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A Lesson in Word Choice for the United Nations

Thursday 22 March 2018, by siawi3


A Lesson in Word Choice for the United Nations

March 20, 2018

Written by Coby Jones

Right now, the United Nations (UN) and member organizations are using the term ‘forced sex’ instead of rape on their social media feeds. This is a dangerous word choice because not only is it incorrect, these words are a dereliction of responsibility to those who have experienced and survived rape. In using the term ‘forced sex’ the UN has allowed rape culture to redefine violence against women. The UN and the affiliated organizations must eliminate this incorrect terminology and start being accountable to survivors of rape and not the counter culture that seeks to destroy their legitimacy. ‘Forced sex’ is rape and it is inappropriate for a global governing body to mince words when describing an act of violence against women.

The UN is currently hosting the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the largest annual intergovernmental gathering for the purpose of improving equality and empowerment for women globally. This is the time and place for all UN Member States and civil society organizations to come together and agree upon a set of resolutions that recognizes the successes and failures made in addressing global gender inequality and injustice. In order to do this effectively, the UN needs to adopt and utilize appropriate language. This language needs to be accountable to the women and men globally who have experienced rape and other instances of gendered violence.

Using incorrect language to describe rape perpetuates misconceptions about consent and allows patriarchal norms to continue. It gives perpetrators language to describe their acts without admitting to rape, which contributes to the perpetuation of rape culture globally. The discussion around how to give and receive consent has been divisive for decades. The #MeToo movement is finally giving women a space to speak out against behavior that feeds into rape culture i.e. sexual harassment in the workplace. Given the huge grassroots push for transparency and equality this year with #MeToo and Time’s Up, using incorrect language such as ‘forced sex’ instead of rape is unacceptable, and shows us that we still have so much further to go before the goals of these movements will be realized.

The UN and the member states and civil society organizations that feed into this body need to be held to a higher standard. The UN has been under scrutiny for decades for ignoring and perpetuating rape committed by peacekeepers in the countries they are sent to work in. Now is the time for the UN to stand with survivors of rape and be held accountable for their actions. One of the firsts steps is to be clear about adopting a no tolerance policy on rape and in order to do so, the UN needs to clearly identify acts of rape. This needs to start with the language used to describe rape and other acts of gendered violence reinforced by the patriarchal norms that keeps rape culture in existence.

This commitment to using appropriate language can begin at any time and should start now. Though CSW’s theme this year is focused on rural women specifically, the UN and all that it encompasses cannot truly be a body that enforces the equality and empowerment of women worldwide if it continues to use language that perpetuates violence and ignores the reality of rape in our global society. In a world where 30% of women globally have experienced physical violence from an intimate partner and rape is grossly under reported, there can be no confusion over what defines physical violence. Rape is one of these acts of violence.

Women globally will not wait any longer. In larger and larger numbers, they are standing up and demanding their right to equality and safety in the workplace as well as in our societies and communities. Globally, a discussion on rape is needed, but for a body such as the UN that is dedicated to peace and equality globally needs to take the first step. It can do this by calling on all of its affiliated organizations to use ‘rape’ instead of ‘forced sex’.