Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Guidelines for preventing and combating sexism: measures for implementation 2/5


Appendix to Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)1

Guidelines for preventing and combating sexism: measures for implementation

Definition

For the purpose of this Recommendation, sexism is:

Any act, gesture, visual representation, spoken or written words, practice or behaviour based upon the idea that a person or a group of persons is inferior because of their sex, which occurs in the public or private sphere, whether online or offline, with the purpose or effect of:

i. violating the inherent dignity or rights of a person or a group of persons; or ii. resulting in physical, sexual, psychological or socio-economic harm or suffering to a person or a group of persons; or iii. creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment; or iv. constituting a barrier to the autonomy and full realisation of human rights by a person or a group of persons; or v. maintaining and reinforcing gender stereotypes. 2

Context

The need to tackle sexism, sexist norms and behaviour and sexist speech is implicit in a number of international and regional instruments. Both the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (CETS No. 210, Istanbul Convention) and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recognise a continuum between gender stereotypes, gender inequality, sexism and violence against women and girls. In this way, acts of “everyday” sexism in the form of apparently inconsequential or minor sexist behaviour, comments and jokes are at one end of the continuum. However, these acts are often humiliating and contribute to a social climate where women are demeaned, their self-regard lowered and their activities and choices restricted, including at work, in the private, public or online sphere. Sexist behaviour such as, in particular, sexist hate speech, may escalate to or incite overtly offensive and threatening acts, including sexual abuse or violence, rape or potentially lethal action. Other consequences may include loss of resources, self-harm or suicide. Tackling sexism is thus part of States’ positive obligation to guarantee human rights, gender equality and to prevent violence against women and girls in accordance with international human rights law and, for States Parties, the Istanbul Convention.

Sexism and sexist behaviour result in physical, sexual, psychological or socio-economic harm and impact different sectors of the population differently. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by such behaviour. Sexism and sexist behaviour constitute a barrier to the empowerment and advancement of women and girls; the elimination of sexism and sexist behaviour would benefit everyone: women, girls, men and boys.

Sexism and sexist behaviour occur across the full range of human activity, including in cyberspace (internet and social media). They can be experienced individually or collectively by a person or a group of persons, even if neither the individual nor the group has been directly targeted, for example through sexist advertising, or posting of pictures of naked women in the workplace. The three levels of perpetuating and experiencing sexism are: individual, institutional (for example family, work or education environment), and structural (for example through societal gender inequalities, social norms and behaviour). Sexism is silencing when individuals and groups fail to report or complain about sexist behaviour for fear of not being taken seriously, of being ostracised or even held responsible. 

The internet has provided a new dimension for the expression and transmission of sexism, especially of sexist hate speech, to a large audience, even though the roots of sexism do not lie in technology but in persistent gender inequalities. Additionally, social phenomena such as the #MeToo campaign and the series of actions and policy measures that it has triggered in different parts of the world (from 2017 onwards), including in Council of Europe member States, have helped shed light on the ubiquity of sexism and on the need for stronger measures to combat it.

Sexism and sexist behaviour are rooted in and reinforce gender stereotypes. The European Court of Human Rights has considered that “the issue with stereotyping of a certain group in society lies in the fact that it prohibits the individualised evaluation of their capacity and needs”3.  Gender stereotypes reinforce unequal social power structures and impact resource allocation between women and men negatively. The persistent gender pay gap and the pension gap in member States are cases in point. Gender stereotypes are thus social constructions of the “appropriate” roles for women and men, which are determined by cultural prejudices, customs, traditions, and in many instances, interpretations of religious beliefs and practices. Women who challenge or deviate from what is regarded as their “proper” place in society can be confronted with sexism and misogyny and men who challenge dominant perceptions of masculinity may be confronted with sexism.

Intersectionality, situational vulnerabilities and aggravating circumstances

Women and men may be confronted with different and intersecting forms of sexism, based on a range of other factors including but not limited to ethnicity, minority or indigenous status, age, religion, refugee or migrant status, disability, marital status, social origin, gender identity, sexual orientation or sexuality. They may be in more vulnerable situations or be targeted by different acts of sexism in different settings, such as young women and women active in predominantly male environments, for instance business, finance, the military or politics. Women in positions of power or authority, including public figures, are also particular targets for sexism as they are perceived to have deviated from social gender norms that exclude women from public spaces or authority. Intersex and trans persons also face additional and/or enhanced challenges with regard to sexism.

Some circumstances can add to the seriousness or impact of sexist behaviour, or can affect the capacity of the victim to react. Such aggravating circumstances exist where sexist acts or words take place within a hierarchical or dependent relationship, in particular at work, in an educational or medical setting, in the framework of (public) services, or within commercial relationships. Sexism is especially damaging when the author is in a position of power, authority or influence such as a politician, an opinion maker or a business leader. Another aggravating factor is where the reach, or potential reach, of the sexist words or acts is extensive, including the means of transmission, use of social or mainstream media and the degree of repetition.

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