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Sexual harassment and assault

#MeToo momentum shows there’s much more to do for gender equality before #Time’sUp

Syed Munir Khasru says the #MeToo movement has raised awareness of sexual abuse, but the culture of male entitlement has not abated and ordinary women everywhere face gender discrimination, intimidation and violence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 11:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 10:51am

Sex abuse scandals have hit the headlines because of star power, both in the film and sports industry. However, ordinary women who have been subject to similar abuse relive the same moments every day, without it being reported or prosecuted. In many Asian countries, the culture of male sexual entitlement and the social norms empower men to harass women.

ActionAid research concluded that 44 per cent of women surveyed in India had been groped in public. As women say #MeToo and share stories of sexual harassment on social media to show how widespread it is, the campaign has not had an impact everywhere. In Thailand, a women’s rights advocate argues that this is because “the cultural structures are different. Thai people see sexual harassment as a personal issue between two people.”

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Sexual harassment, along with unequal pay, remains at the forefront of global gender-based discrimination. In 2015, 586 million women were self employed or contributing family workers. However, many earn half or less than the wages men are paid for the same work and face gender discrimination, intimidation and sexual abuse. Recently, Carrie Gracie, BBC’s China editor, resigned citing pay inequality. Heidi Lamar, a former Google employee, filed a complaint against the tech giant for its alleged pattern of unequal pay for women.

In many Asian countries, the culture of male sexual entitlement and the social norms empower men to harass women

The average full-time female worker earns 15 per cent less than her male counterpart in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. Even in the developed world, women are still viewed as objects and less valuable than men. In the US, there is one rape reported every 6.2 minutes.

The political arena is no exception. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore recently lost in the Republican stronghold after being accused of sexually assaulting teenagers. UK defence minister Michael Fallon admitted to appropriately touching a journalist and was accused of trying to kiss another reporter.

#MeeToo: Speaking out against sexual harassment in China

In spite of the progress in the economic empowerment and social status of women over the past 50 years, both powerful and ordinary men continue to cast a shadow over women. As women become more vocal about their place and rights in society, economic provisions and social norms need to be on a par with the changing times. It will be a while before #Time’sUp becomes a reality as substantial barriers remain to achieving full equality for women around the world. Until then, the movement continues.

Syed Munir Khasru is chairman of the international think tank, The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG). munir.khasru@ipag.org