“Me too” – words that have spilled like bees from women’s mouths since abhorrent allegations of sexual violence at the hands of Harvey Weinstein burst onto the scene one year ago, a movement for the recognition of women as human beings so sorely needed we’re all wondering why it took so long.
The latest laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize – a joint win by Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s warzone gynecologist and Nadia Murad, the Yazidi human rights activist who survived sexual slavery under ISIS – were announced on the one year anniversary of the #Metoo movement, a nadir in a year of global reckoning on the plight of women and girls and the scourge of sexual violence around the world. And almost perfectly timed to counterbalance the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court- a gripping, but ultimately predictable, real-life episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The recognition of Dr. Mukwege and Ms. Murad’s work is most obviously an important recognition of rape as a weapon of war (international criminal law did only criminalize sexual violence in conflict a short time ago, after all) – a dire reality for women and girls all over the world. It is also, of course, a recognition of the rape culture that dominates countries without intra or inter-state conflict – all countries where patriarchal modes of power continue to imprison both women and men. To truly grow the change seeded last year, the #Metoo movement must embrace all women – connecting our struggles internationally to take on the global siege on women’s rights.
After all, the global humanitarian crisis we currently face — with 65 million people, the greatest number since WWII, displaced around the world — is deeply gendered. Despite making up an historic 80 percent of that figure, women and girls are among those at greatest risk of paying for conflict and disaster with their lives.
The DRC, where Mr. Mukwege operates, is a great example. So is the Rohingya refugee crisis. Despite continued denial by Burmese military, accounts of sexual violence run rampant against Rohingya women and girls – with some of the highest rates of trauma humanitarians have ever seen, and the violent risk of retaliation for speaking out. In Rakhine state, enclosed in camps and cut off from healthcare and education, thousands of Rohingya women remain trapped and caught in conflict with the Burmese military. Adolescent girls have described the violence of Rakhine’s camps like “living in hell.”
DRC and Myanmar are not alone. Exclusion and biases that women and girls face are simply compounded by insecurity. Sexual harassment, poverty, reproductive rights and job discrimination are all connected, all over the world – we need reform in virtually every country. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh in the US has a butterfly effect, deep practical and philosophical repercussions for gender relations and the equality of women around the world.
There can indeed be no progress unless it is shared. Because as many as seven-in-10 women has experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. Meanwhile, access to family planning is under attack at an increasing level globally, with 225 million women and counting with an unmet need for contraception. This is especially serious when it comes to early marriage: 750 million women alive today were married as young as three, abandoning their education and their chances of productive futures, so frequently it’s happened by the time you finish this sentence. In low income countries writ large, despite progress over the last two decades, less than two thirds of girls complete their primary education. And lest we forget that poverty is deeply sexist, the WEF has warned that the “global gender gap” across social, health and political outcomes is widening all over the world.
Here’s a start to changing the script: what we know for certain is the undebatable power of investment in women and girls. We also know that despite the fact that violence against women and girls occurs in every single conflict and disaster without exception, gender-based violence programs only receive 0.5 percent of all humanitarian funding. We know that the more gender equal a country is, the more women are elected to power, the more women are listened to – the lower the prevalence of violence against women, and the greater the country’s economic development. And women are taking action: all over the world, from the Midterms to Afghanistan, an unprecedented number of women are running for office, demanding feminist policies at home and abroad. This is a positive, and necessary harbinger – the path of a truly global #MeToo movement.
Until all women and girls, whether at our doorstep or thousands of miles away, can enjoy the rights and access due to them, we will never realize the potential of half of the global population – and unlock a safer, more equal, common future.