United Nations human rights experts said in a joint statement to mark International Women’s Day on Thursday that the #MeToo movement exposing sexual harassment and abuse has been “a transformative moment, a liberating and an empowering moment,” but the momentum needs to include oppressed women in places “far away from the spotlights of international media.”
The UN statement lauded “brave women who have spoken out against sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence which they have been subjected to at the hands of abusive men who enjoyed impunity made possible by environments which normalize such violence,” as well as “all those women who endure violence in silence because their voices are not heard, or they are threatened for speaking out.”
The statement was crafted by members of the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice and UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Dubravka Šimonovic.
“The individual stories of being subjected to sexual violence have painted a collective picture of our society. The question being asked is no longer whether to believe the woman, but rather what is wrong with our society. How can sexual violence exercised against women exist on such a massive and endemic scale in a time of peace and in the most ordinary places of life: work places, schools, universities, on the streets, in public transportation, and at home?” the UN officials said, calling sexual abuse “truly a universal plague.”
“The universal nature of sexual violence against women and girls is only a reflection of centuries of domination and oppression of one sex over the other, which has kept women in a secondary place, long excluded from public life and from positions of power,” they added. “…In so many spheres of life, there is still a concentration of power and entitlement in the hands of men and the abuse of this power through sexual violence.”
The UN called #MeToo a “pivotal” moment in history “where the shame and fear have shifted from the victims to the side of abusers and perpetrators of sexual violence,” in which “blaming the victim can no longer be the automatic response to sexual violence.”
“By speaking out at this scale, women are shaking centuries-old established discriminatory norms which normalize, accept and justify sexual violence against women and have constrained women in well-defined roles of inferiority and subordination. This is what is so significant about the moment. It is no longer just about individuals, it is about society. It is not about so-called morals and honor, it is about women’s rights as human rights. It is the system of the concentration of power and domination that is being challenged.”
The statement stressed that the movement must be “truly global” to reach “all the women and girls in places where breaking silence on violence against women is still taboo and where women have little resort to justice and no choice other than carrying the burden of shame and blame.”
“The existence of law and policy in combating sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence is important but not sufficient,” the experts concluded. “Equality between women and men is a struggle of humanity, a struggle for both men and women. In the face of sexual violence and discrimination, everyone is concerned and everyone needs to act.