Let’s show the extent of sexual assault and harassment among people “doing good” around the world.
By Jennifer Lentfer of how-matters.org
“‘Me too’ is about using the power of empathy to stomp out shame.” ~Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement*
Many, far too many of us in the “social good” sector have experienced it:
“Chiefs of party who had their local admin assistants sit in their offices… sometimes in their laps.”
“A very uncomfortable exchange with a foundation staff person (grantor) once and myself (grantee).”
“White American or European contractors in war zones, that’s where I experienced the worst of it. Mostly drunk but not always…No clue what female staff [from those countries] might have experienced.”
“Many a meeting where our team of amazing women is oggled, patronized, ignored, and undervalued.”
“Some of the most supposedly ‘progressive’ activists have the most oppressive sexual politics. It’s a thing.”
“[Men are fired.] And then turn up in other countries working for other donors/organizations.”
Indeed, #MeToo applies also to women (and to a vastly lesser extent, men, also recognized) who are trying to change the world. This is why it often carries such a deep level of disappointment for us. Our experiences in the sector are part of a systemic problem – perhaps one we even want to address in our work – that is, a global pandemic of predatory behavior and gender inequality.
Presidencies across the world have been marred by sexual assault allegations. So have entire aid agencies…or have they? From sexual abuse of refugee children by INGO staff in West Africa in 2002 to the rape of female aid workers to a U.N. child sex ring reported in Haiti earlier this year, the social good sector is rife allegations of (but rarely consequences for) sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct. That is why #MeToo applies to us as well.
People around the world experienced a #MeToo mainstream media moment recently, born of a long-standing U.S. movement that started with survivors talking to survivors. Regardless of the appropriate criticisms of this viral moment – that it burdened the survivors rather than the harm-doers or that it benefitted from the intellectual property of Black women – what it did was disallow people from ignoring the extent of the problem.
So I’m asking all of us to do the same for our industry – for all the people working in international humanitarian and development aid agencies, in foundations, in social enterprises, in NGOs and nonprofits, in social movements, in impact investment firms, in aid contractors, in think tanks, in grassroots or community-based organizations, in corporate social responsibility programs, in advocacy organizations, in fair trade businesses…you get the picture.
I’m inviting all of us – who are able and willing – to share our survivor stories. Let’s use this #MeToo moment is time to reveal the insidiousness of cover-ups, the distrust created, the trivialization whenever survivors speak out in our sector.
I am not asking us to do this so that we can immediately come up with a strategy, and then implement a plan – something which our sector constantly requires of its members. (Even on the Facebook post that started this idea, in what was a conversation among 12 women, someone jumped in to man-splain the solution, suggesting what we should do about this problem.)
I am asking us to share our stories because as #MeToo found Tarana Burke describes,
“Hearing ‘me too’ can change the trajectory of the healing process.”
The doing is secondary. Women know that first we must heal, gather the strength (most often from each other), and then create the solidarity to determine and take the next action.
This is our space, here on this page, to write and share our stories – to demonstrate just how widespread the experience of sexual abuse is in our sector, and to create the opportunity for us to have the experience of #MeToo.
#MeToo requires compassion, staying with what’s painful, deep listening. So if you share your story or if you don’t, please don’t leave the comment section below without offering your support to those speaking out. And if you need a little courage, check out my previous post, 7 things every woman needs to speak truth to power.
If you would like to offer your story anonymously, we honor that. We work and pray for a day when our anonymity is no longer necessary. In the name and email fields of the comment section below, simply use:
If you want to report the abuse in other higher-profile platforms, we support that too. Check out reporttheabuse.org or the Humanitarian Women’s Network or Buzzfeed as good places to start. We celebrate the examples of brave people like Megan Nobert and Sarah Pierce and work and pray for a day when any of our “coming out” as survivors is no longer necessary.
It’s time for the “entitled, privileged men” in our sector (along with many other sectors) to stop any and all behavior that promotes rape culture – from slut shaming and victim blaming to the “little” jokes and minimizations to unequal pay to cat-calling to stalking to groping to sexual coercion to violence.
First, let’s galvanize ourselves by sharing our stories with each other. To all of you, I say:
*To learn more about the origins and the work of the #MeToo movement, click here.