Noor in a Nutshell: The immorality of moral institutions

Noor Naji, Opinion Editor

Sexual harassment allegations have been in the spotlight since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, with many women speaking out about their forced sexual encounters with different actors, directors and more. However, these types of allegations aren’t specific to the entertainment industry. In fact, it is a worldwide disease affecting the personal and professional lives of women, with even our “moral institutions” included.

The United Nations has long been complicit in overlooking gross misconduct by its senior officials, while implementing a system meant to silence victims. An internal 2018 UNAids staff survey found that 42 out of the 427 respondents had experienced sexual harassment by UN staffers, though only two had reported the instance.

This is because women often hesitate to report in fear of losing their jobs. One victim reported to the Guardian that despite summoning the courage to speak out and following all the required processes, “they mobilize friends and colleagues against you… [and send] threats.”

Moreover, a former United Nations investigator, Peter Gallo, said that evidence was often “ignored and facts skewed.” He was also told that “the only rule is not to publicly embarrass the organization.” An institution meant to protect the vulnerable around the world, in fact, places more significance on its surface image at the cost of muffling the vulnerable voices in its own workplace.

In the very nature of speaking about sexual assault, the words “she’s probably lying” or “there’s no way this many women are speaking out now” are often thrown out. In truth, most women don’t speak out for the attention or money—it often costs them their jobs or reputations—but because it is common for those in power to take advantage of many women who will presumably remain quiet.

However, the accusations don’t end with female staffers. Locals in countries protected by the UN are also affected. In 2015, former judge Marie Deschamps led a review panel on how the UN handled allegations that French and African troops sexually abused children. About 14 French soldiers were investigated for forcing children to perform sexual favors in exchange for food in the Central African Republic and other troops were accused of raping 8 to 13 year olds in Chad and Equatorial Guinea.

This sexual exploitation and abuse of power has become common internationally, with similar reports from the International Red Cross, Oxfam and more. And when considering peacekeeping troops, it’s a power associated with their gender, age and race. These type of scandals aren’t new, one-time occasions, or “a few bad apples.” They are systemic and structural issues reflecting a globally widespread problem that must be fixed.

Organizations meant to stand up for human rights, end up violating the rules themselves. The hypocrisy is unthinkable.