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  • Women in Nepal

    Women’s Refugee Commission’s Code of Conduct

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    Addressing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

    In accordance with the mission and practice of Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) and principles of international law and codes of conduct, all WRC representatives, including international and national, regular full-time and part-time staff, board members, interns, contractors and volunteers, are responsible for promoting respect for fundamental human rights, social justice, human dignity and respect for the equal rights of women, children and men. Women's Refugee Commission representatives will respect the dignity and worth of every individual. They will treat all persons equally without distinction whatsoever of race, gender, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, language, marital status, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, disability, political conviction or any other distinguishing feature.

    The WRC representatives recognize that they have: (1) a duty of care to beneficiaries; (2) a responsibility to ensure that beneficiaries are treated with dignity and respect; and (3) an obligation to observe certain minimum standards of behavior.

    Displacement as a result of conflict or natural disaster may lead to an increase in poverty, dependency and powerlessness. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence in crisis settings. The uncertainty in access to, and the unequal distribution of, resources such as food and material goods, including cooking pots, water containers and plastic sheeting, can put women and girls at a greater risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. This can fuel the need to exchange sex for money or food to survive.1

    What is Sexual Exploitation and Abuse?

    Sexual exploitation and abuse is a form of violence that relates to the use of actual or attempted threats, force or coercion in a sexual manner against a woman, girl, boy or man that results in physical, psychological or emotional harm. It is usually an attempt to show power over the vulnerable individual.

    • Sexual exploitation is taking advantage of an unequal power relationship to obtain sexual favors in return for protection or assistance from a person in a vulnerable situation.
    • Sexual abuse is actual or threatened sexual violence obtained by force or under coercion.2

    Sexual exploitation and abuse can take many forms3

    • Sexual exploitation involves a person demanding sex or sexual favors from someone in a vulnerable position in exchange for money, shelter, protection, firewood or fuel for cooking food or other goods or services. Perpetrators can include staff of the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs); consultants, interns, volunteers and contractors; and military personnel.
    • Sexual abuse is:
      • Threatening or forcing an individual to have sex. This includes rape.
      • The invasion of any part of the body of the victim with a sexual organ; or of the anal or genital opening of the victim with any object or any other part of the body; or against a person incapable of giving genuine consent.
      • Any unwelcome and unwanted sexual advance, unsolicited sexual attention, demand for sexual access or favors, sexual innuendo or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, display of pornographic material, inappropriate touching or gestures, and harassment by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

    The Women's Refugee Commission rigorously enforces the United Nations (UN) Secretary General's Bulletin on the Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Beneficiaries as a standard for professional conduct among our staff.4 Therefore, as a representative of the WRC, I concur with the Inter-agency Standing Committee's (IASC's) six core principles of its code of conduct5 as listed below, and I will adhere to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse against beneficiaries and persons of concern.

    (1) Sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers constitutes gross misconduct and are therefore grounds for termination of employment.
    (2) Sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18) is prohibited regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally. Mistaken belief regarding the age of a child is not a defense.
    (3) Exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex, including sexual favors or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behavior, is prohibited. This includes exchange of assistance that is due to beneficiaries.
    (4) Sexual relationships between humanitarian workers and beneficiaries are strongly discouraged since they are based on inherently unequal power dynamics. Such relationships undermine the credibility and integrity of humanitarian aid work.
    (5) Where a humanitarian worker develops concerns or suspicions regarding sexual abuse or exploitation by a fellow worker, whether in the same agency or not, he or she must report such concerns via established agency reporting mechanisms.
    (6) Humanitarian workers are obliged to create and maintain an environment which prevents sexual exploitation and abuse and promotes the implementation of their code of conduct.

    Managers at all levels have particular responsibilities to support and develop systems which maintain this environment.

    In addition, Women's Refugee Commission staff providing sub grants to community-based organizations (CBOs) and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) will systematically share the Women's Refugee Commission cover letter and relevant (CBO) or (INGO) primer on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse with all sub-grant agreement documents with a request for sub-grantees to report on their measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries and persons of concern in their donor reporting.

    If you have a complaint about the conduct of a WRC staff member or about the work of the organization, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call +1.212.551.3115 and leave a message that you wish to discuss an ethics issue. Someone will get in touch with you to follow up.

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    [1] Spiegel, Paul. “HIV/AIDS among Conflict-affected and Displaced Populations: Dispelling Myths and Taking Action.” Disasters. 2004.

    [2] UN, Secretary General’s Bulletin: Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (ST/SGB/2003/13).

    [3] IASC, Report of the Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises. June 2002.

    [4] UN, Secretary General’s Bulletin: Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (ST/SGB/2003/13).

    [5] IASC, Report of the Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises. June 2002.