Sexual abuse during humanitarian operations still happens. What must be done to end it?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is under fire after allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse surfaced last month. More than 50 women accused aid workers from several organisations of crimes that took place during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak.

In response, the WHO launched an independent investigation into the allegations. The investigation identified 83 alleged perpetrators, including 21 individuals who worked for the WHO during the Ebola response. It detailed failures of leadership by those responsible for the Ebola response and those in charge of addressing employee and partner malfeasance.

Unfortunately, the WHO case is just the latest in a long list of sexual exploitation scandals within the UN and humanitarian systems since the 1990s.

The United Nations and humanitarian systems, of which the WHO is a part, have sought to address this issue for decades. This has involved assessing organisational systems, developing tools, establishing policies, and providing training.

Despite all this work, the abuse of vulnerable women and children persists.

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