Training an international workforce to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct

Capacity building work to address sexual misconduct has accelerated since September, bringing together WHO PRS Country focal points, experts, staff and UN and civil society partners to participate in a series of workshops and trainings across WHO offices in three regions: the Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific.

These sessions were organized and led by the respective Regional Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct (PRS) Coordinators in the regional offices and were delivered with the global PRS Team. The sessions aimed to increase coherence on the implementation of WHO’s Three-year strategy to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct (2023-2025) in countries and in close collaboration with partners on the ground. The series of capacity building workshops also focused on clarifying WHO’s new PRS Accountability Framework and on transferring skills needed for PRS work at the country level.

WHO Regional Office for Eastern Mediterranean – Cairo, Egypt: 17–21 September

In Cairo, Egypt, Dr Gaya Gamhewage, Director of the Department for the Prevention and Response to Sexual Misconduct, and her team facilitated training sessions led by Victoria McDonough, Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean’s PRS Regional Coordinator.

Hosting the sessions face-to-face has greater impact, as it gives room for WHO staff to engage with one another and allows for greater dynamism. During this time, the regional office saw the launch of a two-day training of trainers (ToT), a pilot project that Dr Gamhewage led to strengthen the capacity of 44 focal points as well as the regional and country coordinators on how to better train and teach others. To ensure cross collaboration and learning between Eastern Mediterranean and European Regions, the PRS Technical Officer from Gazientep was also present.

“There was so much energy in the room,” said Ms McDonough. “The ToT was instrumental in equipping participants with the skills to effectively train others back in their own countries of assignment. At the end of the training, PRS focal points were able to ensure participant engagement and active learning during training sessions using adult learning techniques. They could also assess and evaluate the learning outcomes during PRS capacity building events.”

Being able to assess and evaluate outcomes is an integral part of the training feedback loop. The goal is not just to build capacity; trainers must continually integrate new information and processes into their training sessions, while also ensuring that their audience is equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills that are essential to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.

WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia – New Delhi, India: 26–29 September

“Trainings are critical because they bring together a very diverse workforce to understand both individual and institutional accountability,” explained the Regional Office for South-East Asia’s PRS Regional Coordinator, Anju Pandey. “Building a critical mass of personnel who are sensitized and aware about PRS will ease mainstreaming across operational and programmatic actions in the region.” In October alone, the Regional Office for South-East Asia organized a series of 11 PRS training sessions, reaching 317 staff members.

Dr Gamhewage, along with PRS team members from Geneva, Switzerland, travelled to New Delhi, India, where they, along with Ms Pandey, facilitated multiple sessions for 65 WHO and UN Partner agencies from 10 countries in the South-East Asia Region. Dr Christos Mylonas from the global PRS team delivered, with UN colleagues, a training for the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in India, and a second training for civil society partners based in New Delhi on managing sexual misconduct risks posed by implementing partners.

“Addressing sexual misconduct is really hard because it requires us to understand and challenge power structures,” said Dr Gamhewage during a session in New Delhi. “I am delighted to interact with regional and country colleagues and partners because this allows us to learn from each other. We need everybody on board 100 per cent!”

WHO Regional Office for Western Pacific – Hanoi, Viet Nam: 30 October – 3 November

Dr Dakshinie Gunaratne, the PRS Regional Coordinator for the Regional Office for the Western Pacific, joined Dr Gahmewage and others from WHO headquarters to train PRS focal points and the Viet Nam UN country team, as well as learn from colleagues from other UN agencies on multiple system-wide aspects of preventing and responding to sexual misconduct.

For Dr Gunaratne, the training sessions provide “an opportunity for us to brief each other, learn from each other and feel a sense of community and value in what we do.”

To build a community focused on tackling sexual misconduct requires system-wide solidarity on the issue. In Hanoi, Dr Gamhewage discussed with the UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, Pauline Tamesis, on collaborative efforts to advance PRS work across the two agencies. Additionally, Dr Gamhewage trained nearly 200 UN Viet Nam staff on WHO’s approach to safeguarding against sexual misconduct in all its forms as part of a larger session, which included colleagues from across the sector, including Ms Tamesis; the Interagency Advisor on Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse for Asia and the Pacific, Lian Yi; and the Associate Director for UNICEF’s Gender Equality Programme Group, Lauren Rumble.

These and other sessions not only raised awareness among WHO and UN staff, but provided a valuable context where staff from across multiple agencies could convene and learn, discuss challenges, raise questions and find solutions, together. As Dr Gunaratne said, “It’s about understanding that together, we can work against all odds. For us, PRS is more than a programme; it’s a value shift as we are working towards safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces.”

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