ethiopians in local dress

The RSH Ethiopia Hub: starting our journey

Before drawing up a workplan for the RSH Ethiopia Hub, the team embarked on an exercise to gather materials and information about the existing safeguarding context that would directly inform the design of the Hub. Information about Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH) in the aid sector in Ethiopia would allow us to better target our resources and activities, complement existing initiatives, and find the right partners with whom to collaborate in this endeavour.

The assessment set out to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the national context – legal, policy, practice and culture – within which the Ethiopia Hub will be operating?
  2. What SEAH/ safeguarding resources exist in Ethiopia that can be more widely shared – support services, tools and guidance, evidence, expertise and capacity development opportunities?
  3. What SEAH/ safeguarding related activities, actors and networks or opportunities are there in Ethiopia on which the Hub should build?
  4. What are the priority gaps and needs with regards to SEAH and safeguarding in Ethiopia, in particular amongst CSOs?
  5. How do people/ organisations in the aid sector access information, and what does the digital landscape look like? What are the opportunities and constraints in Ethiopia that need to be factored into the design of the national Hub?

Different methods were used to gather this information, primarily a desk review supplemented with a small number of Key Informant Interviews. COVID-19 disrupted our efforts to gather primary user engagement data through focus group discussions around the country, and had to be replaced by secondary data from existing civil society programming. This means we have limited knowledge concerning the priority safeguarding gaps and needs of CSOs. We intend to supplement this with further data collection and continuing user engagement and feedback.

Our efforts to identify publicly accessible tools, resources, research and materials focused on safeguarding in Ethiopia were largely unsuccessful. There is very little in the public domain, and very little data (e.g. about prevalence, responses, etc) on which to build. As such, we recognise that the summary of our findings presented here paints a very incomplete picture.

The national safeguarding / SEAH context

Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH) is a form of gender-based violence.  Although Ethiopia has ratified and domesticated many of the international and regional conventions on child rights and protection of adults, there is no single consolidated law on gender based violence or violence against women and girls. The various institutions established by the Ethiopian government to protect children and women are often under-funded, partially implemented and not yet widely effective. Despite provisions within the criminal law, early marriage and other harmful traditional practices such as FGM are widespread. The criminalisation of adultery and homosexuality creates significant risk on organisations’ ability to safeguard staff. 

With regards to labour law, until recently sexual harassment was not recognised in local legal instruments, and there remain a number of significant loopholes to date. The CEDAW committee has drawn attention to pervasive prejudice, discrimination and sexual harassment against women in the workforce. There is no requirement in Ethiopia for any employer or institution to report on sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace, making it extremely difficult to assess the extent of such misconduct or indeed the current state of response. Given the lack of information more widely, it is impossible to find any evidence on SEAH against particular at risk groups, such as people with disabilities.

In addition to inadequacies in the legal framework, social norms and attitudes are also critical drivers of violence, including SEAH. Patriarchal norms, gender inequality and discrimination against certain groups underpin sexual violence, corporal punishment and the trivialisation or normalisation of such practices. This creates an environment where SEAH is widely tolerated at a societal level, amongst community members and even within aid organisations.

SEAH resources

There are no multi-agency national reporting, referral systems or support on GBV, including SEAH. During the scoping exercise, we were unable to identify any published information about referral pathways such as sometimes exist in other country contexts. The availability and quality of medical, psychosocial and legal services for survivors of violence varies across the country. Legal aid services are fragmented, mental health and psychosocial support are rarely available from specialist providers, and shelters are extremely limited.

This lack of resources is compounded by a lack of research or documentation concerning the availability, capacity and the different types of safeguarding initiatives in different organizations. For example, there is no evidence concerning the effectiveness of the various hotline initiatives established by organisations that exist, and other community complaints mechanisms. Nor are there documented studies on the scale of SEAH, who the perpetrators are, who the victims are, and the factors that mitigate or facilitate SEAH in the aid sector in Ethiopia.

