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How to fight sexism in the #MeToo era? Council of Europe starts with defining it

A participant at a feminist rally in Saint Petersburg, Russia
A participant at a feminist rally in Saint Petersburg, Russia Copyright REUTERS
Copyright REUTERS
By Sandrine Amiel
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How to fight sexism in the #MeToo era? The Council of Europe starts with defining it


In response to the #MeToo movement, the Council of Europe adopted on Wednesday a recommendation to prevent and combat sexism, including the first-ever international definition of it.

The text was hailed as a step forward by feminist organizations across the region.

What is sexism?

The new legal instrument defines sexism as:

“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 (...)”

From advertising and media to employment, the text lists areas where sexism occurs and sheds light on what sexist behaviour is.

It highlights how acts of “everyday” sexism are “part of a continuum of violence that create a climate of intimidation, fear, discrimination, exclusion and insecurity which limits opportunities and freedom.”

How to tackle sexism

The Council of Europe recommends that its 47 Member States take concrete action to prevent and combat sexism, such as:

  • Legislative reforms that criminalise sexist hate speech and provide for appropriate remedies for victims of sexist behaviour.
  • Awareness-raising measures including “speedy reactions” by public figures to condemn sexist incidents when they occur.
  • Targeted measures to tackle online sexism, which is “rampant throughout Europe,” according to the text. The same rules should apply to online sexist hate speech as to racist hate speech, the Strasbourg-based organisation said.


Women's rights organisations across Europe have welcomed the Council of Europe's initiative.

“Equality Now welcomes this important advance by the @COE to legally address sexism via a dedicated legal instrument incorporating a comprehensive range of measures," the NGO said on Twitter.

Women against Violence Europe also hailed the Council of Europe's move as “great news. "

The Council of Europe's recommendations are non-binding, so it will be up to each Member State to implement policies against sexism.

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