Late last year, Twitter was awash with the the ‘Me Too’ campaign which had went viral as a hashtag used to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.
Though the campaign was initially started by Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights activist, way back in 2006, it was Actress Alyssa Milano’s tweet that popularised it last year.
Through her tweet, Milano encouraged women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write ‘Me Too’ as a way of giving people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
Indeed the efforts were not in vain, the campaign has helped bring a number of offenders to justice, such as Harvey Weinstein, a former American film producer, and actor Bill Cosby, whose conviction is seen as the first legal victory of the campaign.
Could the campaign mean the start of a journey that will finally overcome sexual harassment?
Katie Carlson, a gender activist, founder and director of Paper Crown Institute, says that the #Me Too movement has been a watershed moment for the cause of ending violence and harassment against women, both in the work environment and beyond.
The movement has been incredible because it's been able to shine a light on the experiences of millions of women around the world, and the sheer volume of women who have been experiencing sexual harassment and violence and have finally spoken out, this has helped to open a lot of people's eyes to the enormous scale of this problem, she says.
“The role of social media has been crucial in bringing together all of these different women's voices, and because there are so many of us speaking out at once, it has emboldened a lot of them to finally come forward. Violence and sexual harassment are serious social problems, and typically go underreported and ignored or dismissed if they are reported,” Carlson says.
She believes that this movement will bring this vice to an end because it is not a ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ part of being a man or a woman.
“Sexual harassment is about power and intimidation. It is caused by how we raise boys to think that they have a right to sex and to forcing their wants onto others that they are the ones who get to make final decisions and no one can deny them.”
“If we raised boys with the deep and heartfelt belief that girls and women deserve equal respect and rights, that girls and women are equally valuable and that girls and women are not play toys for them to use and abuse as they wish, we would see an end to sexual harassment,” she adds.
She is of the view that until there is balance of power dynamics between genders that society is to blame for creating this in the first place, “we won't see sexual harassment come to an end. It is a social responsibility for all of us, no doubt about it.”
Solange Ayanone, the project coordinator at PAX PRESS and gender activist, explains that with such a campaign, sexual harassment is openly exposed as something real and that it exists hence creating a platform with solutions to the vice.
She says, when women talk about this, it shows that sexual harassment really exists. It also gives women space where they can report what they have experienced.
“Normally when women face this problem they fear to talk, and no one believes them when they do. So, this campaign shows that this is a reality and this calls for the attention of decision makers to address this. It also creates solidarity between victims by showing them that they are not alone in this fight,” she says.
Ayanone is positive that the campaign is set to bring about the desired impact and that it will be the journey to the end of sexual harassment.
“Even though the battle against sexual harassment won’t be won today or tomorrow, it will finally be overcome. It will take time to educate people, attitude change takes long.”
Clement Kirenga, the programme manager, human rights and democracy and the focal point for gender at the Swedish Embassy in Rwanda, says the campaign is surely going to impact the situation positively by increasing women’s awareness on their rights.
They will feel encouraged to speak out and use the space provided by social media (the internet), he says.
On the side of men, Kirenga suggests that the campaign is going to name and shame offenders. ‘‘It will also increase awareness to them and probably reduce on the rate of sexual harassment and make work places and other places safer for women and girls.’’
“Social media is useful to educate, inform and remind the audience (both women and men) that women and girls have rights on their bodies so they should not be sexually assaulted, abused or harassed but they should use their bodies as they please,” Kirenga says.
He goes on to indicate that such a campaign is a good tool for alerting the implementation of anti-sexual harassment laws.
“People should be made aware of the nature and magnitude of the problem, the perpetrators, especially men who sexually harass women, should be held accountable. Victims should be supported to speak up, report sexual harassment, and governments should enact laws and implement them to save women from this vice.”
Highlighting the gap in Gender Equality
According to UN Women website, between 15 and 76 per cent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime worldwide while up to 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.
Television presenter Egidie Bibio Ingabire speaks on her admiration for the ‘MeToo’ movement saying that it’s showing the gap in gender equality, most especially in the media, and that this awareness will bring about change worldwide.
“About sexual harassment, this for sure is going to have an impact because if we understand the issue, then we stand to contribute in the fight against it. The #MeToo campaign is about understanding the issue, knowing your power and using it by contributing to the rest of the world because you know that you can,” she notes.
Emmanuel Muvunyi a finance administrator, agrees with Ingabire, saying that with such immoralities exposed, the inequalities that are still present in terms of gender empowerment are put in the limelight.
“That exposure helps the public to understand how serious the problem is, this in turn helps in devising means to deal with it. Women should stand up and not keep quiet, they should embrace such platforms to see that all the abuse they face is punished,” Muvunyi says.
Could there be a downside of the campaign?
Simon Kalisa, a university student is of the view that since some people tend to claim to have been abused without concrete evidence, it becomes hard to base on claims that are not backed up by evidence.
“I am not against the campaign, in fact, I believe that if used well it will have an amazing impact. But, to some extent, it might not bring out a clear picture because of lack of evidence.”
Kirenga says that there might be some backlash on the side of male offenders and this might create a little bit of resistance and revenge against women and social media.
“Destruction of negative masculinities negatively affects male stereotypes. Some campaigners generalise men as perpetrators and this might reduce on the number of good men who are against sexual harassment.”
Ingabire also points out that to some extent there could be a rise of negative impact because without the proper understanding of the problem and how you can fight against it, one can end up generalising and the outcome is that you could end up accusing innocent people.
“It requires shrewdness for example when reporting about it, we will have to study well the information received and the source of the story and prevent ourselves from being biased.”
Kirenga says the campaign will contribute to the reduction of these cases as many audiences are digital compliant.
“But, he warns, such a campaign may be looked at as just an exaggeration in the Silicon Valley therefore ignored as ‘another western exaggeration of women’s rights and disempowering men’,” he says.
He however says that to achieve the desired goal of fighting sexual violence, platforms such as social media can be put to use.
Bosco Murangira the Director of women economic empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, applauds the government’s decission to put in place strong policies and structures to combat the vice.
“First of all harassment of any kind is illegal and the message we have been sending out is for people to speak out and end it in all its forms. For sexual harassment, it’s mostly a manifestation of power relations and women are the victims mostly,” he says.
Due to culture and complicity involved, Murangira notes that most of the victims suffer in silence while offenders go unnoticed and unpunished.
He called on everyone to join efforts to fight harassment in all its forms. Also, since most of those who do the harassment are men, Murangira points out that there is need for an approach to engage men as change agents.
“Much of the effort is channeled in prevention but those who think that they can do it and keep at large, I can say that their days are numbered. If we all become allies and not bystanders, harassment can be minimised and eventually eliminated.”
“My fellow boys and men, a real ‘HeForShe’ man respects himself and can never think or do any kind of sexual harassment,” he counsels.
What can be done to overcome sexual harassment?
Benon Kamuhabwa, Deputy Headmaster.
I believe that having campaigns that sensitise people about sexual harassment can help reduce such cases. For example, the ‘MeToo’ campaign is a good platform and tool for creating awareness and empowering young girls and women to speak up.
Fionah Ntaringwa Muthoni, Model.
The best way to address it is for the victims to speak out and not to be afraid of shame or being judged by society. If they keep silent, the offenders will not be brought to justice and such immorality will continue to prevail.
Rogers Ndemezo, Sales Manager.
The most effective way to handle this issue is to focus on prevention. Society should be aware of what harassment really is but, most importantly, have them equipped with the policies that prohibit and also be aware of the repercussions of harassment.
Moreen Sanyu, Finance Administrator.