UN report says Syrian women forced to trade sex for aid

Alasdair Clark

A report by the United Nations (UN) said women were sexually exploited in return for aid

WOMEN IN SYRIA were sexually exploited by men distributing aid in the region, with some women feeling forced to decline aid to avoid sexual harassment at distribution centres  – a new report by the UN has claimed. 

The report, entitled “Voices from Syria 2018”, was compiled by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) after research by the group last year on gender-based violence in Syria. 

Introducing the report, the UNFPA Syria regional humanitarian coordinator Daniel Baker, said: “The higher quality data this year reveals worrying extensions of negative coping mechanisms such as movement restrictions, marriage, polygamy, survival sex, as women and girls adapt as best they can to the exhaustion of protracted conflict in a society with ingrained patriarchal attitudes.”

“Mostly they are distributed for money or for sexual services”. Woman quoted in the report

Syria has been in a state of civil war since 2011, causing a widespread humanitarian crisis across the region with the number dead as a result of the war estimated in the high hundreds of thousands and over a million injured. 

The report says a woman in rural Damascus said aid was rarely received for free. The report says: “Mostly they are distributed for money or for sexual services, such as marriage for a short period of time, from the officials to receive a meal.”

It continues: “Examples were given of women or girls marrying officials for a short period of time for ‘sexual services’ in order to receive meals, distributors asking for telephone numbers of women and girls, giving them lifts to their houses ‘to take something in return’ or obtaining distributions ‘in exchange for a visit to her home’ or in exchange for services.” 

Read more: Oxfam deputy chief quits amidst sex scandal

Women and girls without male protectors such as widows, the report says, were seen as particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. 

Earlier in February, it was reported that aid workers at Oxfam had paid for sex in Haiti, and the deputy chief of Oxfam GB resigned after allegations the charity had “covered-up” the incident. 

International aid secretary Penny Mordaunt addressed the revelations of sexual abuse by aid workers in a speech to the sector yesterday, describing aid workers who exploited vulnerable people as “grotesque”. 

Speaking to CommonSpace, the department for international development highlighted its ongoing work on the issue including a safeguarding summit to be held in March where the government will meet with UK international development charities, regulators and experts to confront safeguarding failures and agree on practical measures, such as an aid worker accreditation scheme. 

The government, Mordaunt said yesterday, will also take this work on safeguarding to a global conference to address the protection of vulnerable people across the international aid community. 

“The message from us to all parts of the UN is clear – get your house in order, or prepare to carry out your good work without our money.” International Development secretary Penny Mordaunt

She added: “The UK is not waiting for others to act. We are taking a lead on this.

“I will also be speaking to colleagues across government and beyond about what more we can do to stop exploitation and abuse in the UN and broader multilateral system.

“The message from us to all parts of the UN is clear – you can either get your house in order, or you can prepare to carry out your good work without our money.”

Picture courtesy of Simon Davis/Department for International Development 

Look at how important CommonSpace has become, and how vital it is for the future #SupportAReporter