Daily Misogyny – “Colonial Behaviour” in International Development Organizations

Today for our ‘Monthly Media Spotlight’ we review the misogyny women in development face in the workplace daily. Our team thought we would discuss this uncharacteristically revealing headline about a prominent organization in the development space:

Racism, sexism and bullying reported at Oxfam.” – BBC.com

The article opens with this heart-wrenching sentence summarizing the reports from staff... “The work environment at Oxfam is marked by “racism, colonial behaviour and bullying

We’ll cover bullying in another post…what we’d like to highlight from the opening sentence: ‘colonial behavior’. What exactly does this look like? Is this an issue from”top down” with patriarchal undertones that affect women in different ways from men?” When paired with an ingrained prejudice against women, does this amplify the incidents of sexual harassment against women of color?

What has been your experience? What is the article NOT saying? For a split second, one of our writers was scared that the truth was really being shared in its entirety. However, we in the development world know how coded the language and phrases are.

How loaded those two words put together must be to mask the deeper truths in a game of pretend reveal. Did they make this report public to claim transparency? Where’s the accountability? The perpetrators, more often than not, get rapid promotions or shiny new positions; while the victims involved were paid a token figure, left without time to manage their visa situation or were unceremoniously kicked out of the organization.


It’s ironic that this is the widespread narrative of employees, staff, and contractors in these organizations that claim to have the moral standing of performing a global good. If that’s how you treat your people internally, how do you view your clients?

How many times have you heard that you should “know your place”? In such heavy bureaucracies with rigid hierarchies and token quotas, how much of it is determined by nationality (acting as a synonym for race)? When does inclusion become the priority and not just “box ticking” to meet diversity targets? How severely do employees of colour experience this “colonial behaviour” on a daily basis? How great is the benefit afforded to those who are undeserving? Who measures the suffering as a result of the privileges the colonizers are enjoying? [Yeh, borrowed that from Black Panther].

We have a theory but first let’s try an exercise: Imagine. Do you wonder? Can we dare to question? ‘How do these very people enforcing such colonial behaviour treat those in developing countries who sit across the table from them as they negotiate aid, projects or budgetary support for their “fiscal lives”?’ Maybe, the racism you display towards us in the workplace isn’t a switch that can be turned off. What injustices have you also imposed on them?

Guess what? Those civil servants, ministers and populations you claim to be working for, they often look just like us.


“Racism, sexism and bullying reported at Oxfam” https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-46910085?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cme28xx5grnt/charities-sexual-misconduct-scandal&link_location=live-reporting-story. Retrieved January 17, 2019.

“N-word used on Barbados Prime Minister.” October 15, 2018. https://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/stories/2018/10/2018-10-19-ga-n-word-barbados-pm-cl.html. Retrieved January 17, 2019

Photo credit: from the Motion Picture “Black Panther” (2018)

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