The weakening and fragmentation of the civil society sector as a result of the restrictive legislation (recently repealed) has affected the way in which the aid sector engages with such issues. Most organisations have their own separate policies, guidelines and reporting/referral procedures. These are rarely available to use outside of the organization. The government agency responsible for overseeing civil society organizations does not appear to have a specific mandate with regards to monitoring SEAH. However, there is significant interest across the civil society sector in the development of a broad code of conduct, a possible entry-point for integrating SEAH standards.

In terms of tools and resources available to national and local users, these are extremely limited. UN agencies and International NGOs may share templates and approaches with partners, but these are rarely in local languages. There do not appear to be any tailored and readily available resources and tools for national users in local languages; similarly, it is extremely difficult to get hold of publicly-accessible research and evidence that can be of value to CSOs looking to improve their policies and approaches.

SEAH stakeholders, initiatives, networks and service providers

The SEAH/ safeguarding discussion is led by a relatively small number of key stakeholders in Ethiopia. Within the international community, the Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) network is leading the way on joined up approaches to combating SEA, and is actively pursuing a range of projects and initiatives. This network has a humanitarian emphasis. Various government agencies have a role to play but are less visible at civil society level. Amongst civil society, it is perhaps the Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP2) that has done most in this regard, training over 120 CSOS in basic safeguarding approaches over the last two years. Nevertheless, data suggests that even amongst these organisations, monitoring and learning around safeguarding remains low.

Previous examples of training initiatives appear to have left little trace and certainly no national cohort of established SEA investigators or trainers. One or two individual CSO’s are playing a key role in providing training to others on a call-down basis, but such initiatives are relatively rare. Most interventions appear to be donor driven and are organization specific, although there is some collaboration between donors/ lead NGOs and grantees. However, overall our scoping noted a lack of institutional memory and a tendency towards non-transparency.

Efforts to identify safeguarding service providers offering expert advice to aid organisations in Ethiopia found only a small number of individuals and organizations who are able to offer such a service. These are currently undergoing assessment and will be signposted on the Hub in due course. The lack of a major cohort of individuals or organizations clearly illustrates a significant gap in the safeguarding architecture within Ethiopia. It is a legacy of the fragmented approach to capacity development in this area for the last 10 years.

CSO capacity gaps and needs

Although we were unable to collect primary data concerning CSO safeguarding capacity levels, CSO self-assessment data from one grants programme gave us a snapshot of potential priorities (albeit not necessarily representative of Ethiopian CSOs in general). Amongst this cohort, just over half have basic safeguarding policies in place. When it comes to awareness and knowledge on safeguarding, 41% of the CSOs reported having a training/induction process in place. The biggest gap is in terms of monitoring and learning on safeguarding: the vast majority of these CSOs rated their capacity in this regards as low or basic. None of the CSOs felt that they had a high level of capacity on monitoring.

This fairly mixed set of profiles suggests there is an opportunity for RSH to develop and share materials from the basic level up to more comprehensive level, in an attempt to ensure those who are very low capacity are not left behind. We will continue to seek more evidence to help inform our development of the Ethiopian Hub.

Digital landscape

A scan of the digital and technology landscape in Ethiopia was also included in order to inform our hub profile. The challenge of accessing internet in many parts of Ethiopia, the low bandwidth and widespread use of phones to access information all point to a need for a mixed approach to capacity building in Ethiopia in order to expand reach and ensure as wide a user group as possible with reasonable access. The existing data underlines the importance of simplicity and accessibility. Social networking sites such as Facebook or Telegram are evidently also an important channel for enabling discussion groups.

Next steps

Analysing the findings and drawing out recommendations from the country assessment is the next step for the Ethiopian Hub. In the interests of transparency, we will publish the core recommendations on the platform in due course, as these will inform our workplan – our capacity development activities, research efforts and the development of a community of practice.

Your feedback will be welcome!