Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland, says the charity’s work in Yemen proves its worth amid recent media attention.
This week marks three years since a Saudi-led coalition carried out its first airstrike in Yemen in its war with the Houthis. The conflict has left the people of Yemen on the brink of famine; surviving on dirty water and meagre portions of bread.
Since 2015, Oxfam has helped over 2.8 million people in Yemen. Right now, we are trucking water and providing cash for people to buy food in Amran and eight other governorates.
This life-saving humanitarian work is at the core of Oxfam’s DNA and it has been for 75 years.
As Head of Oxfam Scotland, I am hugely proud of my colleagues around the world who are risking their lives to help people in desperate need. The three-year anniversary of the Yemen conflict reinforces to me how critical their contribution is, and how it must be protected.
It is therefore extremely painful to know that in the past Oxfam failed to do enough to protect women from sexual exploitation. The abuses in Haiti in 2011 were unacceptable. They were an unconscionable betrayal of the women involved and do not reflect Oxfam’s values as an organisation that fights for women’s rights.
In recent weeks, both the scale of this issue across the humanitarian sector and the urgent need to strengthen measures to prevent and tackle abuse has become clear. All of us who champion international aid will feel the aftershocks for some time to come.
Public trust has, understandably, been undermined. For Oxfam’s part, we have let people down. We are deeply sorry.
I feel particular remorse for the thousands of volunteers and supporters across Scotland who continue to put their faith in us and for any knock-on loss of confidence in the vital work of charities rights across the country.
If I can offer one assurance, to them and to you, it is this: we have changed since 2011 and we are committed to improving further. Oxfam has recognised that it must do more to prevent and tackle such abuse, wherever we find it – and that includes within our own organisation.
Since the shocking events in Haiti in 2011, we’ve put in place a dedicated safeguarding team, a confidential whistle-blower mechanism and tightened our policies. But we’ve still got work to do. That’s why we are implementing a 10-point action plan to strengthen safeguarding systems across the organisation and stamping out abuse, including asking leading women’s rights experts to lead an urgent independent review of our culture and practices.
We’ve recommitted ourselves to supporting women’s rights, an issue we have worked on for decades. Violence against women and girls is not just a matter of a few isolated incidents but a human rights violation and a systemic acting out of unequal power relations. Oxfam must challenge these dynamics, while recognising we are not immune to them either.
We have also committed to working with other organisations across the sector, and with the UK and Scottish governments, recognising some improvements can only be delivered together.
But, while this scandal must and will change us; we can’t let it stop us.
Having worked for Oxfam for six years, I truly believe the organisation is full of brave and truly dedicated people who are making life-saving work happen under some of the most challenging conditions imaginable whilst confronting the root causes which place people in poverty and in danger, and the barriers that keep them there.
Take Yemen. While millions of families teeter on the brink of famine, we are also battling the largest ever outbreak of cholera since records began. Through airstrikes, shelling and fighting, our staff continue to deliver life-saving food and clean water. People are starving and extremely vulnerable – and we will not turn our backs on them.