Oxfam “empowers women” – oh, the irony…

The Oxfam shop in St Peter's Street

It’s not been a good week for Oxfam, one of the most famous charities in the world.

The organisation is mired in a scandal over the behaviour of its staff in disaster-torn Haiti, who are said to have cavorted with prostitutes at “Caligua-like” orgies. Worse still, some of the women are believed to be under the age of 16.

What is now being referred to as the “Oxfam sex abuse scandal” has cost the organisatioj its deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, who voluntarily walked the plank yesterday.

It looks so bad – especially as the charity boasts at Canterbury bookstore in St Peter’s Street that it “empowers women”.

Perhaps those working in the earthquake-hit Caribbean island from 2009 thought they were “empowering women” when they hired their sexual services.

Or perhaps they were hungrily exploiting women – just like colonials who arrived in the New World in the era of conquest.

Here are the words of Dutch journalist Linda Polman who has worked tirelessly to expose the appalling behaviour of some working in the aid industry: “Wherever aid workers go, prostitution instantly soars.

“I’ve often seen bar stools occupied by white agronomists, millennium-objective experts or gender-studies consultants with local teenage girls in their laps.

“I’ve known aid workers who cared for child soldiers and war orphans by day and relaxed by night in the arms of child prostitutes.”

Moreover, not only do Oxfam’s representatives stand accused of sexual exploitation, it has emerged that the charity made strenuous efforts to prevent the allegations becoming known.

Thus, those at the top who want to protect their reputations – and salaries – have contrived to turn themselves from saints into villains. In doing so they have exacerbated the damage to the organisation.

And that is the real shame for those who support Oxfam through donations or volunteer time, including those who work at its bookstore in St Peter’s or the general charity shop in Best Lane.

There is the very real prospect that they may suffer. The charity shop is much like any other, but the bookstore is more like a decent second hand bookshop – that is, full of books on a wide array of subjects that people actually want to read rather than throwaways.

This week, for example, you could find yourself picking up Orwell’s Animal Farm, biographies of Henry V or Haydn and even a book entitled Under the Influence, a History of Nitrous Oxide.

Whatever we may think of the way aid workers or the charity’s management have behaved is absolutely no reflection on the men and women who work in its network of shops.

Unlike those currently mired in controversy, the foot soldiers deserve our thanks and appreciation.


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