This is a significant time to be calling for greater progress in the fight against gender inequality and sexual abuse.

Thousands of women from across the globe will come together to take part in the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York from March 12-23. This comes just days after the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, under the theme, “#PushForProgress”.  And these events are taking place at a time when the global community has been shocked and moved to action by revelations of sexual harassment and abuse that have surfaced recently, including within civil society. 

CIVICUS is fully aware of these revelations and we have committed ourselves to creating an environment that allows zero tolerance for such actions.

The global #MeToo campaign has exposed an avalanche of revelations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and abuse, first in the U.S. entertainment industry, then in politics and beyond. This campaign has exposed the scale and institutionalised nature of sexism, sexual assault, sexual harassment and their crippling effect on women’s lives, while becoming one of the defining issues of our time. It has created a marked divide between those in denial about sexual harassment and abuse and those committed to doing something about it. 

The Time’s Up campaign and several others show a determination to democratise this issue by encouraging and empowering women in disempowered positions to report sexual harassment and abuse and to seek justice. We believe sexual harassment and abuse anywhere is repugnant and unacceptable. Its existence points to a wider debate about gender inequalities and power and wealth imbalances. Systemic inequalities are the breeding ground for the abuse and harassment of women.  This brings to the fore the need to increase the number of women in leadership and decision-making positions, guarantee equal pay and opportunity, foster a better work environment and recognise women’s unpaid work.

Recent revelations of sexual misconduct, abuses of power, and breakdowns in safeguarding within highly-respected civil society organisations have shocked us, and have brought our sector under scrutiny, rightly.

What these disclosures have made clear is that we in civil society need to examine our own roles in delivering a just, inclusive and sustainable world. Letting go of the power many of us so jealously guard, reframing the unequal donor-beneficiary relationships that shape our work, recalibrating our accountability away from donors and towards communities: all these things will be essential if we are to reclaim our original purpose as active agents of change in tackling the challenges the world faces.

The exposure of such abuses is also a reminder of our duty as progressive civil society to deepen the discussion and recognise overlapping inequalities and discriminations. We need to take an active part in movements that put patriarchy under the spotlight and challenge patriarchal behaviours and attitudes that enable sexism and other forms of intersecting discriminations, wherever we see them.  Of course, this must begin by getting our own house in order first, but there is also an opportunity to build better bridges between spontaneous, informal social movements and the formal bits of civil society.

As attested in our 2018 State of Civil Society Report, we are committed to supporting movements that put patriarchy under the spotlight and challenge behaviours and attitudes that enable sexism, gender discrimination and other forms of intersecting discriminations, wherever we see them.

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