What #MeToo has meant around the world

The hashtag that became a movement. Photo by: Wolfmann / CC BY-SA

It is just over a year since revelations about sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood sparked the #MeToo movement, through which millions of women around the world have shared their experiences, including in the aid sector.

Beyond the English-speaking world, similar hashtags took flight as one scandal followed another — #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, #BalanceTonPorc in France, #quellavoltache in Italy. In China, where the hashtag faced censorship on social media, users developed the alternative #RiceBunny, which in Mandarin mimics the sound of “Me Too.”

The hashtag has snowballed. Since October 2017, #MeToo has been used an average of 55,319 times a day on Twitter, in at least 85 countries. Almost a third of those tweets have been in languages other than English, with Afrikaans, Somali, and Spanish leading the way.

But is the movement as global as it might seem? How has it affected women beyond the borders of the United States and Europe? To mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Devex heard from journalists in four hubs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to learn about its impact.

Via Google Maps

Nairobi, Kenya — Neha Wadekar

When the #MeToo movement reached East Africa, it sparked conversations on Twitter and in the media. But social stigma, and a normalization of violence against women and girls means that few men have been held accountable as a result of the movement.

“Many African women, Kenyan women, still face the issues of an overly patriarchal, religious, and traditional setting. The stigma alone associated with violence against women renders many women mum,” said Sharon Kate Ng’ang’a, a Kenyan television presenter and university student.

This could be in part because #MeToo has not yet been adapted to fit the African context. Women and girls in Africa face a different set of challenges than in the West, including female genital mutilation, child marriage, and rape as a weapon of war. In some cultures, domestic violence is commonplace, and even considered normal.

“Many Kenyans are not aware of what #MeToo means. And who would blame them?” Ng’ang’a asked. “We are not educated efficiently as a society on the actions to take when it comes down to reporting abuse, collecting evidence, handling victims, and so forth.”

But examples from several East African nations suggest that #MeToo is having some impact. In Uganda in March, women demanded the resignation of politician Onesimus Twinamasiko, after he encouraged men to beat their wives to “discipline” them. In the end, Twinamasiko did not have to resign, but was forced to apologize. In Kenya earlier this year, protestors called for a criminal investigation into alleged abuse at Kenyatta National Hospital.

And in Ethiopia in November 2017, nine middle-school girls came forward to report abuse from a teacher at their school. The girls referred to the #MeToo movement as inspiration for speaking out. The teacher was fired, and the case handed over to police.

Cali, Colombia — Carolina Loza León

Latin America had already found social media to be a powerful tool for change when it comes to women’s right by the time #MeToo opened up a new window for debate.

In 2015, #NiUnaMenos — not one less — a campaign that started out in Argentina, shone a light on an issue that plagues the region — femicide, or the killing of women because of their sex.

In 2016, #MiPrimerAcoso — my first harassment — saw women on Twitter and Facebook share harrowing testimonies of systematic sexual harassment, often beginning at a very early age.

Over the past year, #MeToo has brought another issue to the table: sexual harassment in schools and in the workplace.

Until recently, harassment had been somewhat accepted as part of how “machismo” plays out in the region; patriarchal behaviors that permeate everyday routines. Nessa Teran, an editor of Zoila, a digital platform focused on women’s ideas, described how cases of harassment at universities have been exposed in Ecuador this year. “This might have been a push from the #Metoo movement,” she added.

#Metoo has been widely covered by news outlets across the region, in magazines and newspapers as well as on TV, making many people aware of the magnitude of sexual harassment. Many of the celebrities that came forward are well-known in these countries, and Latin America’s own celebrities — such as Calu Rivero, an Argentinian actress — have gone public about sexual harassment suffered in the workplace since #Metoo went viral.

Manila, Philippines — Jenny Lei Ravelo

The Philippines has been ranked as one of the most gender equal countries in the world. It is not unusual for women here to raise families while leading their own companies, or taking prominent roles in government.

But if the goal of #MeToo was for women to stand up, call out sexual abuse, and demand accountability — and for men to reassess their behavior toward women — the movement is yet to take off in the Philippines. Victim blaming and shaming are still very much present in the culture, although feminist movements are growing. #BabaeAko — which some see as related to #MeToo — was launched this year to protest statements made by President Rodrigo Duterte that campaigners say are misogynistic. Women are also finding the courage to post their experiences of assault or harassment on social media channels, though they may often find themselves vilified in response.

In recent years, two cities in Metro Manila banned catcalling and other forms of street harassment, with penalties. A nationwide bill is also currently being discussed in the legislature. Still, in practice, catcalling remains widely tolerated.

Recently, a case filed by an entertainment reporter against her supervisors at one of the largest broadcasting networks in the country opened a conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace. Could this spark the flames of #MeToo in the Philippines, as it did in nearby South Korea when a female prosecutor made public her experience of sexual harassment?

Mumbai, India — Amruta Byatnal

In late September, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta accused actor Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her on a film set a decade ago. By early October, a spate of sexual harassment allegations began to emerge as women took to Twitter using the hashtag #MeTooIndia to share their experiences. Among the many who faced accusations were former Minister of State and journalist M. J. Akbar, who stepped down from government; film-maker Vikas Bahl; and veteran anchor Vinod Dua. All deny the allegations.

Like last year — when an Indian student published a list of professors who had sexual harassment allegations made against them — the courage displayed by women has been exceptional. But the reactions from many men — ranging from victim shaming to downright crassness — are neither new nor surprising.

A majority of the men named were powerful, occupying influential spaces in politics, the media, and the movie industry. The women who called them out enjoyed none of the protection those positions can offer. Priya Ramani, the journalist who first named Akbar — followed by 20 other women who offered to testify against him in court — is now facing a defamation suit.

Still, the #MeToo movement in India has been criticized for being concentrated in urban centers, only available to women who have access to the internet and the relative luxury of backing from family, co-workers, and civil society. It is important to look at #MeToo in India through the lens of class and caste, and to be aware of the voices that are marginalized even in this moment of reckoning.

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