Editor’s Note: The following essay by Dr Susan M. Blaustein, Founder and Executive Director, WomenStrong International, discusses the transformative potential of #MeToo to drive change locally and globally.
In their remarkable new book Awakening On the global #MeToo movement, feminist scholars Rachel Vogelstein and Meighan Stone shed light on the courage, creativity and resilience of women around the world who have alchimized their pain as survivors of sexual violence into fierce activism and intrepid.
These courageous women, from Brazil to Tunisia, Nigeria to Sweden and a myriad of places in between, have harnessed available digital technologies to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, connect with others. other women, sound the alarm and push for change. They not only fight for the safety of victims by reporting these crimes and the responsibility of their perpetrators; enraged and emboldened, they aim to institutionalize legal protections and disrupt dominant cultural and religious mores that have long sanctioned violence against women in the first place.
The fearless defenders featured in Awakening has had enough. Determined to right the blatant pain and injustice each suffered, they deftly deployed feminist Tarana Burke’s #MeToo hashtag, which went viral late in 2017, as the avalanche of allegations unfolded against Harvey Weinstein’s Hollywood, to expose their own abuses and launch campaigns to end violence against women and girls.
From famous Pakistani actress and singer Meesha Shafi on Twitter for sexually harassing and tampering with her, to a young Chinese computer scientist who, supported by #MeToo, finally published an article about her abuse some 13 years earlier from she. famous professor, causing a tsunami of similar accusations resulting in his dismissal, women around the world say, TIME’S UP.
This rally in solidarity, with its potential for movement building and real change, was in each case initiated and led by brilliant local women leaders. Presenting these and other examples as evidence of groundbreaking effectiveness, Vogelstein and Stone, both with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy program when the book was written, repeatedly urge donor governments and organizations philanthropists to shift development assistance and human rights funding from the largest international development agencies into the hands of those on the ground who know best the problems and solutions, in their own contexts, in their own communities.
Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai agrees with this assessment of where wisdom lies and where funding should go: “The answer is local leaders,” insists this fierce young survivor. “They are in the best position to understand the challenges of their communities and develop solutions that work. “
This has always been our approach at WomenStrong International: trusting local women leaders, who know best what they need to thrive. We currently support 18 local women-led nonprofits around the world, working in the areas of girls’ education, women’s health, economic security, and violence prevention. for women and girls. Our partners fighting violence, from Cambodia to Kenya and Rwanda to Mexico, Atlanta and Brooklyn, focus on the protection of women and girls in low-income urban communities and the engagement of men and women. boys, to help them reframe their attitudes and behaviors.
Thanks to digital technologies, we have been able to bring together our beneficiary partners in a Learning Lab, where they can meet, share their approaches and discoveries, learn from each other and design collective advocacy plans. In doing so, they refine their strategies and develop a sense of solidarity and an informed community of practice.
As Awakening shows so clearly, despite geopolitical and socio-cultural differences in contexts and circumstances, the challenges faced by women and girls are the same across the world: Deep-rooted traditional systems and practices have long sanctioned not only violence against women. towards women, but also the suppression of their voice, their rights and their access to health care, education, public goods and services and opportunities.
Even these WomenStrong partners not explicitly focused on violence prevention, as in Afghanistan, Malawi, Uganda, Guatemala and the United States, ask how to ensure the safety of the girls and women they work with, and how best to involve their brothers , their husbands and fathers, as allies and protectors. The sense of community and mutual learning that has developed among the courageous women celebrated in Awakening, like the peer-to-peer learning that takes place in our learning lab, has the potential to drive change that will not only protect local girls and women by changing the dynamics in their communities, but that can lead to the development of , national and international policies, laws and systems that will protect women and girls much more broadly.
For Vogelstein, who now heads the global portfolio of the White House Council for Gender Equality; for Stone, still at the Council on Foreign Relations; and for the rest of us, a lot of work remains to be done to build the world we would like to see. The authors boldly call for a “global agenda for women’s power,” made up of powerful “building blocks” they call the “five Rs:” to sort out for those who have been injured; legal reform who might make liability possible; women’s equality representation in all aspects of public life, a fair “distribution of Resources, “ and a serious recalibration norms that have allowed the perpetuation of sexual abuse and suffocating constraints on women’s power and participation in public and private life.
It’s a valiant agenda, that’s for sure; yet each hard-won victory pushes us to continue the work. Justice was finally delivered late last month for decades of serial crimes committed by musician R. Kelly, and weeks earlier e-commerce giant Alibaba Group finally decided to fire an employee when the charges rape of a woman has gone viral online, after she ignored her claims. During months.
What is clear, as Vogelstein and Stone so convincingly demonstrate, is the strength and brotherhood that women have gained in each other’s struggles and victories. By telling their stories and reinforcing the magnetism that now binds these courageous survivors across very different cultures and geographies, the authors have moved and engaged their readers, giving us the opportunity to celebrate and learn from courage, tenacity and power of these strong women, and to move the fight forward.
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