Tackling Gender-Based Violence: #HearMeToo

The recent UNiTE campaign against gender-based violence came to an end on the 10th December, the International Human Rights Day. It began on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Now, into the 28th year, with the UN in full support, we ask what has been achieved?

Eine Frau sitzt an einem Pult, vor ihr ein Namensschild. Sie trägt ein orangenes Tuch auf dem Kopf und spricht.
Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, the Executive Director for UN Women, at a special event marking the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the 25th November. ©UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

Connecting Movements

Of course, activism against gender-based violence (GBV) is not limited to sixteen days of the year as women in particular are active on a daily basis in their fight against it. 2017 saw the #MeToo movement gain prominence as it was taken up once again by on- and offline communities after having been initially founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help survivors of sexual assault, particularly women and girls of colour from low wealth communities. Other grassroot movements such as #BalanceTonPorc,#NiUnaMenos and “HollaBack!” also increased in prominence in the past year as the conversation around GBV and the treatment of women in societies across the globe grows. This year, the UNiTE Campaign has created a theme in keeping with other hashtag movements - Orange the World: #HearMeToo. The UNiTE Campaign was launched in 2008 as an effort to eliminate violence against women and girls by building on existing international legal and policy frameworks. Each year has a new theme that is developed in response to current political concerns and movements.

Who is Affected?

Women and girls in all walks of life are affected by violence. Statistics show that globally one in three women experience gender-based violence throughout their lifetime. According to the UN’s sustainable development goal 5 of gender equality, physical and/or sexual violence has been experienced at the hands of an intimate partner by one in five women in the last 12 months. Furthermore, GBV does not only affect women and girls. It also affects the trans and gender non-binary community who may not be considered to or may not consider themselves to “fit” under the bracket of women and girls. However, the UN largely focuses upon women and girls in their definition of GBV and therefore trans, gender non-binary and men affected by GBV are often not included in the statistics.

What are the Issues?

The #HearMeToo theme joins other online movements in uniting those affected by GBV. It allows a space for stories to be shared, “converting isolation into global sisterhood”. As the Executive Director for UN Women explains, today’s global movements set “collective expectations for accountability and action” and “honour and amplify” voices of survivors of violence. These movements are about solidarity. They are about working towards ending a culture of silencing and non-belief and bringing survivors of GBV together to tackle these issues in unison. These movements raise awareness and educate. Importantly, they create a point of dialogue where survivors can speak, where those who have not experienced GBV can listen, and where we can all learn from one another and suggest new ways forward.

Over the past sixteen days, under #HearMeToo on twitter, conversations such as “what does #GenderBasedViolence mean to you?” and “how can we empower women?” have been started. These conversations have continued with further questions and with experiences shared and listened to. Furthermore, men have engaged, statistics and facts have been given, and laws such as a Sexual Harassment Act for Kuala Lumpur, a push for legislation that recognises the importance of criminalising perpetrators of GBV,  and the need to pass GEOBill (Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill) into law in Nigeria have been marked as worth fighting for.

Where Do We Go From Here?

All of these aforementioned aspects, such as raising awareness, listening to one another, men engaging in this issue and legislation being fought for and passed, are important to the UN’s ambition to end GBV but we must find a way to introduce those who are not listening into the conversation. A survey was recently undertaken by Ipsos MORI that included a question asking about perceptions on levels of sexual harassment against women. The results show that, even in the wake of the #MeToo movement, both male and female European and American respondents underestimated the levels of sexual harassment committed against women in their countries, with men’s underestimations greater than women’s. This suggests that a culture of ignorance surrounding the treatment of women persists even with all of the hard work that is being put into raising awareness.

Activists call for legislation to be put in place that takes GBV more seriously. According to the UN, 49 countries still have no laws that specifically protect women from GBV. Furthermore, it is important that the countries that already have laws in place continue to assess and improve these laws. Additionally they should continue a dialogue with activists, organisations and people that deal with these issues on a daily basis. It is vital that those in law enforcement and judicial systems who have the power to respond to accusations of GBV are trained to respond appropriately with care, attention and empathy for the accuser no matter the circumstance. It is also important to critically assess the very systems of law and power in place that create an uphill battle for those who report crimes of GBV. Furthermore, the UN itself has internal issues that it must confront in concern to the sexual harassment, ill-treatment and abuse of authority towards staff, as well as accusations of sexual exploitation by peacekeepers and other UN employees. This is a powerful reminder of how much work is still ahead when the very organisations that are put in place to promote human rights and concern themselves with issues such as GBV have people working within them who are accused of such behaviour.

An important addition in the 16 days campaign to the #MeToo hashtag is the word “hear”. It has been made clear that it is not necessarily enough to say “me too”. We must listen, hear, and respond to these issues of violence, as well as harassment. Although it is clear that there is much work ahead and any progress made involves a continuous battle to ensure it remains upheld, there are many positive changes that have been made by activists and governments across the globe, as well as by people in their day to day lives, changing their attitudes and behaviour in ways that will perhaps eventually make a world of difference.

Teri Shardlow


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