How could a common approach to preventing sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment support NGOs?

Sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) in humanitarian, development or peacekeeping (HDP) sectors causes significant harm and undermines trust in, and the effectiveness of, our work and organisations.

Reported cases of SEAH are increasing – but most Bond members believe that many cases are going unreported.

Since the Global Summit of October 2018, the international development and humanitarian aid sector has been working towards four shifts to help prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. Survivor support and enhanced accountability, minimum standards, cultural change, and organisational capacity and capability.

Progress has been made by CSOs, donors and the UN, each of which have developed their own policies, commitments and standards. But with so many different standards and mandates, it is a challenge to support such a wide variety of organisations with PSEAH, especially for those organisations new to focusing on safeguarding.

Could the CAPSEAH be the answer?

Until now, there hasn’t been a single, overarching guide that everyone, including CSOs, can develop and align to.

The Common Approach to Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (CAPSEAH) sets out a collective vision for action, common principles and minimum recommended actions to underpin SEAH work. It seeks to:

  • Help keep more people safe from sexual harm and increase accountability and support to survivors.
  • Increase the efficiency and impact of work to prevent and respond to SEAH.
  • Clarify expectations of all HDP workers, partners and all stakeholders.
  • Revitalise global commitment to tackling this issue and provide a long-term anchor for SEAH work.
  • Help non-experts know where to start.

What is CAPSEAH in practice?

The Common Approach is a short document and online tool that brings together actions from existing practice, policies and standards into a simple, accessible guide. Much of it should be familiar to those who already follow existing standards like the IASC Minimum Operating Standards and Core Humanitarian Standard.

It sets out six common SEAH Principles and minimum actions for PSEAH across six themes – standards, leadership, communication, prevention, response, monitoring. These are supported by further guidance and signposting across five levels – individual, international, national, organisation and project/programme.

The CAPSEAH is non-binding, but, ultimately, we want governments and organisations to endorse it and align PSEAH approaches to it. It is not mandated to funding but aligning to will help organisations give assurance to funders that they are managing SEAH risk.

What are the key benefits of CAPSEAH to CSOs?

Endorsement of CAPSEAH by governments, donors, businesses, global civil society networks, local partners and UK charities will promote consistent quality safeguarding practices worldwide. This will help CSOs in their work with diverse local partners (further Bond guidance on working with local partners can be found here), such as supporting local partners with challenges that they may face with their local law enforcement and governments in relation to SEAH.

The CAPSEAH is deliberately designed to help actors, including those working in civil society organisations, to tailor the recommended actions to their own roles, mandates and size. So, if you’re a CSO, it has specific, tailored guidance which sets out clearly the practical actions you need to take forward.

How CSOs and Bond members can get involved

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is providing the secretariat of the CAPSEAH Steering Committee but this is not a UK project. The aim is for CAPSEAH to be a forward looking, collectively owned guide with buy-in from as many stakeholders as possible.

It has been developed this year through an international Steering Committee and wide consultative network, which includes representatives from multilateral institutions, national governments, civil society organisations, private sector organisations researchers and academics.

Now you can have your say.

To ensure that this Common Approach to PSEAH is beneficial for your organisations, you can:

  1. View the CAPSEAH online at or by using the QR code. The draft CAPSEAH, the further guidance and the consultation are available online in Arabic, English, French and Spanish. Chinese and Russian versions of CAPSEAH can also be downloaded.
  2. Take part in the online consultation which will be open until 9 February. The CAPSEAH team are keen to know if the proposed ‘common approach’ is something which will help you. Your feedback will remain completely confidential, but will inform the final version of CAPSEAH ahead of its launch in 2024.
  3. Share the link and use CAPSEAH to engage in dialogue with your partners and stakeholders on how to improve protection from SEAH in your work.
  4. Any questions can be sent to the CAPSEAH secretariat at [email protected].