Issue 81 - Article 10

Joint PSEA and AAP Networks: a coordinated approach for system-wide accountability

June 17, 2022

Husni Husni

Community members read the guidelines on SEA reporting
9 min read

This article discusses the links between Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) and Accountability to Affected People (AAP) by exploring the implementation of collective approaches to accountability in humanitarian action. It examines good practices, challenges and opportunities to establish, undertake and strengthen the connections between these two thematic areas in response operations. The article focuses on collective PSEA and AAP initiatives implemented in the humanitarian response in Ethiopia in 2021, and in Indonesia in 2018, in response to the Central Sulawesi earthquakes and tsunami response. It also draws on examples from other contexts.

In 2015, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Team on Accountability to Affected Populations and Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse established the essential links between these two areas of work. The primary intersection is on ensuring the harmonisation of community-based complaints mechanisms (CBCM) to improve reporting on and response to sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) at the community level. Additional links between PSEA and AAP were drawn in relation to awareness-raising and two-way dialogue between crisis-affected people and aid providers (Figure 1) to illustrate key collaborative actions both thematic areas could prioritise.

Figure 1 -  Links between AAP and PS Source: IASC AAP and PSEA Task Team
Figure 1 –  Links between AAP and PS Source: IASC AAP and PSEA Task Team

The interconnections are also noted in the IASC definition of AAP (Figure 2), indicating that effective coordination between AAP and PSEA must be addressed simultaneously to hold aid workers to account collectively.

Figure 2 – IASC definition of AAP Source: IASC AAP and PSEA Task Team

Through these guidelines and other global standards and commitments on AAP and PSEA, including the Grand Bargain and the Core Humanitarian Standard, substantial progress on collective efforts to address the links between PSEA and AAP by aid actors in emergency operations has been made. There is good practice in at least two important areas: joined-up PSEA and AAP coordination mechanisms; and common/collective community feedback and complaints systems. These two areas are key to operationalising collective PSEA and AAP at the institutional level, as well as in communities.

Joint PSEA and AAP coordination: synergies, challenges and opportunities

There is growing awareness within the aid community that a coordinated approach begins with a structured coordination mechanism. Over the last several years, collective models have been developed to roll out inter-agency approaches to PSEA and AAP, including Working Groups, Task Teams, Communities of Practices and consortia. Despite where these structures are situated (for example, a technical group is formally positioned under humanitarian, development and government coordination architectures in country), they are often governed by terms of reference and a workplan that reflect the priorities and limitations of the humanitarian system. The inclusion of PSEA and AAP networks in the formal humanitarian architecture enables access to decision-making fora and more opportunities to advocate for collective responsibility for accountability, including for PSEA.

In Tigray in Ethiopia, humanitarian actors tested PSEA and AAP coordination in 2021 by merging both thematic areas into one technical working group to support the Area Humanitarian Country Team (AHCT). The humanitarian coordination structure in Ethiopia is decentralised to allow decisions to be taken closer to and in dialogue with affected communities. This decentralised structure enables humanitarian actors to regularly consult communities on their needs and priorities, including on sensitive issues such as SEA, and take action locally. The sub-national PSEA and AAP (Tigray region) network advises the AHCT on the reporting channels communities are most comfortable using to engage on SEA, as well as programme adaptations, based on the views of and feedback from affected people.

Joint coordination of PSEA and AAP strategies and activities in the Tigray crisis supports more effective and efficient delivery of respective tasks and responsibilities. For instance, the Tigray PSEA and AAP Network contributes to local assessments to identify the needs and priorities of affected people, suggests improvements to community feedback and complaints systems based on community visits and other methodologies such as surveys, and jointly advocates for course correction through a collective community voices platform (a joint humanitarian initiative to bring the voices of affected people into decision-making). The Tigray network’s terms of reference outline the specific technical expertise needed for both thematic areas, and how human and other resources can be better used to maximise the synergies between them. Under the terms of reference, responsibility to advocate for the rights, protection and wellbeing of affected people, in particular women, children and adolescents, should be a priority throughout humanitarian programming. Other links are around raising awareness on humanitarian assistance, including PSEA messaging, as well as feedback channels that encourage reporting of SEA incidents.

Practically, there are two main areas where the joint PSEA and AAP Network in Tigray improves the effectiveness of the coordination architecture. In Ethiopia, and many other complex humanitarian emergencies, the huge needs, competing priorities and scarce financial and human resources make it difficult for aid actors to participate regularly and effectively in multiple coordination structures. This is made worse for staff who are double- or triple-hatted, as they can end up spending most of their time in coordination meetings. Joint coordination of PSEA and AAP in Tigray has helped reduce the number of coordination meetings aid actors attend and the activities they contribute to. The joined-up approach also allows agencies to share technical expertise and establish common goals for collective implementation.

