In 2006, human rights activist Tarana Burke launched the me too Movement ™ through Just Be Inc., building community among survivors of violence, especially women of color (WOC) from low-income backgrounds. In the wake of accusations against former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017, use of the hashtag #metoo by survivors sharing their stories went viral, elevating the movement globally.
Collective storytelling by survivors—the movement’s powerful tool—illustrates how assault, abuse, and exploitation are ongoing and an ever-present risk. All sectors have a responsibility to address these issues, including those of us in global development. One might argue that we have a greater responsibility given our humanitarian mission and reach with vulnerable populations.
Most organizations have minimum policies on sexual assault, human trafficking, and child protection, compliant with host country law. However, minimum processes focused on criminal acts leave survivors ignored, ostracized, and further victim to professional backlash. Survivors may be deterred from reporting at all. Minimum policies do not address the systemic sexism and racism that marginalizes women (especially WOC), perpetuates normalized inappropriate behavior and breeds inequality.
The time has come for us to establish comprehensive prevention and response systems for assault, harassment, and exploitation with transparent procedures for reporting of, and objective response to, offenses. There should be multiple channels for reporting, clear lines of accountability, and high standards for enforcement and discipline of offenses, including offenses that cannot be proven or are not criminal.
Policies should be streamlined across funding agreements and organizations to support monitoring and reporting; and require that partners, subcontractors, and vendors have similar policies or adhere to such policies in terms of agreement. Transparency supports partnerships, organizational reputation, prevents funding loss from investigation and arbitration and improves efficiency.
We must address underlying cultural norms and inequalities leading to inappropriate behavior. Research shows that diversity and gender parity in leadership increases productivity and profitability. Organizations should support the appointment of women, especially WOC, in leadership roles; review, and transparently report, gender pay-gap data and provide remuneration wherever necessary.
The me too movement is a platform for the voices of those with lived experience. We also need a platform for voices within our organizations prioritizing those underrepresented, such as WOC, women with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community. The voices of diverse and representative staff members should inform the design of these systems.
Through the me too movement, the world is now listening to the voices of those with lived experience, leading to empathy and subsequently change. In international development, we must also heed this call, listening to the voices of our workforce and beneficiaries, building empathy across experiences, and eradicating the systemic forces that inhibit well-being and hinder us from reaching our goals.
With contribution from Bethany Corrigan, MPH, Senior Technical Advisor, Gender and Gender-Based Violence, PSI