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Sexual assault shouldn’t be neutralized: Head of UN Women

Tue, Oct. 24, 2017
CAIRO – 24 October 2017: Last week, the hashtag “Me Too” was launched by Tarana Burke, a New York community organizer serving women of color who started the Me Too movement 10 years ago. The hashtag was triggered by allegations made against Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, and reached fame when actress Alyssa Milano picked up the message and asked people on Twitter to reply “Me Too” if they experienced sexual assault.

Milano’s tweet sparked 50,000 replies and half a million tweets over 24 hours, including celebrities and women’s rights supporters. The hashtag went viral on social media and the internet ever since. Women who wrote #Metoo as part of their social media posts did not call for action, they only wanted to show the magnitude and prevalence of sexual harassment and assault that they face daily. They wanted to break the culture of silence and acceptance around such abuse.




The hashtag attracted attention that despite the stereotype that violence against women and sexual assault prevalence is limited to poor and less developed countries, as portrayed in international media, women and girls across the world proved that the problem is universal and deeply rooted.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that western democracies face the same problem. “A Canadian parliamentary staffer suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and attempted suicide following sexual assault by her bosses. A British lawmaker received over 600 rape threats in one night. French women legislators and political leaders revealed a multitude of incidents of harassment, assault and rape in their political workplaces.”

The Washington post added, “Last week, during the #MeToo surge, over 140 women leaders in California politics, including nearly a quarter of all the women currently holding seats in Sacramento, reported that during their political careers they experienced, witnessed or worked with women who were groped, propositioned, or otherwise harassed.”

The Telegraph News reported on October 18, that the U.S. ranked first in number of people using the hashtag, while UK came in second place and Canada ranked third. In addition, it reported that India was the only country in which more men tweeted than women with 63.2 percent of the tweets containing the hashtag were by men while 36.8 percent were by women.




The hashtag drove the attention of the United Nations (UN) Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN entity mandated to promote gender equity UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who said in an opinion piece that “causal indifference to sexual harassment is unacceptable.” The head of the international organization urged women and men to change their response and position towards acts of sexual assault.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said that people interacted with the hashtag to express their pain, anger and sometimes frustration with the worldwide phenomena. She described the hashtag as a virtual march of solidarity that drives attention to the urgency of finding a shared voice and the hidden scale of assault that did not previously have a register, according to the head of UN Women. She also pointed that people will never care about what is happening to women as long as they, the women, and their experiences are invisible.

She said, “What we are seeing currently, as women build and reinforce each other's accounts, and as men join in to acknowledge their role, is a validation of the rightness of speaking out.” She added that “the critical mass shows how much goes wrong when people can act with impunity in a culture of silence,” and calls on “good men” to speak out and not be quiet spectators.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted that full empowerment and participation of women in all life aspects including social, political and economic fields is essential for women’s voices to be heard, their rights and bodies to be respected and to change behaviors entrenched as normal. She added that “the more women there are who take on senior representation roles across public and private sectors, the more opportunities there are for change in the culture of invisibility and impunity, where more powerful men are able to prey on women.”

Also, she referred to the men who decided to join the online campaign as allies and supporters to all women who experienced sexual harassment or assault. She said that 30 percent of people who joined the campaign were men describing it as “promising but far from being enough.”
 
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