NGO network calls for an end to sexual harassment among activists

A network of NGOs and activists issued an open letter on International Human Rights Day (10 December) calling for an end to sexual harassment and gender bias among social activists.

At the campaign table at the Tai Pride event on Tuesday (10 December). The sign says "what is the point of revolution if sexual harassment still exist?"

The letter calls for activist circles and organizations to address the problem of sexual harassment and gender bias within social movements in order to create a space of safety and empowerment for everyone working to create social change, stressing that sexual harassment is about unequal power relations and that it obstructs the full potential of the movements.

“More damage happens when those in higher power positions are the actors, including senior colleagues, people who have more connections and people who have influence on other people in the movement,” the letter states. “Men are also a part of unequal power relation as norms allow them to have more sexual freedom without the social punishments that women face.”

It also stated that sexual harassment is when “a person is made to feel uncomfortable, humiliated, offended, unsafe, or unwelcome because of their gender and/or sexuality” and that it can happen to any gender. The letter also emphasised that sexual harassment is not limited to sexual assault but can also take the form of

  • Criticizing or making jokes about one’s body and clothing
  • Constantly making comments about a woman’s marital status or the fact that she is single
  • Insisting on making sexual or romantic approaches even after being rejected
  • Too much touching on any parts of the other person’s body, such as the head, the back, the arm, the hand, etc.
  • Booking connecting rooms when traveling together or trying to get into the other person’s room with a hinted sexual agenda
  • Making jokes or commenting about one’s gender to make that gender appear of less value or like a sexual object
  • Hinting a sexual intention in the forms of jokes, comments, comparisons, compliments, etc.
  • Coercing or pushing to have sex

“We request all friends in the movements and all social change agents of all genders to bring forth your courage, your love of justice and freedom to make this change among ourselves and stop sexual harassment in the movements. It is time social change makers and activists in all movements insisted that we will not tolerate sexual harassment. Let us create safer social movements by helping each other learn and supporting those affected instead of questioning and blaming them,” said the letter, which was issued by five organizations: Backyard Politics, Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA), the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG), the Women’s Wellbeing and Gender Justice Programme, and the Sexuality Studies Association.

The letter has now been co-signed by 19 other organizations and over 80 individuals.

“What is the point of revolution if sexual harassment still exists?”

10 December 2019

Open letter to activist friends

A life free from sexual harassment is a part of democracy. It is an inseparable component of a just society.

Sexual harassment and gender bias make work space unsafe. It creates stress, paranoia and fear for the people who become the targets. It also creates an unequal and unfair environment for everyone who shares the space. This affects the feelings of trust, safety and empowerment for everyone in the movements. Sexual harassment obstructs the full potential of the movements. It matters and needs to be recognized and addressed so that our movements are safe from within and that everyone can enjoy being a part of the movements.

Sexual harassment is about unequal power relations. More damage happens when those in higher power positions are the actors, including senior colleagues, people who have more connections and people who have influence on other people in the movement. Men are also a part of unequal power relation as norms allow them to have more sexual freedom without the social punishments that women face.

Sexual harassment occurs when a person is made to feel uncomfortable, humiliated, offended, unsafe, or unwelcome because of their gender and/or sexuality. It can happen to all genders. In social movements, it can take the following forms: 

  • Criticizing or making jokes about one’s body and outfit
  • Constantly making comments about a woman’s marital status or the fact that she is single
  • Insisting on making sexual or romantic approaches even after being rejected
  • Too much touching on any parts of the other person’s body, such as the head, the back, the arm, the hand, etc.
  • Booking connecting rooms when traveling together or trying to get into the other person’s room with hinted sexual agenda
  • Making jokes or commenting about one’s gender to make that gender appears of lesser values or like a sexual object
  • Hinting a sexual intention in the forms of jokes, comments, comparisons, compliments, etc.
  • Coercing or pushing to have sex
  • etc.

We request all friends in the movements and all social change agents in all genders to bring forth your courage, your love of justice and freedom to make this change among ourselves and stop sexual harassment in the movements. It is time social change makers and activists in all movements insist that we would not tolerate sexual harassment. Let us create safer social movements by helping each other learn and supporting those affected instead of questioning and blaming them.

With faith in all of us,

Backyard Politics

Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA)

Democracy Restoration Group (DRG)

Women’s Wellbeing and Gender Justice Program

Sexuality Studies Association