The other day I had a conversation with a friend who works for a well-known charity. She has recently started the job and enjoys most parts of it. However, a downside is that one of her colleagues has a tendency to make some rather misogynist remarks; alongside attempting to raise awareness and money for human rights he makes it clear how much he enjoys interacting with beautiful (and substantially younger) women. This drew my mind back to the recent scandals Oxfam has faced. For anyone who has missed the news: after the earthquake in Haiti 2010, charity workers from the organisation appear to have bought sex from prostitutes while working to rebuild communities on the island. I am not suggesting that checking out younger women is equivalent to exploiting vulnerable people that have just faced widespread destruction to their community, but at the same time I cannot help but think that the issues might have similar causes.
It is crucial that the analysis of the issue does not stop at ‘those people that bought sex (or shamelessly sexualises young women during working hours) are idiots, they should not have been working for Oxfam (or any charity)’; this is a sign of a larger, structural issue. It is not a coincidence that the #MeToo campaign is widespread across various sectors and in politics women from both the left and right came forward with their stories. It is easy to believe that in a charity, a company or a party that works towards human rights one will be spared of sexism. Unfortunately, this is not the case and masculinity thrives of the sexualisation and exploitation of women in all forums of society, whether the offence is making a woman feel uncomfortable or sexually assaulting her.
To combat these issues we need to keep criticising, to raise awareness and to work towards representation, and not least fight for legal justice for the victims exposed to these crimes. Don’t become blind simply because your party has a great equality section in the constitution - if you see sexism, speak up. I was added into a Facebook group during the #MeToo campaign where women in politics shared their stories and what shocked me the most was how several were told (after they had reported the man to the party administration) that they could not come forward right now as it might damage the election outcome for the party, especially if the perpetrator was an important figure. This was also seen during the Oxfam scandal where people had hidden the truth to protect the organisation and those who had bought sex. Mindsets like these, where certain individuals or the organisation as a whole are seen as more important than standing up to women’s dignity and legal justice, need to be eradicated. I believe that working towards representation will aid this. If women get more power to speak up and take up more space in the public sphere (politics, workplace) the ‘manly’ behaviour of sexualising women and protecting each other will (hopefully) become more questionable and denaturalized. This also applies to other forms of discrimination and issues - if you want to be more inclusive in terms of class, race or ability the first step is self-criticism and scrutiny where active work towards changing behaviour is conducted alongside actual inclusion. Because if we just stand back and rely on the pretty words in our organisation’s constitution, nothing will happen.