UN human rights experts have lauded the powerful global movement that has shone the spotlight on sexual violence against women and gender inequality, and paid tribute to those who have dared to speak out and demand change.
“Through their courageous actions, these women have launched a global movement of women breaking the silence on sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence too often tolerated,” the independent experts said Tuesday in a joint statement to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March.
“It is a time to pay tribute to the countless women throughout history who have dared to stand up, to protest, and to say no to discrimination against women and girls and one of its worst manifestations: violence. Their courage and revolt have been the driving force behind every bit of progress made,” they said.
The experts hailed the movement, known by its social media hashtag MeToo, as a tipping point for women’s rights, and offered full support of the UN human rights mechanisms.
“This is a transformative moment, a liberating and an empowering moment,” they said in the statement. “By speaking out on this scale, women are shaking centuries-old established discriminatory norms which normalise, 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 honour, 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 experts said the question being asked now 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?
“From North to South, from East to West, sexual violence crosses lines of culture, religion, ideology, stages of economic development and touches women of all social backgrounds and in all professional settings, whether it is in political parties, financial institutions, or the media and entertainment industry, academic institutions and the humanitarian field. It happens in the family. It is truly a universal plague.”
With the advent of this movement, the experts said the shame and fear is starting to shift from the victims to the side of abusers and perpetrators of sexual violence, who have to face the consequences of their unacceptable behaviour in many cases and criminal acts in others.
“The all-powerful are no longer the untouchable who can enjoy impunity with peace of mind. Their ability to buy silence and cover-up is being questioned and their power of intimidation evaporating,” the statement said. “We have a moment where the complacence of others and the indifference of our institutions are no longer accepted without challenge.
“We need to maintain the momentum to make it a truly global movement which reaches 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,” stressed the experts.
“It is in these places, far away from the spotlights of international media, that the voices of women need to be heard and must be heard. We are all here to support this movement in line with our respective mandates and to join forces for its continuation in all parts of the world,” said the experts.
They said the existence of law and policy in combating sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence was important but not sufficient.
“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,” they emphasized.