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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 February 2019

One third of UN's workers suffered sexual harassment

Secretary General Antonio Guterressays survey shows more has to be done to improve workplace culture

A man talks to a police office outside the UN building in New York. AP 
A man talks to a police office outside the UN building in New York. AP 

One third of United Nations staff and contractors have experienced sexual harassment in the past two years, according to an independent survey whose results indicate that the problem may run deeper.

The online study, carried out by consultancy firm Deloitte in November, was completed by 30,364 workers for the UN and its agencies, less than a fifth of those eligible to take part.

In a letter to staff, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the response rate as “moderately low” and indicated that the organisation's culture towards harassment remained unsatisfactory.

“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,” he wrote.

The survey was commissioned after the MeToo movement over sexual assault and harassment last year which started in Hollywood but burgeoned into other industries and workplaces, turning the spotlight on businesses and organisations around the world. But the report said both men and women had been victims, with two out of three harassers being male.

According to the survey for the UN, 21.7 per cent of respondents said they were subjected to sexual stories or offensive jokes, 14.2 per cent were the target of offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities and 13 per cent received unwelcome attempts to be engaged in discussions about sex.

In addition, 10.9 per cent said they had been victims of gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature, which caused them offence or embarrassment, and 10.1 per cent were touched in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the United Nations Group of 77 and China January 15, 2019 at the United Nations in New York. AFP
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the United Nations Group of 77 and China January 15, 2019 at the United Nations in New York. AFP

More than half of those who said they experienced sexual harassment reported that it happened in an office environment, while a higher number – 17.1 per cent – said it happened at a social event related to work.

Only one in three victims, however, said they took action after suffering harassment, according to the survey which Mr Guterres said contained “sobering statistics and evidence of what needs to change to make a harassment-free workplace real for all of us”.

The survey follows several high-profile accusations against the UN of sexual exploitation and abuse among peacekeepers in Africa in recent years.

The head of the UN agency for HIV and Aids is also stepping down in June, six months before his term ends, after an independent monitor said his “defective leadership” tolerated “a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power”.

Updated: January 16, 2019 10:15 PM

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