One in three staff and non-staff personnel at the UN experienced sexual harassment in the last two years, a new report released by the world body said, amid the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.
The confidential survey obtained information on sexual harassment across the United Nations system and related entities globally. The survey was completed by 30,364 staff and non-staff personnel from across 31 entities, representing a 17 per cent response rate overall.
The survey 'Safe Space: Survey on Sexual Harassment in our Workplace' found that one in three (33 per cent) respondents reported that they had experienced at least one instance of sexual harassment in the last two years.
Overall, 10,032 out of the total 30,364 respondents (33 per cent) had experienced an incident of sexual harassment in the last two years.
One in five survey respondents (20.2 per cent) reported experiencing at least one type of sexual harassment prior to 2016. The overall prevalence rate was 38.7 per cent (any sexual harassment incident experienced while working with the UN, independent of time period).
In a letter to the UN staff, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the response rate overall was "moderately low."
"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 said.
Guterres underscored that since taking office, he has emphasised his personal commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and to strengthen the UN's prevention and response efforts.
The UN Chief also stressed that the results of the survey confirm that the issue of sexual harassment and abuse has a "debilitating effect" on staff morale and work performance and that there are continued barriers to reporting, including a fear of retaliation and a perception that perpetrators, for the most part enjoy impunity.
On the survey's finding, UN Guterres said: “While these figures are comparable to other organisations, we cannot comfort ourselves with the idea that we are all struggling to address this scourge. As an organisation founded on equality, dignity and human rights, we must lead by example and set the standard".
The survey, which was administered by Deloitte on behalf of the United Nations, found that the most common forms of sexual harassment reported were sexual stories or jokes that were offensive (21.7 per cent), offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities (14.2 per cent), unwelcome attempts to draw them into a discussion on sexual matters (13 per cent), gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature, which embarrassed or offended them (10.9 per cent) and touching which made them feel uncomfortable (10.1 per cent).
The most severe forms of sexual harassment (including actual or attempted rape) were most commonly experienced by heterosexual females, aged between 35 and 44 years, employed as Professional or General Services personnel in a fixed-term employment. The survey also found that harassment was highest for Junior Professional Officers / Associate Experts, UN Volunteers and Consultants (49.3 per cent, 39 per cent and 38.7 per cent, respectively).
Respondents in the survey said that more than half of sexual harassment experiences had occurred in the office environment (58.3 per cent). The second most commonly reported setting for sexual harassment was at work-related social events (17.1 per cent).
The survey also found that nearly three quarters of respondents (70.7 per cent) reported that their immediate supervisor demonstrates zero tolerance for sexual harassment. The rate was lower for senior leaders (59.2 per cent).
"In light of this, it is suggested that UN entities take a stronger proactive role in setting expectations of respectful behaviour through workplace civility and inclusion codes and training programs. Such measures would help to reduce the incidence of harassment by colleagues (reported as the most common category of harasser), whether they are in leadership roles or not," according to the survey.