Sexual harassment was often considered a taboo that should not be talked about, and people did not even use the term “harassment”, until recently. But this is not a justification for ignoring harassment or pretending that it doesn’t exist. More importantly, harassment is not normal behavior, as well as being a crime punishable by law. Sexual harassment can take different forms, such as harassment through the Internet and social media by sending abusive and inappropriate comments, messages, images and videos via email, SMS and blogs.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) this week adopted a new international treaty to combat violence and harassment in the workplace, inspired by the #MeToo movement. The treaty, which will be binding on the governments which will sign it, was approved on the last day of the annual conference of governments, employers and workers’ groups. This decision came as a result of many calls, studies and research about the topic.
A recent study on sexual harassment at the United Nations over the past two years revealed that one third of the staff of the United Nations reported harassment during this period during their work with the UN. The most common types of harassment were lewd stories, sexual jokes, hostility and expressing views about appearance and body. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a letter to his staff that the study contained surprising figures and evidence on what should be changed to improve working conditions in the UN. In February, the UN launched a 24-hour hotline for staff to report sexual harassment incidents and UN investigators will deal with all complaints.
The fight against sexual harassment and violence dominated the Golden Globe Awards after a series of scandals involving Hollywood producers, directors and actors, as numerous allegations emerged against filmmakers, which led to the exclusion of the defendants and denial of their participation in cinematic and artistic activities. Last year, the largest union of representatives in the US called for a ban on meetings with junior actresses in private hotel rooms to protect their members from “harassment or potential exploitation”. Dozens of celebrities in entertainment and politics were prosecuted after being charged with sexual misconduct.
In the aftermath of the #MeToo campaign, it seems that women in the Arab world were encouraged to talk publicly about what they are experiencing at home and in the street to reveal stories that are no less tragic, and many initiatives have emerged in the Arab world.
The president of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights said many Arab civil society organizations have succeeded in working with their governments and legislators to add the term sexual harassment in the laws, while Egypt, Tunisia and other countries have toughened penalties.
But with increasing harassment and sexual abuse, the question remains: How can sexual harassment and abuse be stopped against girls and women? I think the real challenge is to speed up the justice system and consider this issue a priority to protect the victims, because there are cultural influences that make many people see harassment of women as a simple issue, and some even assume that the women are the reason behind such incidents.
I think there is a key role to be played by parents in reducing sexual harassment of women. For example, by raising children’s awareness of the need to safeguard their privacy and that their bodies are inviolable. Teach children that they can say “no” if they feel danger and insecurity, and that they can refuse demands in any situation when they feel uncomfortable, and they should not be afraid of the consequences. They should never feel afraid or ashamed to disclose what may have happened to them or the disturbing things that might have been exposed to them.
Sexual harassment is a form of sexual violence against women and victims must be protected from such crimes. Everyone must accept that harassment is never an ordinary event that can be ignored or accepted.
By Muna Al-Fuzai