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PWRDF stands with survivors of sexual abuse

March 26, 2022

By Will Postma

I and the staff of PWRDF are grieved by the conversations around sexual misconduct and breach of survivor confidentiality described on the website for #ACCtoo involving the Anglican Church of Canada. As an organization that strives to prevent gender-based violence and empower women and girls, PWRDF stands with the survivors and prays for their healing. 

PWRDF affirms that survivors of sexual abuse should be believed and that cases of sexual abuse should be investigated and handled in a respectful, confidential and fair manner that does not cause further harm or trauma. When this does not happen, appropriate action must be taken, and a prompt and sincere apology for the harm caused must be made.

PWRDF’s Board of Directors met March 24 and will issue a statement about #ACCtoo in the coming days. Many PWRDF staff and board members have signed the letter (on the website) and all are free to do so.

PWRDF recognizes the egregiousness of sexual misconduct, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, and over the past several years has made efforts to ensure the projects we support have strategies in place to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse and support victims. In recent years, the international development and humanitarian sector has been shocked by incidents of abuses of power in countries where there is so much vulnerability. As opposed to a duty of care that underlies the very reason why humanitarian support is offered, there have been too many reports of power being used, food and provisions given, for purposes of sexual exploitation. And so many other painful incidents of abuse that we don’t hear about.

Several PWRDF partners work directly in programs where women have experienced gender-based and sexual violence. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Panzi Foundation supports survivors of sexual assault with livelihood training, trauma counseling and start-up capital, restoring dignity to women and supporting them to reintegrate into their communities. In Uganda, Rape Hurts Foundation (RHF) operates 3 shelters specifically for women and children who are survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, Sex Slavery and Human Trafficking. Hellen Tanyinga, the Director of RHF and who recently shared at a Praying with PWRDF time together, noted that “we train the men from the community (different villages) on how they can work with their wives or the girl child, to stop domestic gender-based violence… At the same time, we train the local leaders on how to handle cases of gender-based violence. We work with the police, by giving them training on how to handle cases of GBV, to ensure that the victims get justice, while for the courts or those in the court system, specific and tailored training programs are designed to fix the gaps, anti-corruption and bribery within the courts, in so doing the victims of gender-based violence are assured of justice.” 

With our partners, we have learned how important it is to stand and be in solidarity with victims of assault and support programs that affirm their stories and hopes for healing. We are learning. I recognize too the opportunity to reflect further on our own ways of working, our policies and guidelines, what more can be done to support survivors and ensure processes of affirmation and healing. PWRDF has had a Sexual Misconduct Policy and a Code of Ethics for many years. However, in 2018 we sought to build on these existing policies. We developed Procedures and Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) to strengthen our commitment against sexual misconduct. Again, we learned from many others, including from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and Cooperation Canada, about safe reporting of incidents and the priority on upholding the dignity of survivors. 

All of our PWRDF partners include activities to support gender equality. A growing number of our partners have signed Memorandums of Understanding, committing themselves to develop a set of guidelines on PSEA and committing PWRDF to provide training and guidance. 

Our PSEA Procedures and Guidelines were designed to promote greater accountability and outline the key responsibilities of PWRDF staff, and partners/agents’ staff. A main purpose is noted as follows:

  • to promote mechanisms to protect all staff as well as every community member whom PWRDF seeks to assist. All staff must be mindful that each action in the respective context can have repercussions for the fate of many.

PWRDF’s PSEA guidelines draw inspiration from our values and mandate and underpin partnership best practices of respect, dignity and hope for a fullness of life for each and all. 

In 2018, I signed a Leaders Pledge to commit myself and PWRDF to improve our collective ability to recognize and tackle power imbalances and gender inequalities that can enable sexual misconduct, including intersecting forms of discrimination. 

As PWRDF also seeks to do better and do further work on PSEA, we acknowledge the importance of and increased attention to Safe Church policies and practices within the Anglican Church of Canada and the incorporation by the Strategic Plan Working Group of the handling of complaints and accusations of sexual misconduct within the church, as a matter of high priority. 

At PWRDF, we know we can do more regarding our accountabilities. In 2022, PWRDF carried out a PSEA Organizational Self-Assessment. The assessment showed that we need to do more to strengthen our communications on PSEA and streamline our PSEA procedures and guidelines more effectively into our overall organizational procedures and policies. We will do more training on PSEA, internally, with staff and volunteers and with partners who work with communities. We will review our procedures and guidelines on PSEA to ensure these demonstrate solidarity with survivors.

Affirmation and dignity are foundational to our vision of a world that is truly just, healthy and peaceful. This is a vast vision but one that is important to each of us, as image bearers of God. This is particularly true for survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse. 

Will Postma is the Executive Director of PWRDF.

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