In response to the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, the United Nations surveyed its employees and found that one-third of them had faced sexual harassment in the past two years, according to a report published on Tuesday.
"This tells me two things: first — that we still have a long way to go before we are able to fully and openly discuss sexual harassment; and second — that there may also be an ongoing sense of mistrust, perceptions of inaction, and lack of accountability," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote in a letter to his staff about the report's results.
Sexual harassment manifests in many different forms — from inappropriate sexual stories and jokes to unwanted sexual gestures, body language, and touching.
Over 30,000 staff members and contractors — which represent just 17% of those working for the UN and its agencies — participated in the survey and more than 20% of those surveyed said they were subjected to sexual stories or offensive jokes in the workplace. Meanwhile, 10% said they were touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
Over half of those who experienced sexual harassment reported that it occurred in an office environment, and two out of three said they were harassed by men.
People are often reluctant to report workplace sexual harassment for fear of embarrassment, retaliation, or other consequences. Approximately 75% of workplace harassment incidents go unrecorded, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates — and the UN is not immune to this trend. Only 1 in 3 of those who said they experienced sexual harassment reported or confronted the behavior, according to the report.
For women, who already face lower wages than their male colleagues and gender-based discrimination in the workplace, reporting sexual harassment may been seen as a risk to their career advancement.
The report revealed that, like many companies and organizations around the world, the UN needs to take serious action to ensure a safe and comfortable workplace for all — free from sexual harassment.
"As an organization founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard," Guterres said.