#MeToo and International Women’s Day came together this week to make global headlines. With the 8th annual installment of International Women’s Day, women’s rights advocates are riding a wave of momentum to push for further social, economic, and political reform. #MeToo is gaining traction not only in the United States where it originated but has also spread to almost every region of the world. Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has appeared in Google searches in 196 countries. From Guatemala to Saudi Arabia, from Iran to Chile, from Nigeria to the Philippines, from Spain to India, the #MeToo Movement is growing by the day and adding new issues to the concerns that have defined it to this point.
#Me Too and Women’s Rights
The #MeToo movement burst into the news last fall with a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano. Soon after, a Twitter hashtag campaign drew attention to the work of civil rights activist, Tarana Burke. #MeToo focuses mainly on sexual harassment and sexual assault, particularly in Hollywood. Time Magazine’s recognition of “The Silence Breakers”, women who had spoken out about past abusive behavior, as its 2017 “Person of the Year” illustrates its impact.
Yet many women believe that the long-term success of reform efforts will require broader social change. Activists are using the opportunity to raise awareness of gender equity in the workplace, restrictions on women’s freedom in many countries and the need for political reform to encourage a larger role for women in the political process.
Women across the globe are using the momentum to draw attention to issues of sexual violence in their countries as well.
- Mexico joined the #MeToo movement in January when popular actress Karla Souza announced that she had been assaulted by a director. The UN ranks Mexico as one of the violent countries from women in the world, claiming that almost “half of Mexican women have been subjected to rape, groping or other forms of sexual violence.”
- In India, for example, activists have linked the movement to the 5 year anniversary of the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh. “Under the banner of #MeToo, activists are calling for further legal reforms that will protect those who speak up and impose harsher punishments on perpetrators,” according to Pardis Mahdavi, the Senior Associate Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
- In Guatemala, the conviction of two former military officers for numerous counts of sexual assault in February 2016 has drawn attention to the sexual abuse experienced by many women during the country’s decades-long civil war.
- Nigerian activists have used the #MeToo movement to draw attention to its own #BringBackOurGirls campaign that has attempted to gain the release of the more than 200 girls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Harem in 2014.
Gender Equity in the Workplace
Scholars have long argued that gender equity in the workplace contributes to economic growth. #MeToo and International Women’s Day have drawn attention to this issue as well.
- Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman program for economic modernization, Saudi Vision 2030, seeks in part to increase the female participation rate. According to Rachel Vogelstein, “In Saudi Arabia, for example, women earn more than half of all college and graduate degrees but compose only about 20 percent of the labor force. ”
- In Myanmar, President Aung San Suu Kyi used her speech commemorating International Women’s Day to argue that “by using women’s strength and ability, it will be supportive to the development of the economy as well.” In 2015, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Winner led her party to victory in the country’s first freely contested elections in over 25 years.
- Union leaders in Spain claimed that “5.3 million women had joined the 24-hour strike, backed by 10 unions and some of Spain’s top women politicians.”
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
CARE, a not-for-profit organization that combats global poverty by empowering women, released a study this week that measured attitudes toward women in 8 countries. CARE hopes to use the global headlines generated by #MeToo and International Women’s Day to bring about real reform. While issuing the report, CARE’s president and CEO Michelle Nunn commented, “Being expected to have sex with your employer — that’s not a job description, it’s sexual abuse. And it speaks to the global epidemic of harassment and abuse in our workplaces.”
Among the report’s findings:
- 62% of men in Egypt said it was sometimes or always acceptable for an employer to expect intimate relations with employees.
- In India, more than half of the men surveyed believed that it was always or sometimes acceptable for men to rank female colleagues based on their appearance.
#MeToo and International Women’s Day have drawn attention to laws that restrict women as well.
- In Chile, Mujeres en Marcha Chile, an activist group, helped push through a law legalizing abortions in certain circumstances in 2016. The group hopes that the #MeToo movement can help bring awareness to its goal of ensuring that all Chilean women have access to sexual and reproductive health services.
- The #MyStealthyFreedom campaign, which began in Iran in 2014, has linked its own hashtag to the #MeToo movement. #MyStealthyFreedom has drawn attention to the restrictions placed on women’s freedom through the enforcement of laws requiring the wearing of the hijab.
#MeToo Becomes Political
For the most part, #MeToo has not emphasized politics. However, some activists see the possibility of using the energy of the movement to push for broader political changes.
- For International Women’s Day, organizers staged a massive protest in the Philippines directed at President Rodrigo Duterte, who many see as chauvinistic and favoring discriminatory policies toward women. Protest leaderJean Enriquez chastised the president, saying “We’re so alarmed. We have seen his direct attacks on women under his iron-hand rule and it’s now time to heighten our resistance.”
- In South Korea, host of the recently concluded 2018 Winter Olympic Games, #MeToo has produced dramatic political repercussions. Rising political star Ahn Hee-Jung resigned this week over allegations of rape against one of his secretaries.
- Activists in the United States point to the election victory of Donald Trump, a political novice who has been accused by a number of women of sexual assault, over Hillary Clinton, a female candidate with a distinguished career in public service, as evidence that real change will require new leadership and an emphasis on electing women into office. Some expect the #MeToo movement to have a significant impact on the 2018 congressional elections scheduled to take place in the US later this year.
#MeToo and International Women’s Day
But while the movement has made much progress globally, there is still work to be done. #MeToo and International Women’s Day have drawn attention to many of the challenges facing women in our modern world. Drawing attention is good, but activists believe that real change is the true measure of success. As CARE president Nunn contends, “But the long-term test is not whether it brings down dozens of powerful men in the United States, but whether it lifts up millions of women around the world. And this survey tells us that women aren’t just hoping #MeToo will spark real change –- they’re expecting it.”