The avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations that has rattled Hollywood, US media and beyond is just beginning, says the head of UN Women, who expects many more women to come forward before behaviors change.
The wave of scandals in the United States has felled the careers of some of the most high-profile men in entertainment and compelled companies to take a second look at their policies against sexual harassment in the workplace.
“It has just started. I think we are still going to see many more women coming out,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women, told AFP in an interview.
“There are going to be many more women who are going to find their voices.”
The former South African deputy president who has been the top UN official on gender equality since 2013 said the groundswell of allegations had yet to reach a tipping point to bring about a definite shift in attitudes.
“We probably haven’t reached that point where there is a strong belief, among enough people, that this is profoundly traumatizing, that it creates a pain for many women that never ends.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka said she was surprised by the fact that the recent cases have involved a single man who preyed on many women.
“To actually see that you have one man who is a serial harasser, occupying a very senior position, and it goes undetected for years,” she said, shows a “real weakness” of workplace policies and law enforcement.
– A cascade to reach other women –
Charlie Rose, a well-respected US television news host, was sacked this week after eight women accused him of unwanted advances including walking around naked in their presence.
Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein faces accusations from around 100 women since a New York Times expose in early October, with allegations ranging from harassment to rape.
Comic Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey, politicians in the United States, France and Britain have also faced serious allegations of misconduct while a social media campaign with the #metoo hashtag has drawn millions of posts.
Mlambo-Ngcuka points to the presence of more women in leadership positions as a factor for victims who come forward “knowing that there would be somebody on the other side of the table who would believe them.”
Most of the attention on sexual misconduct has been in the United States, but the head of UN Women said she hoped that it will spread beyond borders and reach women who are not Hollywood actresses.
“It’s been a perfect storm, but it needs to cascade so that other women who are not famous, who are not celebrities can also find their healing and the perpetrators in other societies can also face consequences.”
– Silence of men –
Mlambo-Ngcuka said she was disturbed by the “loud silence of men” who she said have yet to stand up, distance themselves from the predatory men, and “preach about the importance of behaviour change.”
Men must declare “never under my watch will I allow that” while “the bad ones” should repent and say “never again will I do this,” she said.
“There is a need for men to actually react and also own the problem and commit to some remedial action.”
Equally disappointing are political leaders who have steered clear of the conversation on sexual harassment, she said.
“Our leaders have been a total disappointment as far as this kind of issue is concerned,’ she said. “Because maybe they are afraid of opening the can of worms.”
“There hasn’t be strong leadership by those who are in authority and in power.”
Sexual harassment is a focal point of this year’s 16 days of activism kicking off on Saturday, which is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
There is no global data on sexual harassment but UN Women cite EU surveys that show 45-to-55 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment from the age of 15 in the European Union.