By Chiun Min Seah
It’s 2018 and we are seeing increasing campaigns which are pledged to give victims of sexual violence a platform for their voices to be heard. There have been so many movements not only over the years but centuries, dedicated to push forward women’s rights which makes one wonder; what’s changed?
The phrase “Me Too” was coined by Tarana Burke in 2006 to help women of colour particularly who had been sexually assaulted on a much smaller scale but Hollywood celebrities had really contributed in bringing the issue of sexual violence to light through social media. This #MeToo movement quickly caught on and it inspired more victims and survivors to come forward with their stories. It really gave people a “sense of the magnitude of the problem“. It seems like people from different walks of life have been affected by sexual violence in one way or another.
Unfortunately, this does not exclude humanitarian workers and human rights activists as either victims or perpetrators, who are both fighting for and defending human rights of those who may not be able to do so themselves. What does this say about the global social system that capitalises on every possible profitable product and inevitably pushes away those who do not have the power or ability to seek for help when their very support scheme is built to go against the weaker ones within the power pyramid?
Aid workers devote their careers and sometimes lives for humanitarian work where their surrounding field environment is dangerous due to highly volatile conflict areas. Top authorities of humanitarian domain said sexual exploitation allegations have embroiled Oxfam (long-established reputable charity pledged to help victims of famine and natural disasters in developing countries) “as the tip of the iceberg and the aid sector’s #MeToo moment“.
This abuse is not confined to just one organisation; sexual abuse has been connected to Save the Children, Médecins Sans Frontières, and even the United Nations, to name a few. To add to the mix, #MeToo campaign reached even the ICC where an “experienced defence counsel is being sanctioned by the court’s disciplinary board for sexual harassment“.
Sexual violence within the humanitarian sector is not a novel revelation; it has been occurring for decades. Women are still fighting to have a safe atmosphere where they are able to achieve their goals and dreams. This does not mean the entire humanitarian branch should be “demonised” because of the sexual threats that female human rights workers face and experience on the field. The step forward that should be taken is by acknowledging this problem and actually taking effective and empathetic actions to address the matter.
We mustn’t forget about the women who were sex trafficked either. There are no vigilantes like the father in the Taken franchise to heroically save his daughter from evil sex traffickers. We still live in a world where warnings like, “listen, don’t struggle if you’re raped” are given to women. Assumptions like how the perfect victim should look and how the ideal perpetrator should act are what normalises these crimes, whether in peace time or during conflict.
A victim of sexual violence could be the athletic girl across the street who never leaves the house without her Swiss army knife or a spirited human rights defender who always checks in with his family every night before he goes to sleep. Someone who is highly respectable in the community and never misses a religious activity could be a sexual offender and a funny, charismatic aid worker who is always willing to do more than is necessary for others could have raped his colleagues. The point here is that there are no perfect images of what a victim or perpetrator should look or act like. That is not to spook you into thinking of everyone as a potential victim/perpetrator. Rather, be vigilant in the midst of these promising movements and “be a voice for all those who have prisoner tongues, for the people who had to grow up way too young“.
IMPACT does not condone sexual violence in any shape, manner, or form. You don’t need a superpower to help someone. All the strength and ability that you need are within you. You alone are in control of your choices and decisions. So make the choice to listen, to do what is possible to help someone, to empower others to use their voice, and decide to #MakeAnIMPACT by encouraging others to listen and help whenever possible. “If boys and men join the women, their voice will be louder.”
It’s 2018 and it is International Women’s Day today.
It has been 108 years since the first International Women’s Day was celebrated. We have come so far and we must continue to progress in order to finally be able to commemorate March 8th as a day where girls and women are able to walk freely at any time, wearing anything, being anywhere, in war or during peacetime, without having the one fear of sexual violence that girls and women are engineered to be petrified of more than death itself.
We didn’t come this far to only come this far.
Join IMPACT in the fight to achieve full gender equality and #MakeAnIMPACT.
Happy International Women’s Day from IMPACT!