Women Say Sex Was ‘Passport to Employment’ in the WHO’s Ebola Response Team, Investigation Finds

By Mary Margaret Olohan Published on September 30, 2020

Numerous women have alleged that World Health Organization employees used sex as a “passport to employment” in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an investigation found.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation and the nonprofit Geneva-based New Humanitarian conducted a yearlong investigation published Tuesday in which the news organizations interviewed 51 women. Thirty of these women said that they were exploited by men who worked on the Ebola outbreak for the WHO beginning in 2018, the investigation found.

All 51 women said that when they applied for jobs, they were pressured to have sex with WHO employees, employees of other international aid organizations, and employees of the Congo’s Health Ministry, the investigation found. Some of the women said that when they refused to provide sex, their contracts were terminated.

One woman told investigators that sex with aid workers was a “passport to employment.”

Eight women accused employees of Congo’s Health Ministry of exploiting them, according to the investigation, while other women accused men from World Vision, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA).

Women told investigators that men locked them in rooms and ambushed them in hospitals and offices where they promised to hire or fire the women depending on whether the women complied.

“So many women were affected by this,” one 44-year-old woman told investigators. The woman said she had to have sex with a man who said he worked for WHO in order to get a job. “I can’t think of someone who worked in the response who didn’t have to offer something.”

A woman who told investigators that two men offered her money for sex said: “Why would you even ask if I reported it?”

One of the men reportedly said he worked for WHO, and the other said he worked for UNICEF, the woman told investigators. “I was terrified,” she said. “I felt disgusting. I haven’t even told my mother about this.”

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This practice of peddling jobs for sex was widespread, the investigation found, though Congo’s health minister Eteni Longondo told the investigation that no one had reported exploitation by any aid workers to him.

A 25-year-old woman told investigators that she was working for the WHO as a cleaner in 2018. A doctor allegedly invited her to discuss a promotion at his house, but took her into the bedroom and told her: ‘There’s a condition. We need to have sex right now.’”

“He started to take my clothes off me,” she told investigators. “I stepped back, but he forced himself against me and kept pulling off my clothes. I started crying and told him to stop… he didn’t stop so I opened the door and ran outside.”

The woman told reporters that her contract was not renewed at the end of the month.

WHO called these findings “reprehensible.”

“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible,” WHO said in a Tuesday statement, according to the New York Times. “We do not tolerate such behavior in any of our staff, contractors or partners. Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal.”

ALIMA has said that the organization will investigate these allegations, the Times reported, and World Vision has reportedly opened an internal investigation. Neither ALIMA nor UNICEF immediately responded to requests for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

A spokeswoman for World Vision directed the DCNF to a statement saying that World Vision “immediately launched a globally led investigation which is still ongoing.”

“We are shocked by the Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation into sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” World Vision said in a statement. “World Vision has worked tirelessly to address Ebola and the wider humanitarian crisis in the region for several years and any misuse of power is reprehensible and against our mission and core values.”

 

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