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UN Women appoints Purna Sen as spokesperson for addressing sexual harassment

By Asma’u Ahmad

The UN Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has announced a newly created special assignment; Executive Coordinator and Spokespersonon addressing sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.

Purna Sen, UN Women’s Director of Policy Division, has been appointed to this significant role.  The statement added that Ms. Sen brings extensive expertise and experience to this assignment with almost three decades of work as an activist, violence against women and human rights expert, academic and politician.

Accoridng to press statement, the UN agency is saddened and angered by women’s experiencesof sexual harassment and committed to seeing its end. The role will focus on placing women’s experiences at the heart of work on sexual harassment and bring survivor-focused approaches to the fore.

Purna Sen

UN Women’s leadership will coordinate efforts towards decisive action on this pressing issue, which at its core tackles the gendered nature of power and the need to ensure justice and dignity for women at work.

According to the executive director when announcing the measure, UN Women was established to protect and promote women’s rights. She said: “We have a unique role to play in driving action towards accountability. This means zero tolerance for violence and harassment, and actions to ensure that victims are supported.

“We currently see practices and cultural norms that enable harassment and penalize victims. This has to change. In her new role and with her directly relevant background, Purna will help address the deep-rooted patterns of inequality and abuse of women.”

Health Reporters gathered that among Ms. Sen’s tasks will be calling upon and supporting states, government administrations and the private sector to ensure actions are taken to respond to women’s experiences of sexual harassment.

Ms. Sen begins her assignment with two calls: firstly, asking women to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault and secondly, asking for examples of good practices, policies and laws dealing with harassment.

“Women around the world have given notice to impunity for such violence and abuse and they are right. There is an urgent need to build on the current momentum to respond, prevent and stop sexual harassment wherever it is, both within and outside the UN” added Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“There needs to be greater recognition of the regularity and widespread nature of harassment that women face.  “Women’s accounts tell the world how pervasive this is and we will support this momentum– we want to hear from you wherever you are. #MeToo has shown women’s powerful solidarity and given notice to abusers; it is incumbent on employers and others in authority to create respectful and safe workplaces.

“Where there are good examples, I want to publicize and share these too. Our efforts need to be true to victims’ experiences so any accounts shared with us – both good and bad – will help us to see that this initiative for change is aligned with the reality that they face,” said Ms. Sen.

The executive coordinator and spokesperson will draw links with other aspects of violence against women, such as abuse by peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, and gendered discrimination.

She will provide advice to the Executive Director and senior management team and also engage on other issues related to gender-based discrimination that may develop in the coming months.

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