People's Stories Women's Rights

Sexual assault and harassment are never acceptable
by RAINN, UN Women, Equality Now, agencies
Nov. 2017
A life without the threat of violence for everyone, by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka - Executive Director of UN Women, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 25 November 2017.
The initial response to the outpouring of ‘#MeToo’ around the world has been of outrage at the scale of sexual abuse and violence revealed. The millions of people joining the hashtag tide showed us how little they were heard before. They poured through the floodgate, opening up conversations, naming names and bolstering the frailty of individual statements with the robustness of a movement.
This virtual class action has brought strength to those whose stories would otherwise have not been told. Sexual violence in private almost always ends up as one person’s word against another, if that word is ever spoken. Even sexual violence in public has been impossible to call out when society does not view rape as a male crime but as a woman’s failing, and views that woman as dispensable.
We are seeing the ugly face of violence brought out into the light: the abuses of power that repress reporting and diminish the facts, and that exclude or crush opposition. These acts of power draw from the same roots, whether they concern the murder of a woman human rights defender standing up against big business interests in the Amazon basin, a young refugee girl forced to have sex for food or supplies, or a small business employee in London forced out of her job for being ‘difficult’, after reporting the sexual misconduct of her supervisor.
In each case, and over and over, these acts of abuse have stemmed from a confidence that there will be no significant reprisal, no law invoked, no calling to account.
But everyone has the right to live their life without the threat of violence. This holds for all people, no matter what their gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity or caste, and irrespective of their income level, HIV status, citizenship, where they live, or any other characteristic of their identity.
Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. There are many ways to prevent violence in the first place and to stop cycles of violence repeating.
As a society, we can support the passing and implementation of laws to protect girls and women from child marriage, FGM, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and we can agitate for their impact to be properly monitored and evaluated.
The provision of essential services for survivors of violence must be comprehensive, multi-sectoral, non-judgmental, of good quality and accessible to everyone, with no exceptions. These services are the frontline of response to those whose lives have just been ruptured; they must have the survivor’s dignity and safety as central concerns.
Prevention of violence must begin early. The education system and teachers themselves are at the forefront of children and young people learning to carry forward the principles of equality, respect and non-violence for future generations. This takes appropriate curricula and role model behaviour.
What #MeToo has shown clearly is that everyone has a part to play in changing our society for the better. We must speak out against harassment and violence in our homes, workplaces, in our institutions, social settings and through our media.
#MeToo has also shown us that no one is immune. All institutions need to be aware of the potential for violence to occur among their staff. With that knowledge, we must take steps to prevent it, and at the same time be well prepared to respond appropriately.
In this broad effort to end violence against women and girls, we see men as playing a vital role in bringing change. Challenging sexism, male dominance and male privilege as society’s norm starts with modeling positive masculinities. Parents can instill principles of equality, rights and respect as they raise their sons; and men can call out their peers for the behaviours that are now being understood as the unacceptable tip of the harassment iceberg.
At the heart of today’s theme of ‘leaving no one behind’, is leaving no one out. This means bringing women and girls as equals into everything that concerns them, and planning solutions to end violence with those who have been previously dismissed, sidelined or excluded.
As a global community, we can act now to end violence against women and girls, to change institutions and work together to end discrimination, restore human rights and dignity, and leave no one behind.
* UN WebTV High-level Panel - 68th Session Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. (14 Nov 2017):
* How laws around the world are failing to protect women and girls from sexual violence. (Equality Now)
Around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences -- affecting close to a billion women and girls over their lifetimes. However, despite the pervasiveness of these crimes, laws are insufficient, inconsistent, not systematically enforced and, sometimes, promote violence. Since Equality Now’s founding in 1992, we have worked with survivors of rape and sexual assault to help them get justice and to push for measures to bring an end to this unacceptable crime. The report looks at how laws around the world are still failing to protect women and girls from sexual violence.
Sexual violence is a ‘global pandemic’, by Valerie Dobiesz and Julia Brooks, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), Harvard University.
The recent exposure of widespread sexual predation in the American media industry, from Harvey Weinstein to Bill O''Reilly, has elicited shock and sparked debate on violence against women in the United States.
