Even as the conversation on sexual crimes and sexual harassment has begun taking form, victim-shaming and shunned pleas remain common-practice. But 2017 saw a huge change. With the internet turning into a powerful medium where millions surfaced to raise their voices and call out perpetrators, women – and even men – found a voice. A simple hashtag became the symbol of years of unspoken abuse. This just goes to show how badly the sentiments were boiling under the surface, as several women-centric campaigns emerged globally.
As the curtains close on 2017, we look at the campaigns that left a mark while shedding light on one of the biggest challenges that confront women today – harassment.
The campaign that gave birth to a voice (rather a battle cry) from which many others surfaced across the globe, #MeToo was one of the biggest phenomena this year. It rose to a crescendo of millions of voices and shattered the high walls guarding perpetrators of sexual crimes. The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke out in public in October 2017 and condemnation rose ferociously from all quarters; the #MeToo hashtag went viral on social media soon after.
The phrase was coined by activist Tarana Burke and later popularised by actress Alyssa Milano. The idea behind this awareness campaign was to bring to light the magnitude and impact of sexual misconduct faced by women all around the world. As the #MeToo hashtag trended in 85 countries, both men and women from various cultures and races came out and spoke about sexual abuse. The campaign raised global awareness, and taking stock of its reach and appeal, Time Magazine chose ‘the Silence Breakers’ – every person who came out in support of the campaign – as its 2017 Person Of The Year.
In an effort to celebrate the centenary of gender equality and women’s right to vote in the United Kingdom, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan started a new campaign #BehindEveryGreatCity. Though still in its nascent phase, the campaign aims to celebrate the contributions of women who helped London flourish. Building on the proverb “behind every great man is a woman”, this campaign sheds light on women, from all walks, who have fuelled the prosperity of great cities as well.
Fuelled by #MeToo, this campaign, which was started by French women, lashed out against years of silence against sexual abuse. Instead of adopting subtle hints, victims were encouraged to come out openly in public and name names. As a result of the name-calling, quite a few famous personalities – from academia, politics, art, and business – were exposed in France. For example, former Socialist Party minister Pierre Joxe as well as French lawmaker Christophe Arend were accused of sexual abuse.
In spite of having a robust legislation to protect women, protesters felt that the deafening silence around sexual harassment in the country was unnerving. #BalanceTonPorc is more radical and reveals how violence has been used by men to control women in France.
In an interesting development, Julie Silver, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, launched the #QuoteHer campaign. Julie started the campaign after she felt that voices of female practitioners were muffled in the medical academic field. Even in healthcare, research, and science news sites, female voices are hardly quoted or referred. Many have come out in support of the campaign, which by means of social media is trying to generate a dialogue between female professionals and the medical fraternity.
In its initial phase in the United States, the campaign has played a pivotal role in throwing light on the academic hurdles faced by women.
On 21st January 2017, thousands of women marched in various parts of India to demand safe access and freedom to public spaces. This protest march was carried out after the instance of mass molestation in Bengaluru on New Year’s Eve. More result-oriented in its perspective, the #IWillGoOut march also aimed to demand the role of the state in protecting women’s safety. Other demands included compulsory gender sensitisation training as well as immediate reporting of crimes against women. Members of the LGBTQ community were also encouraged to take part in this movement.
These campaigns were crucial because they allowed women to step out of the dark and speak up against abuse. They lifted the veil of darkness which society had very conveniently drawn over sexual crimes and women’s rights. With social media at the heart of the affair, it also showed that digital platforms can be leveraged for positive change – when focused on the right matters.