#MeToo won’t mean change for all women

Victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse and their supporters protest during a #MeToo march in Hollywood, California, in November
Picture: AFP/ Mark Ralston

Campaign shows mixed success – survey

A global movement to stop sexual harassment of women will spark change – but not for everyone, with poorer women still scared to report abuse fearing blame and backlash, according to a survey and women’s rights experts in five continents.

Ahead of International Women’s Day today, the Thomson Reuters Foundation asked people in Britain, the United States, Kenya, India and Brazil whether the #MeToo movement dominating headlines was just a viral buzz or meant change for women.

Some said they felt more confident to speak out against abuse, but others feared repercussions and some said the campaign had not gained traction in their country.

The past year has been pivotal for women’s rights after accusations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked the campaign, with women taking to social media and the streets to highlight experiences of abuse.

One in three women globally has experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by someone they know, UN Women says.

“[The campaign has] made people realise that sexual harassment has been a social norm, and people are recognising that it is not OK,” Ruth McCabe, 32, who runs a London business that reduces food waste, said.

Suman Chhabria Addepalli, a 42-year-old entrepreneur, said in Mumbai: “A campaign like this brings out the fact that every second woman is experiencing it – whether you are the chief executive of the company or a maid.”

From film sets to parliaments and businesses, revelations of sexual abuse have sent shock waves around the world. Even the aid sector was hit by reports that some staff at charity Oxfam paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

The survey found more than 120 staff from about 20 leading global charities had been fired last year over sexual misconduct.

“I think it’s a tipping point for long-term change for women,” New York-based senior executive Fabiana Mello said. “It’s time that our voices are heard.” However, not all women felt they were able to speak out against abuse, Jemima Olchawski, from the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights group in Britain, said.

“It’s always incumbent on us to watch out for the gaps – who’s not part of this conversation? Whose voice isn’t being heard?” she said.

In parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia, the #MeToo campaign has struggled to gain momentum.

Brazilian shopkeeper Talita Celia e Silva, 29, said many women remained too fearful to speak out against their abusers.

“We do not know how far [the movement] will go. I think there are a lot of women who still suffer and are afraid to talk,” Silva, from Rio de Janeiro, said.

Mumbai consultant Archana Aravind Patney, 43, said conversations about #MeToo and sexual harassment had died down in India, where the fatal gang rape of a woman on a bus in 2012 sparked protests and global attention to violence against women.

Nairobi student Faith, 22, said sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement were not taken seriously in Kenya and some men thought it was some sort of joke.

The global campaign had also failed to make a mark in Thailand as there was little discussion of women’s rights and sexual abuse, Jadet Chaowilai, director of rights group Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, said. – Reuters

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