Sexual harassment isn’t the exclusive domain of show biz big shots. It remains alarmingly prevalent nationwide, even as other crimes are generally decreasing nationwide.
In the U.S., a 2006 study found that 27 percent of college women reported some form of forced sexual contact – ranging from kissing to anal intercourse – after enrolling in school. This sexual violence is heavily underreported, with just 20 percent of female student victims reporting the crime to law enforcement.
Nor is sexual harassment limited to the United States. The U.N. has called gender-based violence a “global pandemic.” As experts in emergency medicine and legal research at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, we believe it’s important to acknowledge that this issue transcends national borders and class boundaries to touch the lives of roughly 33 percent of all women worldwide.
According to World Health Organization estimates, one in three women worldwide will experience either physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, many of them before the age of 15.
In fact, for many rural women, their first sexual encounter will be a forced one. Some 17 percent of women in rural Tanzania, 21 percent in Ghana, 24 percent in Peru, 30 percent in Bangladesh and 40 percent in South Africa report that their first sexual experience was nonconsensual.
Intimate partner violence is also pervasive globally. In one World Health Organization study, 22 to 25 percent of women surveyed in cities in England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Zimbabwe reported that a boyfriend or husband had committed some form of sexual violence against them. Globally, up to 55 percent of women murdered are killed by their partners.
Violence against women takes many forms, ranging from psychological abuse to the kind of sexual predation, sexual assault and rape allegedly committed by Harvey Weinstein.
Honor killings, physical attacks, female infanticide, genital cutting, trafficking, forced marriages and sexual harassment at work and school are also considered gender-based violence.
Rates range from country to country – from 15 percent in Japan to 71 percent in Ethiopia – but violence is, in effect, a ubiquitous female experience.
Sexual violence is committed at particularly high rates in crisis settings like war zones, refugee camps and disaster zones.
In these places, even humanitarian workers are not immune. Dyan Mazurana and her colleagues at Tufts University found that many female development-aid staffers in places such as South Sudan, Afghanistan and Haiti had experienced disturbing rates of sexual assault, even perpetrated by their own colleagues.
So what’s driving this pervasive phenomenon? Research reveals that there are multiple causes of sexual violence, among them gender inequality and power differentials between men and women.
For example, sexual violence occurs more frequently in cultures where violence is widely accepted and where beliefs about family honor, sexual purity and male sexual entitlement are strongly held.
Even in many countries that rank well on gender equality, including in the United States, weak legal sanctions against perpetrators of sexual violence can encourage and effectively condone such behavior.
So can cultural acceptance. Weinstein’s sexual predatory behavior was longstanding and well-known within the film industry, yet he was allowed to continue his abuse with impunity – until women began speaking up.
Likewise, Fox News renewed Bill O''Reilly’s contract even after he and the company had made at least six multi-million-dollar settlements with women who filed sexual harassment claims against him. Awareness of a problem is one thing; taking action is quite another.
Men who have been exposed to maltreatment or family violence as children, are more likely to commit sexual violence themselves.
That’s because violence begets violence, a relationship that’s abundantly clear in the kinds of conflict zones where we work. Mass rape has long been used as a weapon of war, and has been well-documented during conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia and South Sudan.
Among the most salient cases are the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. According to the U.N.‘s High Commissioner for Refugees, up to 500,000 Rwandan women were systematically raped in 1994 as part of an ethnic cleansing strategy, while tens of thousands of Bosnian women and girls were systematically raped between 1992 and 1995.
Wherever and however it happens, violence against women and girls poses a major public health problem for women and their communities.
Some 42 percent of women who experience intimate partner violence reported an injury – including bruises, abrasions, cuts, punctures, broken bones and injuries to the ears and eyes – as a consequence of that abuse.
Women who suffer violence are also 1.5 times more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, twice as likely to experience depression and drinking problems and twice as likely to have an abortion. Violence against women is also closely associated with suicide and self-harm.
If there’s any silver lining to these recent celebrity scandals, it’s that in coming out against these high-profile men, dozens of women have helped to highlight not just the prevalence of sexual violence in the United States but also the societal norms that silence women and allow abusers to go unchecked.
Humanitarian organizations from the World Health Organization to the U.N. to the U.S. Agency for International Development have recognized that gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue. Addressing it requires working with men and boys, too, to counter the cultures of toxic masculinity that encourage or tolerate sexual violence.
