Written By: Ellie Agu Benson
*Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault.
Following the conviction of Harvey Weinstein on 24th February in the follow-up to the celebration of International Women’s Day this year, it seems apt to acknowledge the impact the #MeToo movement has had on the world. This movement, kicked off around October 2017, helped drive feminism into the digital era with allegations being made against several Hollywood heavyweights. The glitz and glamour of the film industry was stripped back and an undercurrent of sexism and sexual harassment was revealed. The campaign has enabled victims of sexual harassment to have a voice and speak out against their abusers with the use of a simple hashtag, which united women and other victims alike.
In the US, where the #MeToo movement started, Weinstein’s conviction can be seen as a monumental win for the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace. Although the number of victims coming out in Hollywood has decreased in the last year or so, the potency of the #MeToo message has not been forgotten. Melinda Gates, one of the richest women in the world, just donated one billion dollars to aid the fight for gender equality, spurred by the power of the #MeToo campaign. This donation will make huge strides in promoting gender equality, especially within the workplace.
Furthermore the use of settlements in sexual abuse cases in America has been openly criticised as it is now seen as a form of hush money to silence victims and leave abusers unscathed. Large companies such as Conde Nast have condemned the use of settlements and the future of NDA in sexual harassment cases has become a hot topic of discussion in the American election. Whereas women would previously be afraid to speak out about their abuse (as many still are), putting these issues in the spotlight is creating an environment where women can come forward and their claims can be taken seriously. The above developments have happened just within the last year and represent a social change that is occurring in America thanks to the movement and the women it has empowered.
Thanks to social media, the campaign is not just impacting America, but has spread across the world. The Indian film industry has experienced similar sexual harassment scandals, with female Bollywood actresses coming forward to speak about their experiences. Since then the movement in India gathered momentum and it was revealed that the accused did not just exist in the acting community but also within the government.
The case of the Unnao rape is especially poignant in marking the progress we are yet to make. The victim was lured to the office of an Indian lawmaker under the guise of being offered a job where she was subsequently raped. During the trial last year, her father who was being held was beaten to death presumably by the associates of the government official and subsequently the girl was set on fire and died. The horror of this case has shocked the world and reflects the huge obstacles that women face in India when trying to come forward about sexual harassment. If a woman has been abused by a man in a position of authority, they should not have to risk their lives in order to tell their story and get justice. The #MeToo movement in India which has developed from the cases in Bollywood and the Unnao rape case has demanded that the government improve women’s safety.
Similarly, in Nigeria, the #MeToo movement has spread optimism in some of the country’s most conservative and isolated communities. In northern Nigeria, the #ArewaMeToo movement has been making huge steps forward in terms of womens’ rights for the mostly Muslim demographic. In northern Nigeria, sexual harassment is viewed hand in hand with consensual sex and is not a punishable crime. Although rape is a recognised crime, marital rape is not. With many being abused as children, they remain voiceless for many years, unable to receive legal justice and escape their abusers. The #ArewaMeToo movement, developed by Fakhriyyah Hashim, raises worldwide awareness for the women of northern Nigeria. Furthermore, within the society it is doing the important task of breaking down the taboo of talking about sex and sexual abuse. This is helping open a dialogue where women feel they can come forward with their experiences without feeling ashamed in one of the world’s most hostile places to be a woman. Hashim states that the success of the movement would not have been possible without social media.
Social media has become an empowering tool to unite women across the world under the #MeToo campaign. The use of a hashtag and the increasing access to the internet has given a space where women can find their voices and embolden one another to speak out. By shedding light on sexual harassment across the globe, it is showing people that these problems exist everywhere and more needs to be done to stop sexual harassment. The shift from it being a grassroots movement to a global touchpoint has been a great start and its fight against sexual harassment will hopefully reach and empower women on all areas of the globe.