Caroline Kibos is the National Associate for the South Sudan Hub. She is a lawyer with a passion for human rights, peacebuilding, governance, transitional justice and security sector reforms. Caroline has worked in the civil society sector for years. Her interest in safeguarding is to help build a safe work environment where everyone feels comfortable and equal despite holding different positions.
Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH) is a relatively new concept in the civil society organisation communities in South Sudan today, but what exactly is SEAH?
Sexual exploitation is the actual or attempted abuse of someone's position of vulnerability to obtain sexual favour.
Having sexual affairs with people depending on you for their daily needs, such as food, is considered one of the severe cases of sexual exploitation. It also refers to the abuse of differential power or trust to obtain sex from subordinates, including offering jobs or money in exchange for sex.
Sexual abuse is the physical coercion of others into sexual activity, including rape, sexual slavery, child abuse, and sexual assault.
While sexual harassment is any unwelcome looks, words, advances, and acts of sexual nature that offend and humiliates another. It includes cat calling, groping and threats of sexual violence, and rape. Where SEAH thrive in the workplace, it creates a hostile, intimidating and offensive work environment.
Considering the damage it can cause, we can see that SEAH encompasses all forms of sexual violence that can have lasting, harmful effects on victims and their families, friends, and communities. It is therefore essential to stop it from happening at all levels.
Patriarchal norms that rate women lower than men and where men oppress women is the most significant factor contributing to the prevalence of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in South Sudan. The harmful practice is widespread among humanitarian and development organisations and UN agencies. Weak legal systems to deal with sexual violence as a crime and workplace cultures that expose women to abuse and make reporting them very difficult to victims have entrenched the practice within organisations. For instance, the UN's whistle-blower system for reporting abuse is bureaucratic and has frustrated victims. There is also a lack of protection for victims if they come forward, exposing them to retribution from their perpetrators. This is common for temporary and casual staff who end up choosing to keep silent to protect their jobs due to poverty and widespread unemployment in the country.
SEAH is strongly related to other forms of sexual violence, such as rape rampant in South Sudanese communities. Over 50% of women aged 15-64 in South Sudan have experienced one form of sexual violence or another in their lifetime. Breakdown in the productive family structures caused by years of wars and conflicts have contributed to sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in South Sudan. Young women engage in practices such as prostitution due to unemployment and lack of opportunities. Conflicts have also exposed migrant populations like IDPs to too many forms of sexual violence. Sexual harassment also happens when women travel miles searching for water and other services.
At the organisational level, SEAH is predominantly down to corporate cultures that don't provide a safe space for victims to report abuse. Toxic workplace cultures create hostile environments that breed sexual violence fatigue, the state of feeling of helplessness and frustration by victims. This results in a lack of upward mobility where victims don't report abuses.
"Addressing SEAH related issues requires strengthening organisational leadership that creates and sustains a protective environment where everyone can feel safe. Organisations should also provide more opportunities for younger women by addressing the factors that make them vulnerable to harassment. Providing better job security for temporary or casual staff reduces their vulnerability to sexual abuse. Organisations should also cultivate a healthy practice of achieving workplace diversity in terms of gender, age and ethnicity. Aid agencies must put checks and balances in place to ensure they do not harm all levels of their service delivery."