Sexual harassment. It’s not just a Hollywood problem. It’s not just a Silicon Valley problem. And it’s most certainly not just a problem for women in the workplace.
That’s what Melinda Gates wants everyone to understand.
“In every country and every continent, we have been taught that being born female comes with a cost. That if we are the victims of harassment or discrimination or violence, it’s somehow our fault,” she said in a powerful op-ed published by Time on Monday. “It’s the price we pay for daring to have ambition, to seek a job, to express an opinion, to assert our inalienable right to decide who will have access to our bodies.”
Gates reflected on the wave of stories of sexual assault and harassment that have emerged since the New York Times published its investigative report into allegations of decades of sexual misconducts by prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein last month.
The Weinstein scandal encouraged many women in the film industry, Silicon Valley, and politics to come forward with their own accounts of sexual harassment and assault, and tens of thousands of women shared their experiences of harassment in the workplace on social media saying “me too.”
Even Gates herself has experienced workplace sexual harassment. "I don’t think there’s a woman who has worked in tech who hasn’t experienced some form of bias or sexual harassment somewhere along the way—myself included,” she told the New Yorker.
But Gates has traveled the world meeting women from all walks of life, and with Monday’s op-ed she added her voice to the “me too” conversation, speaking up on behalf of women everywhere.
“I’ve spent the last 20 years talking to women all over the globe, and I hear these stories everywhere I go. From board rooms to presidential palaces to mats spread on the ground in the world’s poorest villages, the message from women is the same: Me too. Me too. Me too,” she wrote.
The issue of sexual harassment has remained in the spotlight over the last two months. And as more women seem to be empowered to share their stories each week, many are hopeful that this moment marks a turning point in the fight against an age-old problem, including Gates.
“…The cascade of horrifying revelations we have read this year has actually made me at least a little hopeful. In 2017, we now expect something better than what has always been accepted,” she said.
In the moving op-ed, the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — a partner of Global Citizen — reflected on the inequalities that gave rise to societies that looked the other way while women endured sexual harassment.
For far too long, the path to success has been guarded by men who demean, degrade, or disrespect women. Enough. https://t.co/giesYABvJO— Melinda Gates (@melindagates) November 20, 2017
“…let’s be very clear. Anyone who attempts to excuse any mistreatment of women by saying ‘what’s acceptable has changed’ is missing the point entirely. Discrimination, harassment and rape have never been acceptable. They’ve just been accepted,” Gates said. “For most of history, women haven’t had an equal say in the norms that shape a society, or an equal number of seats at the tables where decisions are made. We haven’t had an equal chance to determine what kind of world we live in.”
Global Citizen campaigns in support of gender equality, so that girls and women around the world will have access to seats at the table and the chance to make their voices heard on the issues that matter to them. You can take action here.
To get to a place where women and girls have equal opportunities to help shape the world they live in, Gates believes we must empower women. In recent years, the philanthropist has consistently said that investing in women and making healthcare more accessible to them will help level gender disparities and raise people out of poverty.
In her op-ed, Gates called on women everywhere to raise their voices and support one another, echoing the sentiments of actress Lupita Nyong’o who went public with her Weinstein story in her own op-ed last month.
“We have launched a movement bent on shattering the glass ceiling for all women: women of color, disabled women, immigrant women, poor women, older women. A movement about rejecting the roles that society has assigned to us, and to our daughters, and demanding the power to choose our own roles,” Gates wrote.
“By raising our voices, we protect each other. Each woman who speaks up about her own experience is making it easier for other women to do the same. And because of the strength in our numbers, the institutions that have enabled systemic sexism and discrimination are starting to act — to fire, to expel, to ostracize, to pass laws. To change.”
Disclosure: Melinda Gates is the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a funding partner of Global Citizen.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.