The DRC has been rocked by claims of sexual attacks by humanitarian aid agency workers. More than 20 women have accused aid workers of sexual abuse that includes rape, and rape resulting in unwanted pregnancies.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to 22 women in Butembo, who said aid workers, especially male aid workers responding to the Ebola crisis in eastern DRC offered those jobs and favours in exchange for sex. This comes as donors continue to place pressure on aid groups to do more to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, and to educate their workers about the rights of those they are serving.

“if I give you work, what you will give me in return?”

According to the women in Butembo, most of the abusers identified themselves as workers associated with the World Health Organisation. According to one, she was raped by a man who said he was working with the WHO, and became pregnant. Other women also say they have been either raped or coerced into sex with men and those encounters resulted in pregnancy, and in some cases, STI’s. One woman who was coerced into sex received a message from an aid worker which read “if I give you work, what you will give me in return?”

The WHO has set up a commission to deal with the allegations, and is referring all allegations to it for further investigation and recommendation. “The commission will take the lead in investigating these allegations and will issue recommendations to the Director-General”, says Marcia Poole, WHO Spokesperson. According to investigations, many women who were coerced into sexual relations were forced to do it to receive employment as cleaners in Ebola treatment centres. Once they receive employment, the exploitation continues with more coercion and harassment on the part of the WHO employees. The recent scandals are in addition to those scandals over the years, where other UN affiliated organisations, such as UNICEF, IOM and UN peace keepers, some from the SANDF, have also been embroiled in instances of impropriety against local women.

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