The global #MeToo campaign has taken the battle for women’s rights to “where we have never been before”, the head of the UN’s agency for gender equality told AFP during her first official visit to Pakistan Friday.
“The challenge for you and me now is to keep it going,” Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said, calling the movement a “stage in the ongoing journey to fight for gender equality”.
Mlambo-Ngcuka was visiting Pakistan, where society remains deeply patriarchal with shockingly high rates of violence and abuse by men targeting women, as part of her travels to mark the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which ends on December 10.
The #MeToo movement began in the United States more than a year ago in response to accusations of sexual abuse and harassment by powerful men in the entertainment industry and other sectors.
It soon became a global movement as women shared their stories of harassment or gender-based discrimination.
“It’s moving from the time when the word ‘consent’ did not even exist as a legal trend, when domestic violence was not even a crime, when sexual harassment did not even have a face,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
“The struggles of women who have fought for decades and decades have made this possible and Me Too has been able to take this to the highest stage.”
But, she warned, “we are not there yet, the pendulum might still swing backward, so that’s why we have to work even harder”.
The UN is promoting the hashtag #HearMeToo as a part of that push, to give voice to women far away from Hollywood or positions of power, in rural areas including in Pakistan, she said.
Though Pakistan has seen some high-profile #MeToo cases, the campaign has not had the same impact as in other countries, and women continue to struggle for their rights.
Child marriages, domestic abuse and so-called “honour” killings — in which men kill women, usually their relatives, for slighting a patriarchal, outdated social code — remain rampant.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricket star and international lothario, caused controversy during his election campaign this summer for saying that feminism has degraded motherhood.
However Mlambo-Ngcuka said she wanted to focus on what Khan and his administration are doing: seeking to take on child marriage, “honour” murders and giving women access to family planning.
“I want to encourage the government under the leadership of this prime minister to do more of the things that they have been talking about,” she said.
“We are working with them, hand-in-hand.”