Building an Inclusive Security Risk Management Culture: Musings of the EISF Director

Published: August 19, 2018 | By Lisa Reilly

World Humanitarian Day is a time when many of us take a moment to think about our colleagues who have been killed or injured just trying to do their job. Unfortunately, the first six months of 2018 has seen 174 aid workers killed or kidnapped according to data gathered by Insecurity Insight.

At EISF we have spent the past year looking at a variety of topics that will, hopefully, make it safer for many aid workers who are outside the ‘norm’ of the homogenous aid worker (around whom most security risk management policies and plans are written). In particular, we have looked at young aid workers, survivors of sexual violence and aid workers who identify as LGBTQI, as living with a disability, or as having a minority ethnicity.

One question posed by EISF members last year was, ‘Are we preparing the next generation of aid workers properly to work safely in the changing humanitarian context?’ We invited three young aid workers from Medair, MSF and World Vision International to present at our forum on their perspective of safety and security for aid workers. While recognising there is a dichotomy in today’s aid world, on the one hand the ‘Humanitarian Heroes’ campaign [Dying for Humanitarian Ideas, Michaël Neuman], and on the other, a broader society which seems to suggest that no personal risk is acceptable; I was shocked by the level of pressure, expressed by all the speakers, that to be a ‘good humanitarian’ you had to be willing to put yourself in danger. Each of the three speakers had found that the aid workers who are held in high esteem by their colleagues are the ones with dramatic ‘war stories’, and statements such as ‘you’re not a real humanitarian till you’ve been shot at’ were common. So, while management in the organisation may be talking about what is an acceptable level of risk, this may not be reflected in the underlying culture of the organisation and sector. If we are going to attract and keep the brightest of the new generation in the sector, and as safe as is reasonably possible, we need to recognise and tackle these perceptions in our security inductions and trainings.

Sexual violence continued as a significant issue in the sector this year. After a number of years working on sexual violence in the humanitarian sector, it is a positive change to see that we are now pushing on a (partly) open door. It was sad to see Megan Nobert’s project ‘Report the Abuse’ shutdown, but her willingness to make the issue personal rather than theoretical made a huge difference to those of us working on changing attitudes within the sector. The Report the Abuse papers, along with other resources on managing sexual violence, are available on the EISF website.

While we have been sharing challenges and good practices for responding to incidents of sexual violence across EISF for a while, seeing the emphasis shift from response to prevention, with the spotlight on the perpetrators rather the victims for a change, is another positive improvement. Catherine Plumridge, amongst others, has been leading this discussion and is contributing to the guide EISF is currently working on, Managing Sexual Violence Against Aid Workers: Prevention, Preparedness, Response and After-care. Many of our members are contributing to the guide, so it will reflect good practice and learnings from a variety of different organisations and experts. We anticipate that this guide will be published in early 2019.

In June, UNHCR and WFP facilitated a workshop, Introduction to the UN Women Security Awareness Training (WSAT) for EISF members, where we discussed the challenges and learnings from the UN and looked at how this might be applied for NGOs. One of the positive outcomes UNHCR and WFP shared is how women have been empowered by these workshops to speak up for what they need to reduce incidents of sexual harassment and violence, and to report incidents when they happen. Helene (EISF Projects and Membership Officer) is currently compiling the notes from the workshop into a package we can share across the sector.

After much discussion, we made this workshop for women only, as the UN WSAT is a ‘by women for women’ course. I have always been ambivalent about ‘women only’ training. On the one hand, I am against anything that perpetuates the misconception that women are more of a liability than men, but on the other hand, if women do not have a safe space to share amongst themselves many concerns will never be expressed and tackled. At the end of the workshop I asked participants for their thoughts and a number confirmed that they had been dubious at the start about a workshop for women only but by the end they had really appreciated the opportunity to talk amongst women about the security risks that women, and all aid workers, face. We also discussed how to continue the discussion and ensure men are not only part of the conversation but also feel welcomed into it. It is common that when there is a mixed training team, the session on sexual violence will be delivered by a woman. Men I have spoken to about this have expressed concern about their ‘right’ to lead on such a topic where women are the majority of victims and men are the majority of perpetrators. Part of building an inclusive security culture is recognising that we are all part of the solution. I will be in North America in November and hope to take the opportunity of continuing this discussion with colleagues there. If you are interested in joining the conversation let me or Helene know.

In the first paragraph of this blog post, I mentioned the idea of a ‘homogenous’ aid worker. This is not quite true, we are now commonly recognised as coming in 4 types: national, international, male and female. Obviously, we know this is not true, we come in many shapes and sizes, with a whole variety of shades, ages, experiences, sexual identities and abilities, but many security policies and plans still do not recognise how this variety of intersectionality affects the risks we face. Equality seems to have been taken to mean we are all the same rather than to celebrate the fact that we are all different, but still equal. In security risk management this is particularly important, not only as the personal profile of the individuals will affect their specific risks as well as those of the organisation, but there is also a huge opportunity for each person to bring their perspective to support an organisation’s understanding of the context, threats and risk treatment measures.

This year has seen Adelicia (EISF Research Advisor) work hard on our latest research project, Managing the Security of Aid Workers With Diverse Profiles. In this project we are looking at issues around balancing anti-discrimination and equality laws with duty of care responsibilities, as well as the day to day security challenges faced by staff with minority profiles and those who are responsible for ensuring their security. Again, in my naivety, I was unpleasantly surprised by the amount of discrimination many still face in this sector and the number of people who still feel it is necessary to hide some aspects of who they are in order to secure work. One particularly discomforting finding is that staff who identify as LGBTQI and those with disability, both fear internal threats from within their organisations or from sector colleagues more than external threats. The lack of discussion on the topic of individual vulnerabilities is probably one of the main reasons why we got a record amount of interest from the sector in this research, and we look forward to taking the discussion further when the research paper is published in September.

In the coming year we will continue to explore how we can build an inclusive security culture, and as the sector continues to work on topics such as safeguarding, staff well-being and the localisation agenda, we will make sure these are also embedded in the work we do.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the EISF members for sharing their experiences – of when things have gone well but also when they have gone wrong – so the broader sector can learn without having to make the same mistakes. I would also like to thank the EISF Secretariat who work hard behind the scenes to ensure EISF continues to produce the quality of products we have become known for.

And on World Humanitarian Day, in the words of Hetty, a therapist with many humanitarian clients, we need to remember that not only do we have a duty of care, but also a duty of caring.