The time of silence on harassment is over – enough is enough

Sexual Harassment has never been more in the spotlight. But it is up to us to ensure that we keep it there, never again to be consigned to the shadows for fear of the consequences of speaking out.  

I very much hope that as a society we have reached a tipping point around how we’re talking about harassment.

It is important to highlight the women whose courage has brought into the open the culture of sexual harassment and abuse that has escaped attention for far too long.

That includes the ‘Silence Breakers’, the ‘Me Too’ movement, and the solidarity shown at the Golden Globe awards. The strength of these women has started a revolution. A revolution that daily gathers pace and which is calling to account those men who thought they were untouchable.

It is laying bare the attitudes that for too long have been held by men in power. 

Just to be clear harassment wasn’t acceptable 10, 15 or however many years ago. It never has been acceptable nor will it ever be acceptable.  

Let there be no doubt the time of silence is over. Our voices will be heard. The time is now to call out harassment for what it is – Violence against Women.  

Our bodies and our minds are our own. We will not tolerate the actions of anyone who chooses to harm us in any way.  

As a woman and a politician I will do all I can to bring about an end to violence against women – enough is enough.

The women who have spoken out have pushed open a door. It is up to us to keep pushing.

But while reporting and speaking out is so important, we need to also acknowledge that many women are not ready to disclose their trauma, and that’s their right.

Men also need to acknowledge their responsibility and take ownership of the need to change their behaviours and attitudes.  

They must join the very many women who are already speaking out, taking action, and acknowledge this isn’t for women to fix. It’s for society to fix.

Every employer should reflect on their working environment and how conducive it is to reporting harassment and abuse. They need to ensure that they have robust, sensitive and fair procedures in place to deal with complaints, and that their employees are aware of and confident in these.

If women experiencing harassment and abuse do not have confidence, that pervasive silence will continue to exist – and those who choose to behave in this way will continue to believe they can act with impunity.

Beyond this, employers must focus and address the inequality that is present across their organisation. From the lack of women in the boardroom and in positions of decision making to the gender pay gap, gender inequality damages our economy as well as our society.  

We cannot continue, as a country, systematically underuse, ignore or discriminate against the talents of half of our population.

This is a watershed moment, coming appropriately at the centenary of women’s suffrage in 1918. Let’s not waste it. Let’s seize it and make it a moment of real change. Our job is to translate hope into action that prevents violence against women and girls.

We simply cannot be complacent. We all need to be ‘silence breakers’. We need to take the action required to hold perpetrators to account and keep women and children safe from violence and abuse.   

Violence against women in whatever form it might take is a fundamental violation of human rights and must stop. And if everyone works together, then we have the power to stop it.

As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women said “the price of no change is unacceptable”.

Angela Constance is Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities.

Here’s how the SNP is tackling gender inequality and violence against women

  • We have introduced a Domestic Abuse Bill, which will create a new specific offence to help tackle domestic abuse. The legislation will cover not just physical abuse, but also other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.
  • We are working to implement Equally Safe, Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls.
  • We have introduced a ‘statutory domestic abuse aggravator’ to ensure courts take domestic abuse into account when sentencing offenders
  • We are taking action to ensure that women are properly represented in political and public life. We have a female First Minister with a gender balanced Cabinet.
  • The Scottish Government’s Advisory Council on Women and Girls will help us to drive forward a real step change in advancing women’s equality in Scotland.
  • We are supporting Rape Crisis Scotland to deliver their sexual violence prevention programme across a number of local authorities in Scotland.
  • We are funding Zero Tolerance and Rape Crisis Scotland to pilot a whole schools approach to tackling gender based violence in schools.
  • Last year we provided three-year funding to equality and violence against women organisations. This will give front line services in particular the ability to plan for the future.
  • The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, created a specific offence of sharing private intimate images without consent.
  • The Gender Representation Bill, which is being looked at with interest by others in Europe, aims to ensure all appointed members to public boards have a 50/50 gender balance, setting an example for the private sector to follow.