The 16 Days of Activism, 25 November to 10 December, mark the global campaign for the prevention and elimination of Gender Based Violence. During the 16 Days of Activism 2021, we the undersigned organizations, wish to express our deep concern at the sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) of women and girls by WHO staff during the tenth Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We stand with survivors of SEAH and whistleblowers in their pursuit of justice and the truth, and we call on WHO to act now to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.
Power imbalances and root causes
As diverse organizations working for the rights of women and girls in global health, we are appalled at the reports of SEAH by United Nations’ employees and international aid workers, including WHO, outlined in the Independent Commission report of 28 September 2021. The Commission uncovered 83 alleged perpetrators, 21 of whom were WHO employees. The allegations included 9 rapes and countless demands for sex for jobs. Women and girls as young as 13 years old became pregnant, had miscarriages and abortions as a result of rape and sexual exploitation, and a reported 22 children were born. It is shameful and completely unacceptable that male staff of UN and aid agencies have caused such deep harm and blighted the lives of women and girls whose health they were paid to protect. This case in DRC is one in a long series of such cases and almost certainly the tip of the iceberg within the health sector.