On the one-year anniversary of The New York Times’ exposé of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of paying off sexual harassment accusers that sparked the #MeToo Movement across the United States, the world finds itself in a contradictory battle to dismantle the international patriarchy.
At the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres congratulated Yazidi activist and UN Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad and Congolese gynecologist Dr. Denis Mukwege for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He stated that “Nadia Murad gave voice to unspeakable abuse in Iraq when the violent extremists of Daesh brutally targeted the Yazidi people, especially women and girls” and “Dr. Denis Mukwege has been a fearless champion for the rights of women caught up in armed conflict who have suffered rape, exploitation and other horrific abuses” in the DRC.
The Yazidi are a minority group in Iraq and the target of genocide. Murad, a survivor of sexual assault and captivity, made the violently-silenced voices of the Yazidi women and girls heard. By becoming the Goodwill Ambassador for the UN in 2016, she has used her voice to call for action, declaring “we are activists and we need more than empathy.”
Dr. Mukwege is a surgeon in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country the UN called the “rape capital of the world.” He has worked tirelessly to heal countless women and children who are survivors of brutal rapes. A New York Times article stated that at one point Dr. Mukwege “was performing around 10 lifesaving operations a day at his hospital near the front line.” Dr. Mukwege’s patients are victims of armed conflict in which rape is a military strategy.
While Guterres states that “in defending the victims of sexual violence in conflict, [Murad and Dr. Mukwege] have defended our shared values,” the UN itself struggles with preventing sexual violence among its own peace corps.
Numerous sexual assault allegations have been made against UN peacekeepers in the Congo, where Dr. Mukwege is from. An Associated Press report states that “[t]o this day, the sexual violence by U.N. peacekeepers and personnel continues: Congo already accounts for nearly one-third of the 43 allegations made worldwide in 2017.” This makes the UN peace corp a significant threat to the safety of some of the most vulnerable women they are supposed to be protecting worldwide.
Concluding his speech, Mr. Guterres said, “By honouring these defenders of human dignity, this [Nobel Peace Prize] also recognizes countless victims around the world who have too often been stigmatized, hidden and forgotten. This is their award, too.”
Ironically, today in the United States, with a 51-49 vote, despite several sexual assault allegations against him, the Senate advanced Brett Kavanaugh as the Supreme Court Justice nomination. It was another expected, yet nonetheless crushing defeat particularly for women, but also for the entire country.
The Republicans, with the help of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, moved to put not only an alleged sexual predator on the highest court of the land, but a neoconservative titan who could help scrap the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision, which affirms the constitutional right to legal, safe abortions. Furthermore, Kavanaugh sides with the Security State, and contrary to what he claims, will work against campaign finance reform, among other destructive positions.
The Senate vote comes after Kavanaugh broke a federal crime repeatedly by lying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against him and a clearly partisan and incomplete FBI investigation into the claims. As editor of Current Affairs magazine Nathan J. Robinson bluntly wrote, “If [Kavanaugh] is placed on the bench, sworn oaths will be meaningless and the rule of law will be a joke.”
It remains unclear how successfully the #MeToo Movement has challenged American white male domination in the past year. The Kavanaugh confirmation, as many have suggested, could be another push toward an American Handmaid’s Tale.
We are living in a world where the UN Chief can unabashedly praise individuals who dedicate themselves to helping victims of sexual assault, while also failing to stamp out abuses within his own UN ranks. As the Senate moves to seal Kavanaugh’s lifetime confirmation on the #MeToo Movement’s anniversary, we are reminded that ending violence against women is an international and ongoing struggle for all.
October 5th is a day of grim contradiction, but the fight doesn’t end here.