The #MeToo campaign following the wave of allegations against Harvey Weinstein resonates with women globally. “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” may be something you have come across on your social media profiles over the last few days.
The #MeToo campaign is quite likely another manifestation of a short-lived surge of internet activism, however, it is bringing to the foreground, for a brief time, the plight faced by women everywhere.
What makes this attempt at furthering gender equality and defying structural dominance of patriarchy so powerful, is the sheer numbers it has been producing. Women all over the world are responding to the call, and that in itself is indicative of a deep-seeded global issue.
While this wave begun with allegations pouring in against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the impact of the solidarity is significant, particularly, for those outside the West.
If anything, this campaign aims to highlight the scope and extent of harassment and abuse faced by women on a daily basis; this can extend from the workplace, the street, and even in the home. This campaign has already been criticised by some stating that the issue that must be addressed are men’s actions and though raising female voices is important, it does not do much in terms of furthering gender equality.
What can be done, however, in light of the ‘magnitude of the problem’, is provide women with stronger protective mechanisms at the state level. Existing laws protecting women must be implemented and new laws must be put in place to protect women in social realms. This holds true for all spaces but particularly true for the workplace, where clearly, there is an endless amount of discrimination and harassment.
There must also be a collective effort on the part of men to oppose group-dynamics in this context and speak out and call out those who jeopardize the security and well-being of women. Men, though many disinterested, must become allies in this battle. Gender-equality cannot be thought of as a cause or campaign, for equality is a basic human right that should be distributed shared between all.
The male response to this campaign, has been inspiring at times, but there is clearly a thread of double standard woven into the fabric of male identity. Many, condescendingly, also posted statuses stating they too were harassed.
This campaign does little to highlight the differing levels of discrimination faced globally – but this serves as important opportunity to highlight that in the majority of the Arab world, Middle East, Africa and South Asia, the sexism, discrimination, and harassment women face is at least as high, or can even be higher and more aggressive.
In addition, there are fewer ‘safe-zones’ for women to seek shelter as gender discrimination is often culturally imposed and systemically enshrined. This can then manifest into internalised misogyny, whereby the woman herself begins self-censoring or criticising other women in their communities over breaking ‘taboos’. This weakens communal relations between women and serves as another vessel for oppresion.
Culturally, women are oft viewed in traditional and repressive roles. There have been great strides, such as in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Jordan, all abolishing laws that allow for a rapist to marry his victim in order to avoid punishment, and ‘preserve the dignity and honour’ of the victim. This is a success, but it cannot go unnoticed that laws such as these remain in governing and legal structures in the region, and even where they’ve been abolished, the motives are not always pure.
Realities on the ground do not reflect significant progress, despite some positive steps. This year, UNWomen released a report highlighting that in the Middle East and North Africa, 26 percent of respondents cite that woman should tolerate violence to keep the family unit intact. Research conducted in Jordan substantiates this. For example, in East Amman at a community centre, a social worker shares that many of the beneficiaries are not concerned with domestic violence. She highlights that in a lecture on gender-based violence 98 percent of the participants agreed that a man may hit is wife if she is behaving in antagonising manner.
This month, too, the Thomson Reuters foundation placed Cairo as the most dangerous megacity for women in the world.
Inspired by recent events, a young Egyptian woman writes:
cairo/makes its women/want to be invisible/it covers them/with layers of fear/until they are reduced/to a womb/and two milk fountains/to feed the children/that cairo will eventually/kill.
It is unfortunate, but, statistics and studies can be found from numerous states in the region highlighting the repetitive damage of gender-based violence.
While it may indeed prove cathartic for women to unite against discrimination and share traumatic stories with one another, this action will not, on its own, further gender equality. If genuine action is to be taken it must go beyond the internet and into the lives of women that are affected by men who violate their sanctity as individuals.
Governments, particularly those in the ‘Global South’, must be placed under pressure by to protect their women.
They must be pressured by men in these regions who must move beyond the objectification of women. At the local level, encouraging conversations must begin in safe spaces, community centres and homes, which educate both men and women on the absolute necessity of gender-equality.