written by Estefania Sierra Santamaria, from Forus and Franziska Schwarz, sector safeguarding adviser from BOND

Central to the mission undertaken by Civils Society Organizations (CSOs) to build a fairer world, free from poverty, inequality and injustice, we can find the respect for the safety, well-being and rights of the people we work with: the communities we seek to support, our partners, staff, volunteers and everyone involved. Safeguarding and keeping people safe is commonly considered to be the responsibility of organisations to make sure staff, operations and programmes do no harm to communities or expose them to abuse or exploitation.

Although keeping people safe has always been part of how CSOs work and many organisations have well-developed safeguarding approaches in place, issues of sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment remain within the aid sector and international development sector. As a result, platforms in the sector have been working with their members to help individual organisations, and the sector itself, to improve safeguarding policies and practice, and to address deeper long-term issues of power, gender and safety within our cultures and ways of working.

On this issue, 23 people representing national platforms and regional coalitions participated in a webinar organized by Forus on safeguarding on February 2019, coordinated by BOND (UK), with speakers from Coordinadora (Spain), InterAction (USA), and Globalt Fokus (Denmark). The work our members are doing around safeguarding is diverse, including adapting the code of conduct of their organization, taking a pledge, establishing whistle-blower channels, creating working groups to collectively think how to approach safeguarding practices, among others.

Considering the diversity of members that national platforms encompass, the need to work on safeguarding practices together and not unilaterally was expressed by all participants in this webinar. This enriching experience of sharing existing practices and of thinking collectively about safeguarding through the webinar was a first step to bring together our collective know-how on this issue and identify how platforms can support their members with implementing good safeguarding policies and practice. In this sense, participants were eager to have a reference platform through which they could easily share resources, tools, guidance, or approaches to working with their members, and in turn, learn from their peers. This pilot online platform will soon be proposed to all Forus members. This will allow for a fruitful exchange across the Forus network in the aim of helping ensure organizations are equipped with guidelines, resources and tools to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment across the international development sector.

Forus and its members are committed to working together to develop this sharing platform and to organize an array of activities, from webinars to working groups, to bring to light this issue and work towards empowering CSOs to implement better practices on safeguarding, since safeguarding is an ongoing issue that demands immediate collective action.