Safeguarding isn’t just about the staff or volunteers who directly work with women, girls or other vulnerable people. Safeguarding is a responsibility for all staff and volunteers in an organisation, and all need to be vetted. For example, we had conversations with women-led organisations, who would tell us that ‘all their staff were women’. Whilst this was true in one sense – all the staff and volunteers working directly with women and girls were women – this wasn’t true of all staff.
In our organisations (or the locations where activities are delivered) we often have watchmen, grounds staff, or drivers who are men. It could be possible to hire women in some of the roles, reducing the risk of them harming the women and girls in our care (it might not). But we must ensure that these workers – essential to the good functioning of our organisations – are also aware of safeguarding and that we safeguard them from unfair accusations as we would any other staff member.
Including both Staff and Volunteers
We know that many youth organisations in Africa are led entirely by volunteers. For this reason, we are including both here. What you can demand of staff may be more, but the responsibility you have to young people and vulnerable adults is the same: we must always prioritise the prevention of harm.
One of the challenges that we faced in developing our own safeguarding policies was understanding that volunteers can also be dangerous. Often, in our organisations, we are excited to have people eager to help us. We may assume that all people who tell us that they want to help women and girls are well-intentioned. We may be swayed into thinking that people from certain neighbourhoods, social backgrounds, and educational or professional profiles, must be trustworthy.
However, we also know of many people in roles that should serve wider society, and by default protect the most vulnerable – church leaders, NGO workers, educators and doctors, for example – who have used their positions specifically to take advantage of vulnerable women and children. We cannot be naive to this. There is a risk in engaging volunteers.
- Do you have a clear register of all the staff and volunteers in your organisation?
- Do you know a current volunteer who is no longer involved?
- How many staff/ volunteers or others would be in your space during an activity? How many of these are delivering activities and how many are others?
- How safe is the space you have your activities in? Who is able to come into the building or space who is not a staff member or volunteer?
- How do you ensure that the children or women are protected from strangers during the activity?