Ukrainian photo sparks protest by WFP employees against agency’s ‘male-dominated club’

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It all started with a seemingly innocuous tweet.

Jakob Kern, the World Food Program’s emergency coordinator in Ukraine, posted a picture of his boss, David Beasley, with World Food Agency staff in western Ukraine.

“@WFP team in #Lviv #Ukraine,” read the tweet posted on Tuesday. ‘Dedicated and committed to supporting civilians affected by war.’

It all started with a seemingly innocuous tweet.

Jakob Kern, the World Food Program’s emergency coordinator in Ukraine, posted a picture of his boss, David Beasley, with World Food Agency staff in western Ukraine.

“@WFP team in #Lviv #Ukraine,” read the tweet posted on Tuesday. ‘Dedicated and committed to supporting civilians affected by war.’

Kern’s tweet – which featured a photo of Beasley, a former South Carolina governor who serves as executive director of the WFP, with nine other male staff – seemed to anticipate what was to come, acknowledging that “gender balance doesn’t is not there yet”. Female colleagues will be deployed in the coming days.


But those assurances were not enough to prevent an impending protest by female staff at the Rome-based agency. In a March 16 letter to Beasley and his management team signed by more than 250, mostly women, staff members made it clear they believe the agency has failed to deliver on its promises. frequently to promote greater gender equality and diversity.

“We are writing this in response to a post on Twitter with a photo of the all-male, mostly white WFP team in Lviv surrounding our executive director,” reads the letter, which was obtained by Foreign Police. “The limited gender balance and diversity in Ukraine crisis operations had already been noticed among WFP staff and flagged on social media. The Tweet caused disappointment among many of us at WFP, women and men.

“For us, this reflects the ingrained problem that WFP is still predominantly a white, male-dominated club, especially in emergencies,” WFP employees added.

The letter comes at a time when the world food agency is facing one of the biggest humanitarian and food crises in Europe since World War II as Russian forces bombard Ukrainian towns, driving more than 3 million people from across the border to Poland, Romania and Moldova. For the safety.

Thusday, Foreign Police reported that UN Secretary-General António Guterres had decided to extend Beasley’s term, which was due to end next month, for another year to avoid a leadership transition in the face of the worst food crises in decades. generations. The United States, which provides the majority of the WFP’s funds, endorsed the decision, according to two diplomatic sources.

In their letter, the WFP staff members said they wanted to “recognize the tremendous work of our colleagues, women and men, who are setting up the massive operation in Ukraine and surrounding countries”. Second, we fully realize that senior management must make difficult decisions to set up and operate a major operation, under very difficult circumstances. We wouldn’t be raising this issue now if we didn’t think it was of critical importance to WFP.

The authors of the letter included some comments from staff members of the United Nations food agency. “It was like a stab,” said an unidentified WFP employee. “I know several of the people in the photo and really appreciate the way they work. But to see them standing there for the shot smiling, not realizing what it meant, felt like a betrayal.

“I looked at the picture and realized that despite working hard, being as skilled and experienced as almost any man, I couldn’t see myself having a future in this organization,” he said. added another.

A WFP spokesman, Gregory Barrow, declined to make Kern available for an interview about the tweet or the protest. The tweet has since been deleted.

But Barrow sent figures showing that while the food agency hadn’t achieved gender parity in its workforce during Beasley’s tenure, it was improving. In February 2022, nearly 42% of WFP’s 21,830 employees were women, up from 33.9% in April 2017, according to figures provided by Barrow. The WFP does not track the racial makeup of its workforce, but the spokesperson said some 18,218 WFP employees are nationals of the developing world.

“Achieving gender parity is something the Executive Director of WFP has invested in personally and from a business perspective during his tenure and this is reflected in the positive trend we are seeing in the statistics,” Barrow said. Foreign Police in a text message. “This does not mean WFP has reached the end point of this journey and officials clearly recognize there is still room for more.”

“The gender balance of the deployment in the current response in Ukraine is actually a good example of an operation where half of the senior staff heading WFP teams in the field are women and that’s something to which the Executive Director pays particular attention”, he added. .

The staff letter called on WFP management to publish a full report detailing the gender, nationality and rank of staff deployed to Ukraine and explaining how they were selected.

“We are calling on WFP leaders on this not for fun, but because we genuinely care about this organization, the values ​​it embodies and its future,” the letter said. “The issue is real, and we hope it doesn’t just get covered in new posts or images showing diversity and gender balance now, because that would be a bit too late and not enough.”

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