Simplifying and translating the rules is the first step to keeping everyone safe.
Sexual exploitation and abuse remains a sad reality in the aid sector, as anyone who has read a paper in the past year is aware. The millions of people made vulnerable by disasters face further harm from some of the very people whose job is to assist and protect them.
There are of course rules banning such behavior: They are known as the core principles on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. All international aid workers sign up to them. Yet it can be a bit like the box you check to ‘accept’ terms and conditions for an online service. You tick the box because that allows you to use the service. You rarely read the small print.
Access is a factor. The details aren’t readily accessible physically – you have to click on the link or scroll down to the annex. Nor are they easy to understand, because they’re written in legalese.
Another factor is language. For the vast majority of the world’s aid workers, the rules on sexual conduct are also in a foreign tongue.
Yet accountability depends on the rules being known and understood, by every aid worker but importantly also by the crisis-affected people we are there to serve.
So Translators without Borders (TWB) teamed up with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s task team on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and accountability to affected people to make those rules crystal clear.
First we took the six principles on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse and rewrote them in plain English. Plain language is about making the message clear. It’s the difference between ‘this constitutes gross misconduct and can be grounds for termination of contract’ and ‘you can be disciplined or fired for this.’
Initial comprehension testing suggests non-native English speaking aid workers do understand the plain English better than the original. That’s the first step.
Then we translated that plain English version into the languages of aid workers and the people they serve: 60 languages at the time of writing, but our target is 100. The aim is to have the rules up on the walls of every aid agency office, every refugee camp and site hosting internally displaced people, in the right languages for everyone to understand.
The next step is to help affected people hold us accountable, by making the principles available to them in accessible formats, as visual and audio content. The goal is to start a dialogue with communities about what their rights are, and what responsibilities aid workers have towards them.
Checking the box is not enough. If we are to create an environment that guards against abuse and exploitation, the first step is for the rules to be visible and understood. As a sector we need to pay more attention to how we speak about these critical issues, and in which languages.
Written by Ellie Kemp, TWB's Head of Crisis Response.