After all, women’s rights are human rights, so sexual violence is everyone’s problem to solve.
The fact is, societies with high rates of sexual violence are also more likely to be violent and unstable. Research shows that the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.
Sexual assault and harassment are never acceptable. (RAINN, agencies)
Over the past few weeks there has been an outpouring of sexual assault and harassment allegations not only in Hollywood, but across the nation. The brave survivors who have told their stories through the media and the #metoo campaign have elevated a pivotal public discussion about sexual violence—an issue that affects an American every 98 seconds.
“It can often be difficult for victims of sexual assault and harassment to come forward, and it can be even more difficult if the harasser is their supervisor or in a position of power,” said Jodi Omear, vice president of communications. “The national conversation around sexual violence and the many courageous voices who have spoken out have helped survivors feel that they are not alone.”
Survivors are reaching out to RAINN in record numbers. There has been a 21 percent increase in those contacting our hotline. Each day RAINN’s victim services programs provide support to about 600 individuals affected by sexual violence, assisting a record 19,432 people in October alone.
Speaking out after a sexual assault can be difficult, and survivors moves at their own pace. RAINN’s programs provide support and resources for survivors in all stages of recovery, whether they’ve recently experienced sexual violence, or are dealing with painful memories after seeing the issue in the media.
RAINN stands with the brave survivors who have shared their stories and the work they have done to encourage others to share theirs. Sexual assault and harassment are never acceptable. Each of us has the right to work or learn in a safe environment. The National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE and is here for you, and is anonymous, free, and available 24/7.
* Over 320,000 Americans over 12 were sexually assaulted or raped last year. 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is America''s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice:

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Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to suffer direct impacts of climate change
by CARE International, Oxfam
Poor families worldwide are already feeling the impacts of climate change. They are seeing first hand how unpredictable rainfall patterns cause water shortages, reduce harvests and exacerbate hunger. They are witnessing the effects of more extreme weather such as cyclones and hurricanes that destroy their homes, lives and incomes. And they have to cope with longer, more severe droughts which kill their livestock and threaten their crops.
Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to suffer direct impacts of natural disasters and climate change. Not only are more women injured or killed during hurricanes and floods, women and girls are often responsible for farming their fields and collecting water, meaning that they are increasingly affected by more extreme droughts or floods.
2 Nov. 2017
Time to put the most affected women and girls at the heart of UN climate talks, says CARE.
Leaders must put the needs of those disproportionately affected by climate change impacts – women and girls – firmly at the heart of talks during the 23rd annual UN climate summit (COP23), urges CARE International, the and humanitarian. With the UN climate talks, presided over by the government of Fiji, set to take place from 6 to 17 November in Bonn, Germany, an estimated 25,000 participants from nearly 200 countries have a chance to ensure that the disproportionate consequences of climate change on women and girls around the world are tackled.
Wolfgang Jamann, CEO CARE International, said:
“The quick successions of an unusually strong hurricane season in the Caribbean, recent typhoons and floods in Asia, and droughts and forest fires in recent weeks are a stark reminder that today millions of poor people are already suffering from climate extremes and are being displaced from their homes and stripped of their livelihoods.
The devastation and suffering are acute in many of the poorest countries, for example, in Malawi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Fiji, Vanuatu and many parts of Africa, and CARE is actively supporting measures to build climate resilience in these countries.
Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women: we are calling on the international community to give greater attention and invest more in helping the poorest and most vulnerable take actions to increase their resilience.”
Sven Harmeling, Head of the COP23 delegation CARE International, said:
“The Parties at COP23 know what is needed to end suffering while tackling the gender gap that widens from climate change impacts. They must adopt a gender-equitable loss and damage work plan that identifies sources to generate finance in the order of USD50bn per year for recovery following loss of homes, farms and land and the means to sustain their families.
Governments must also decide to promote learning, catalyze support, and enable action in agriculture that supports small-scale food producers and women in particular, as climate change increasingly undermines their livelihoods and their food and nutrition security.”
