Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance


Remarks by Angel Gurría 

OECD Secretary-General

26 September 2019 - New York, USA

(As prepared for delivery)




Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies,

It is my honor to welcome you to this important event, and let me start by thanking our co-hosts from the European Union and Sweden.

We are here to address a serious and pressing problem in the aid sector and beyond: Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance.

Development co-operation and humanitarian assistance are in place to bring relief, support, and hope to people in crisis and despair. Taking advantage of this power or context to sexually exploit, abuse, or harass human beings in need distorts much more than the nature and purpose of development aid; it destroys the fundamentals of humanism, the essence of trust, and the possibility to rely on kindness and compassion.

It is therefore imperative that we eliminate this curse, and it is very encouraging to see the OECD development community taking collective action and joining forces to tackle this challenge head on.


Sexual violence and abuse in development co-operation

In recent years, we have seen numerous scandals of sexual exploitation and abuse in many settings, including in the development aid realm.

According to the WHO, 7.2 percent of women globally reported having experienced non-partner sexual violence. And it is estimated that no less than 75 percent of the world’s 2.7 billion women aged 18 years and older -- that is, at least 2 billion women! -- have been sexually harassed.

For far too long, the international community has been underestimating – or ignoring – such abuse.


Taking concrete steps to tackle sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment

Tackling these challenges requires a global and institutional response. Better prevention and response in the realm of development co-operation and humanitarian assistance is essential. I would like to congratulate the 30 Members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee – who between them deliver the majority of the world’s bilateral assistance at about 153 billion US dollars in 2018 – for their efforts in this regard.

On 12 July, the DAC adopted the first international instrument to end sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in development co-operation and humanitarian assistance.

OECD and DAC Recommendations provide standards to drive up the quality of all of our efforts in the public service and beyond with partners and other organisations. With adherence spanning beyond OECD membership, they open space for mutual learning and monitoring, and drive positive change. And, in this case, they represent swift collective action.

This work on SEAH [sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment] began with the humble realisation of how much remains to be done, and how much sharing was sorely lacking among donors. All stakeholders agreed that not one more complaint must go unheard; that not one victim or survivor can go without the proper attention of all actors in the full chain of delivery of aid.

Moreover, this Recommendation affirms the agreement of all major donors to improve prevention and response systems, and put an end to sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in the sector. Concretely, the Recommendation calls on adherents to undertake the following six actions:


  1. Develop policies and professional conduct standards and seek to foster organisational change and leadership;

  2. Develop or support survivor- and victim-centred response and support mechanisms;

  3. Establish organisational reporting and response systems and procedures;

  4. Conduct training, raise awareness, and communicate on prevention;

  5. Ensure international co-ordination for prevention and response;

  6. Develop mechanisms for monitoring, evaluation, and reporting on prevention and response.

Setting our sights forward - Much remains to be done

While we should acknowledge the strong commitment made by DAC governments, going forward, we would welcome the adherence of non-DAC countries, as well as multilateral agencies, to the Recommendation.

Our success in ending sexual violence and abuse will require lasting cultural shifts in organisations to render them more capable of weeding out perpetrators. More needs to be done to address the inherent gender inequalities and unconscious bias present across institutions. Encouragingly, we have seen that organisations have taken their first steps to begin to address some of these issues.

Increasing support for gender equality will be crucial in making concrete progress and is the central linchpin to making organisational cultural change. This requires higher levels of dedicated investments in gender equality and women’s empowerment programmes. Between 2016 and 2017, the 30 DAC members committed 38 percent of bilateral allocable aid – or an average of 44.8 billion US dollars per year – to gender equality and women’s empowerment, according to the DAC Gender Equality Policy Marker. While this is an all-time high, much more must be done.

It also requires political and cultural commitments to lead organisational and cultural change and to address underlying gender inequalities, power imbalances, and gender-based violence.

The OECD will continue to develop guidance on the efforts of governments, organisations, and partners as we implement the new SEAH Recommendation, and we will continue to champion gender equality and women’s empowerment. We will not rest until sexual violence, exploitation, abuse, and harassment are no longer a reality!

Ladies and Gentlemen:

« Au-delà du silence, il y a la solitude, entre l’abandon et la trahison ». These words by Henry de Montherlant bring us closer to the feeling of despair of all victims of sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment. We cannot fail them!

We must all work together to put an end to sexual abuse. While recent high-profile incidents have led donors and partners to reiterate their commitment to zero tolerance, much work remains to be done.

The OECD encourages all UNGA stakeholders, including non-DAC members, civil society organisations, and multilateral organisations to adhere to this Recommendation, to put an end to this scourge and improve the life of every human being and specifically of every woman and every girl. Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Social and Welfare Issues


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