Similar coordination practices are being undertaken in the Asia-Pacific region. The Regional AAP and PSEA Working Group was also created in recognition of the links between PSEA and AAP and a desire to reduce the number of coordination meetings but with the ultimate goal of eventually including other cross-cutting thematic areas such as gender, GBV and other protection-based working groups under one ’people-centred approach’. In Rakhine State in Myanmar, humanitarian actors are currently exploring the possibility of embedding AAP into the established PSEA Network to avoid creating a new coordination structure.

However, while joint coordination can help to streamline collective efforts, this approach also presents operational challenges that require collective solutions. The main obstacle is the difficulty in finding people with both PSEA and AAP skills, and the experience to fill inter-agency coordinator roles. Another challenge is how to avoid duplication of effort, maximise synergies and manage the raising and allocation of resources against the competing priorities which sometimes arise between these thematic areas. 

In Ethiopia, the Operational Peer Review, conducted by senior humanitarian leaders in Northern Ethiopia between September and October 2021, strongly supported efforts to link PSEA and AAP, suggesting that these connections should be further strengthened and streamlined. Where joint PSEA and AAP networks exist, it is important to recruit dedicated PSEA/AAP interagency coordinators, prioritising facilitation and coordination skills as well as technical capacity. Such action, accompanied by increased funding for and investment in capacity strengthening and adaptive programming, would significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian response.

Common community feedback and complaints mechanisms increase synergies between PSEA and AAP

In the response to the 2018 earthquakes and tsunami in Central Sulawesi in Indonesia, AAP and PSEA implementation was guided by the Collective Framework for Accountability and PSEA, was designed with the support of the Humanitarian Country Team, and complementary to the government-led response. The joint framework articulates collective outcomes that put affected people at the centre of operations. Collective Framework of Accountability and PSEA, OCHA (Draft, 2018) A collaboratively developed bulletin, Suara Komunitas, served as a common feedback platform to advocate for the needs and priorities of affected people in near-real time.

Suara Komunitas features evidence of feedback and complaints from affected people through focus group discussions, hotlines, digital media, radio and other communication channels gathered by aid agencies in Central Sulawesi. The three editions of the bulletin produced during the response presented analysis of community feedback and complaints and proposed corrective actions, raised awareness of PSEA initiatives and reported on the outcomes of two-way dialogue with community members. For instance, the second edition (December 2018) featured the views of vulnerable groups, including women and youth, on shelter programming. Women raised with the government and aid responders critical issues related to the protection, safety and security of women, asking them to put a protection system in place when delivering shelter assistance. The bulletin encouraged discussion in government cluster coordination meetings and within aid agency coordination fora to improve the delivery of assistance based on the community preferences. Although the bulletin was discontinued once recovery was under way, a special Covid-19 edition was later published at the onset of the pandemic.

Common feedback platforms such as Suara Komunitas are critical avenues for improving the operationalisation of PSEA. Similar joint and collective approaches to addressing PSEA and AAP have been used in the Philippines and Afghanistan. In the Typhoon Rai (known locally as Odette) response and recovery in the Philippines in 2022, SEA issues have been well integrated into the design and implementation of a community voices bulletin, Tingog sa Komunidad. This inter-agency community platform shared feedback collected from consultation with communities affected by the typhoon with government and humanitarian responders. Focus group discussions, key informant interviews and other rapid assessments were jointly conducted with affected people by the government and humanitarian responders. The aim has been to ensure that government and humanitarian responders understand the needs and priorities of affected people and take decisions and adapt responses, including PSEA measures, in accordance with these. This approach has enabled the identification of key PSEA measures that aid actors should take, for example enhancing the links between the reporting system and services for survivors through the government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development. In Afghanistan, questions on PSEA were included in the community perception survey to assess community awareness and understanding of PSEA reporting channels and survivor services. The survey also included questions on how satisfied respondents were with the channels and services provided and what challenges they faced in accessing or using them.


Collective approaches to PSEA and AAP have improved humanitarian responses in Ethiopia and Indonesia. While there are many links between the two thematic areas, two key areas of work – joined- up coordination mechanisms and common community feedback and complaint mechanisms – could be key drivers to enable meaningful operationalisation at both institutional and community level. Collective community-centred approaches are necessary to reduce competition for scarce resources, maximise the use of shared resources and achieve system-wide accountability.

Husni Husni is a former Humanitarian Affairs Officer (AAP and PSEA) at the OCHA Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. He has supported emergency operations in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Afghanistan. In 2020 he established and ran for two years the IASC Asia Pacific Working Group on AAP and PSEA and is now working as an AAP Specialist with UNFPA in Kabul, Afghanistan.


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