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Engaging with refugees and partners

Image above: Childline Zimbabwe organized awareness-raising campaigns for 600 children and 1,000 adults in the Tongogara refugee camp. The campaigns focused on clarifying different types of sexual exploitation and abuse and available reporting channels. Zimbabwe. © UNHCR/Andreea Campeanu

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UNHCR has a network of 400 Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) focal points with specific responsibilities related to the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, including helping refugee-victims access support resources as well as through carrying out training and awareness raising activities. Their presence across 132 countries is a key factor in helping identify and support victims.

In various operations, innovative initiatives have been established to increase awareness about SEA and to engage displaced communities on the prevention of and response to SEA. This includes initiatives to ensure people are made aware of where they can access information and disclose sensitive issues and to address key challenges, which often result in under-reporting of SEA incidents, such as shame and stigma, and social and cultural barriers. One UNHCR PSEA focal point underscores the importance of community engagement and outreach in prevention efforts:


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When our communication is tailored and targeted, such as through shows in rural radios, podcasts and videos, it boosts our capacity to convince and mobilize colleagues and, possibly, victims of SEA to take action and report.

He highlights how community leadership is key. Raising awareness is a vital first step, but so is creating a way for people to provide feedback, report SEA and register complaints. “Relying on community-based networks and key local influencers is essential to establish the trust required for complaints mechanisms on SEA. Community leaders and mobilizers should be included in the design of the systems and be made aware of their right to raise issues because, he says, sexual abuse disrupts profoundly the whole community and therefore needs complaints mechanisms made with, by and for the communities.”


Partnering with refugees

Partnering with refugees

The PSEA Community Outreach and Communication Fund was launched in 2020 in partnership with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) as an initiative of the IASC High Commissioner’s Championship on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment. The fund provides support to small nongovernmental organizations aiming at raising community awareness and ensuring that victims know where and how to safely report incidents.

In 2021, the Fund made grants to 15 NGOs and received the generous support of the German Federal Foreign Office. The NGO projects supported through this initiative have developed community engagement materials in approximately 30 languages, tailored to reach over 20 different Age, Gender, Diversity (AGD) profiles through 40 types of materials, including print, video, audio, and community discussion guides, amongst others.

Learn more about the PSEA Fund.


Our engagement with the Interagency Standing Committee 

UNHCR continues to actively support interagency efforts to better tackle sexual misconduct. This collaboration ensures that field perspectives and realities are adequately represented in interagency fora. This also allows for the collective development of interagency tools, sharing of good practices, and overall strengthening of the prevention of and response to sexual misconduct.

Together with UNICEF, UNHCR co-chairs the IASC Results Group on Accountability and Inclusion, which draws on the expertise of a broad range of partners to  coordinate action to address sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.

In addition, UNHCR is a member of the IASC PSEA Technical Expert Group, which promotes best practices to address sexual misconduct, as well as the IASC Field Support Team, which offers technical support to Humanitarian Coordinators, PSEA Coordinators and PSEA Networks.

This collaboration with IASC has facilitated the development of joined tools and the sharing of good practices. This includes:

The High Commissioner for Refugees' IASC Championship

Critical to UNHCR’s vision of a trusted, respectful and inclusive environment where the people it serves and those who support them feel safe, heard, equipped and empowered is tackling sexual misconduct, not only within the organization but in the wider humanitarian sector. 

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Recognizing the underlying issues that give rise to both SEA and SH the High Commissioner undertook a number of initiatives in relation to leadership and organizational culture as part of his IASC Championship on PSEA/SH. Some of these products include:

