In the past year, the #MeToo movement has swept across the globe, drawing attention to the issue of sexual harassment faced by women in countries around the world. But this is by no means a new issue, and the workplace is often rife with incidents of harassment. It can be difficult to escape harassment in the workplace because victims often fear the consequences to their career and otherwise if they step forward and address the perpetrators. Talking about the issues that women face is an important first step in remedying them, but talk is not enough – concrete actions must be taken. Many UN bodies (such as ILO, UNICEF, and UNDP) have existing policies on discrimination, harassment, and abuse of authority that may provide a groundwork of ideas upon which this body can build.
In May 2018, the Chief Executives Board (comprised of 31 chief executives of UN agencies, funds and programs) held a special session during their meeting in the UK to address sexual harassment. The Board recognized harassment as stemming from a broader culture of discrimination and privilege, deeply rooted in gender inequality. The chiefs pledged to encourage action in three key areas: reporting, investigation and decision-making. In July 2018, UN Women organized a two-day event to bring together feminist thinkers and gender experts to discuss and inform UN Women’s current work on harassment, with a publication on sexual harassment and assault due out in the fall of 2018. UN Secretary-General António Guterres also established a specialized task force on sexual harassment in November 2017, which works to further the prevention and investigation of harassment, as well as to better support the victims of harassment.
UN Women has the opportunity to outline policy and protocol to aid women’s struggle against harassment in the workplace worldwide. When addressing this highly sensitive topic, it is important to take into account the differing situations of women in various countries, regions, and industries. Not all workplaces look the same. Harassment does not only occur in corporate offices with human resources departments, or in industries which receive global media attention. It may be useful for this committee to pay attention to previously established UN definitions for terms such as discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment. It is also important to recognize that harassment comes in other forms than sexual harassment. How can this committee work to take both preventative and corrective measures to protect women from harassment in the workplace? What factors prevent women from coming forward when they are victims of harassment, and how can those factors be addressed? Facilitating an open discussion about these topics and developing specific policies is essential in correcting issues that have been a part of workplace culture around the world for far too long.