Fanny Petitbon, Advocacy Manager CARE France, said:
“Governments should come out of Bonn with an ambitious gender action plan. It must boost the effective participation of women in climate-related decision-making, who are still largely under-represented among countries’ delegation leads and technical bodies, according to new UNFCCC statistics.
Such a plan should also provide tools for countries to better mainstream gender equality in their national climate policies and promote direct access to climate finance for grassroots, women-led organizations and local communities. However, we are concerned that richer countries are not willing to adequately resource such a plan.”
COP23 also marks a crucial meeting on the pathway to finalising further rules required for the implementation of the landmark Paris Agreement, and increasing actions to cut emissions, aimed for 2018. Progressive developing and developed countries must stand together and resist any backtracking from the Paris Agreement by unwilling countries.
“The actions promised by the most powerful nations to cut harmful emissions from fossil fuels still fall short of the agreed upon goal to limit global warming to 1.5C degrees above pre-industrial levels. This is a critical threshold which can still prevent many of the worst impacts on poor populations. COP23 must provide a clear way forward so that countries come back with more ambitious plans to cut emissions,” said Sven Harmeling.
Nov. 2017
People in poorer countries five times more likely to be displaced by extreme weather. (Oxfam)
People in low and lower-middle income countries were five times more likely to be forced from their homes by “sudden-onset” weather disasters, like floods and storms, than people in richer countries, according to Oxfam.
In “Uprooted by Climate Change,” Oxfam illustrates the ruthless inequality of climate change; poor communities, whose greenhouse gas emissions are barely measurable, are at a much higher risk of displacement than those who are doing the most harm to the environment.
Data from 2008 to 2016 shows that on average, extreme weather displaced 14 million people (0.42 percent of the population) in these countries, compared to approximately 1 million (0.08 percent) in high-income countries. In total, 23.5 million people were newly displaced in 2016 by extreme weather. This total is likely an understatement because these numbers don’t account for “slow-onset” disasters like drought and sea-level rise.
Oxfam also estimates around 1.9 million people were displaced due to droughts in the first nine months of 2017 alone.
“How many more ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ storms will it take before our leaders face up to what’s going on and act?” said Tracy Carty, Oxfam’s climate change expert. “Climate change is eating away shores and flooding homes. It’s leaving farmland bone-dry, shattering the lives of millions who did virtually nothing to cause it. It’s unconscionable to leave poor communities alone to deal with disasters they did not create.”
The United Nation’s climate conference, COP 23, kicks off in November, in Bonn, Germany. The conference will be chaired by Fiji, the first small island nation to do so, and a country on the frontline of climate change. Around 55,000 people in Fiji were displaced and one-fifth of the island’s gross domestic product was wiped out after Cyclone Winston in 2016.
The report also describes how women, children and indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by climate change. For women, being displaced means higher risks of violence and greater difficulty getting the help they need.
“Uprooted by Climate Change” shows how people on the frontlines of climate change are dealing with the threat of displacement. For example, communities in Kiribati intend to do everything possible to remain on their islands, despite the rising seas and higher storm surges. For them, like many so other communities, relocation is a last resort.
“I hope that my people remain here, living with the surroundings we’re familiar with, where our parents and ancestors are buried,” said Claire Anterea, a local environmental leader and Oxfam partner. “That’s what my hope for my country is, for things to remain as simple as this and as beautiful as always.”
Oxfam is calling on government leaders to deliver:
Steeper emission cuts: Countries must agree to make next year’s “Facilitative Dialogue” a crucial moment to deepen emission cuts to strive to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Loss and damage” finance: Communities on the climate frontlines can’t be the only ones picking up the tab. Parties should make progress on how to provide relief to those who need it most.
Finance for climate change mitigation and adaptation: Rich countries still have a long way to go to meet the finance goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement and must show how they’ll get there.
A united front in this fight: Any effort by the Trump administration in the United States to weaken the Paris Agreement must be soundly rejected by all parties.
International protection: The UN’s “global compacts” on refugees and migrants, due next year, should include protections for people forced across borders by natural disasters.
“Inaction has gotten us to this point, but it’s not too late yet to do what’s needed to save millions of lives,” said Carty. “While it might sometimes seem like the odds are insurmountable, the brave determination of the Pacific communities inspires us all; it’s time for everyone to follow their lead and fight for our future.”

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