  • A communications package on addressing sexual misconduct for senior leaders was developed as a support to guide meaningful discussions on sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment. The aim is to tackle this difficult issue by reinforcing the message that there is no place for such behaviour in our organizations and encouraging honest reflection on personal perceptions, unconscious biases, and behaviours.
  • Sessions on values, attitudes, and culture were held with IASC Principals, the CEB Task Force on addressing sexual harassment in the organizations of the UN system, and Humanitarian Coordinators across the world. A facilitator's guide (PDF) was developed to support organizations to hold similar sessions on values, attitudes and organizational culture in relation to prevention of sexual misconduct.
  • collection of promising practices on organizational culture change (PDF) was published to provide examples of the innovative work done by humanitarian and development organizations on a range of themes to curb power imbalances in the workplace that give rise to sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse.
  • An eLearning course for partners on Investigating Allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse was developed to better respond to all incidents of SEA and boost partner investigative capacity. This online tool, created by investigators for investigators, places emphasis on the rights and protection of victims/survivors and provides clear guidance on key investigation principles and methods.

To learn more about progress made under the High Commissioner for Refugees’ IASC Championship, please see the Championship in Review (PDF) document and the useful links section on this page.  


Our role in the CEB task force on addressing sexual harassment

In November 2017, the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) established a Task Force on Addressing Sexual Harassment within the Organizations of the UN System. UNHCR is an active member of the Task Force participating in three of the five workstreams and chairing the workstream on Organizational Culture. Since September 2019, UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Kelly T. Clements, is its Chair. 

The Task Force is a UN system collective effort to develop comprehensive policy and accountability tools for addressing sexual harassment to be implemented by individual UN system entities.  

The Task Force has also co-created the ClearCheck Database to avoid the hiring and re-hiring of individuals who were found to have engaged in sexual misconduct (sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse).  

For further information regarding the work of the Task Force, please visit the website of the CEB.   

Engagement with the UN Secretariat 

UNHCR liaises with the UN Special Coordinator as well as the UN Victim Rights Advocate on emerging priorities and initiatives. At the technical level, UNHCR actively participates in the SEA Working Group chaired on a bimonthly basis by the Special Coordinator. 

OECD, MOPAN, the UK Parliament International Development Committee

UNHCR engages in a regular and transparent dialogue with donors, Member States and relevant external groups on sexual misconduct issues. This includes the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN).  

UNHCR is an adherent to the OECD DAC Recommendation on Ending SEAH in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance, which sets out a standard for institutional arrangements, policies, and practices to address SEA/SH and supports governments and relevant actors in development programming and humanitarian assistance.  

The MOPAN was launched in 2002 as a network of like-minded donor countries for monitoring the performance of multilateral development organizations (MOs) at the country level. Since 2019, PSEA and SH have become an integral part of MOPAN’s performance assessments of MOs. 

MOPAN’s Guidance Note for Practioners is a starting point for measuring progress and embody standards which organizations are expected to strive towards and ultimately fulfil and are aligned with the MOS-PSEA (IASC) and the DAC Recommendation on PSEA/SH. In this note, MOPAN presents the 16 indicators related to SEA and SH (PDF) that we currently use to measure multilateral performance and results. UNHCR engaged closely with MOPAN in the development of its Note for Practitioners which has adopted a victim-centred approach to SEA: Measuring Multilateral Performance on Preventing and Responding to SEA and SH.   

In 2020, UNHCR also took part in past sessions organized by the International Development Committee (IDC) is to examine the progress taken to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector. See the Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector: next steps, including the written evidence submitted by UNHCR to the IDC’s Inquiry on Sexual Exploitation in the Aid Sector. 

Strengthening the capacity of UNHCR’S partners

UNHCR, in cooperation with other UN agencies, has developed a number of tools to help ensure partners’ capacity and accountability in preventing, mitigating the risk of and responding to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). 

The assessment tools and methodology, which are used to screen partners before entering into co-operative arrangements, are based on the ones adopted under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). UNHCR is working with other UN agencies to facilitate coordination of the assessments at the country level.  

These resources can be found on the UN Partner Portal and include key forms for capacity assessments (in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese) and a factsheet on the assessment process   

UNHCR’s country offices have also dedicated focal points who will guide partners through the process, provide resources and advice. Partners can also submit questions to the Implementation Management and Assurance Service of UNHCR’s Division of Strategic Planning and Results at [email protected].