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#MeToo Movement: Origin, Evolution, And Suggestions

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Does it all have to start with a hashtag to get noticed, for the eyebrows to get raised on the cases of sexual harassment in the society?

Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist from The Bronx – New York, has certainly left no stone unturned when she began using the phrase “Me Too” in 2006.

However, it was later popularised by American actress- Alyssa Milano in 2017 on Twitter. Milano encouraged victims of sexual harassment to tweet about it (SPEAK UP) to give people a sense of the magnitude that the problem really had! There was an instant connection to this movement as many high-profile American celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Uma Thurman joined in.

The #MeToo Movement Is About The Survivors Reclaiming Their Power

This was followed by several hashtags that encouraged many to share their stories about workplace sexual harassment. These hashtags included #WhatWereYouWearing,  #SurvivorPrivilege, #MyHarveyWeinstein and #YouOkSis.

The #MeToo movement, popular in different languages across the world, is a campaign against sexual harassment and sexual assault, especially at the workplace (corporate world).  Some of the alternative hashtags include:

  • Arabic-MeToo
  • Canada- MoiAussi
  • China – WoYeShi
  • Finland – #memyös
  • France: #balanceTonPorc
  • Italy: #QuellaVoltaChe
  • Japan: #私も(Watashi mo)
  • Spain: #YoTambién
  • Taiwan: #WoYeShi

The movement intensified after more than a  dozen women accused an American filmmaker Harvey Weinstein of sexually harassing, raping, and assaulting them.

The hashtag, which has trended in at least 85 countries, reflects that the movement is certainly not a gimmick or just another social media trend. In countries such as France, India, Japan, the US, Italy, and China there has been a lot of discussion in the media about whether or not cultural norms should be changed to eradicate sexual harassment at the workplace.

These allegations, in fact, precipitated a wave of national reckoning against sexual assault in the United States which was known as the Weinstein effect. In addition to this, the #MeToo hashtag campaign and other sexual harassment cases that occurred earlier that year,  many individuals were encouraged to share all their suppressed stories of sexual misconduct. So, why was everyone quiet for so long and from where did the new-found courage to speak up stem?

In India, this movement has gained a rapid momentum on social media. However, many have misunderstood the movement and are confusing sexual harassment/abuse with eve-teasing which is very misleading and decreases the severity of the crime.

Many notable people have expressed their opinion regarding this movement. Jasmeen Patheja, an activist who is also the head of Blank Noise – a community/public art project that seeks to confront street harassment and eve teasing,  has stated that #MeToo’s power is in demonstrating that India can no longer be ignorant to the gravity of this problem.

Many men are also, in fact, speaking up as a part of the #MeToo movement and this included discussions regarding consent and how even some men were also abused.

Blogger Sheena Dabolkar also had a viral tweet #MeToo. Consequently, many well-known performers boycotted Khodu Irani’s popular pub, High Spirits, in Pune.

Even Rina Chandran from Reuters questioned in her #MeToo tweet about the ignorance towards 16 million women in India who are sex workers against their will and are destitute, having no family or education.

In Bangaluru, there were reports of mass sexual assaults during the 2018 New Years celebrations. This was, of course, a repeat of 2017’s New Year’s eve molestation on Brigade Road and MG Road. That was a time when there were horror reports of girls being groped, pawed and even abused.

Of course, these incidents were dismissed until somebody uploaded a CCTV footage of the assaults on social media!

Last year in October, a list of 60 academicians who were accused of sexual abuse went viral on social media.

A second list came out a week later, bringing the total to 70. The most recent accusation has been on September 27, 2018, by former actress Tanushree Dutta where she accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment.

One of the major problems is the inability of people to understand the concept of consent. The harasser usually uses sexual coercion, manipulation and even guilt-tripping. The situation is viewed differently by men and women, even in this time and age of self-awareness.

Sexual violence, assault or any sexual misconduct can leave behind many damaging scars on a victims life- emotional, psychological and even physical. The other consequences include depression, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, sexually transmitted infections, dissociation, or even suicide.

Anoo Bhuyan, a reporter at The Wire has accused Mayank Jain, a fellow reporter at Business Standard newspaper, of sexual harassment.  Further, allegations from other people have also cropped up where Gautam Adhikari, the founding editor of DNA Mumbai and former executive editor of the Times of India, had resigned as a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress (CAP) after he was accused of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

On October 6,  Bollywood director of Queen fame Vikas Bahl-was accused of forcing himself upon a crew member. This led to the dissolution of his production house –Phantom Films that he had set up with three others Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane and Madhu Mantena.

Ammu Joseph, a senior journalist and co-founder of Network of Women in Media, India –the association that provides support systems and resources for women journalists, said: “If one person comes out it emboldens the others.” She further added,  “It almost feels like an obligation. If one person has outed somebody, then other people feel it’s better that they also come forward so that the one person is not victimised.”

To make matters even worse, the country’s leading comic content-production house –All-India Bakchod (AIB) stated that two of its four co-founders would be stepping down from their position, until further notice.

Tanmay Bhat –AIB co-founder and CEO resigned in light of his inaction in spite of receiving complaints by a woman accusing his former colleague Utsav Chakraborty of sexual assault. Further, AIB’s another co-founder Gursimran Khamba was also accused of sexual harassment.

Suggestions: What could be done to prevent this?

  • Implementing Vishakha Guidelines: These guidelines which have been instituted by the Supreme Court of India should be strictly enforced.
  • Mansplanning and other male entitlements need to be removed from society; but this can only happen when our society takes steps to remove patriarchy and other forms of oppression from society.
  • Film festivals need to change their ways and pledge a commitment to gender-balanced programming.
  • To make use of co-working spaces  which are highly populated by nature so that it becomes difficult to harass a woman compared to regular, small offices.
  • Business meetings should be held more often in public places, malls, cafes, co-working places, etc.
  • There should be more women in leadership roles.
  • The HR should be approached more often so that the management is aware of such instances.
  • Invest in women. In China for instance women have become billionaires because of their capabilities.
  • Women should also use their independence and break the stereotypes of the past where men have been dominant.
  •  Women run a lot of risk if they complain about sexual harassment at the workplace. Thus, their interest should be protected and perhaps positively rewarded when she identifies a proven offender.
  • Women have rescued many families from poverty and dire situations. Their economic contribution needs to be acknowledged.

In light of the recent #MeToo wave taking down several big names, Lynzy Lab, a singer, songwriter and choreographer, the inherent privilege for men in a patriarchal system in a song A Scary Time.

 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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