#MeToo Anniversary: Women Around the World Speak on Its Impact
As the movement marks its first year of existence, we asked women how things have changed—or not—in their respective countries.
Alia Marsha and Julia Reis
In October 2017, two bombshell reports by the New York Times and the New Yorker revealed Harvey Weinstein’s long and alleged history of sexual assault and abuse of women. As dozens of women within the industry came forward with similar claims about the film producer, survivors around the world took to Twitter and Instagram to share their stories of sexual abuse under the hashtag #MeToo.
The campaign was started in 2006 by Tarana Burke to build a conversation around sexual violence, especially among young women of color, but turned into a global movement as the hashtag gained momentum after the Weinstein report. The global adoption of the label is testament to the prevalence of sexual violence against women and speaks to the sheer magnitude of the problem, which continues to transcend international borders.
One year after the Weinstein story first broke, Broadly talked to women around the world about the effect that the #MeToo movement has had on their respective countries. Be it through interpersonal dialogues or mass political protest, one thing is certain—there’s still much to be done, and women aren’t giving up the fight for a safe and equitable world.
Natashya Gutierrez, the Philippines
In the Philippines, the #MeToo movement has inspired Filipina women to speak up against men in power, most specifically against the misogyny and the sexist behavior of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. The president is extremely popular despite making rape jokes, catcalling female journalists, kissing women on the lips during public appearances, boasting about his past affairs, and attacking his female critics.
On social media, advocates started the hashtag #BabaeAko ("I am a woman") and #LalabanAko ("I will fight back") after Duterte said he would prefer not to have a woman for a vacant, top government post. The hashtag encouraged women to stand in solidarity with all women the president has criticized and objectified, and to condemn his repeated misogyny. It eventually turned into an on-the-ground protest on Independence Day.
It's inspiring to see it all unfold in a country where men (and women!) usually applaud public officials when they make dirty jokes. Recently, a congressman apologized for his rude behavior against airport security, likening his outburst to women on their monthly period. The backlash was swift on social media.
I think the #MeToo movement has certainly opened the eyes of Filipina women to the power of pushing back. While most of the activism has been on Facebook or Twitter so far, I am optimistic and hopeful that it will translate into tangible changes in how Filipinas stand their ground offline. And perhaps how they vote for their leaders.
Nicoline Larsen, Denmark
In Denmark, we associate our national identity with open-mindedness, which is why many feel they are labelled as prudes if they address concerns about transgressive sexual behavior: "Come on! That’s just how we talk about things in Denmark. We don’t mean anything by it."
For years, the Danish film producer Peter Aalbæk was known for his controversial management style—he would slap employees on the bottom and invite his staffers to skinny dip with him in his pool. His behavior has always been deemed provocative but never alarming. But when the #MeToo movement hit Denmark, Aalbæk came under attack for his behavior and was subsequently sent on an involuntary sabbatical by his superiors.
Today, Aalbæk is back in business, so in the end #MeToo did not have a serious impact on his career. This is perhaps very telling of the #MeToo movement in Denmark: lots of heated debates, but very little concrete action. However, #MeToo has succeeded in spurring on a much needed open dialogue about power dynamics and gender inequality, and you often hear the phrase repeated: "It’s easier to address these issues in the wake of #MeToo." So despite having failed in instigating concrete change, #MeToo has engendered an important debate about transgressive sexual behavior and power dynamics between men and women, and it is a debate in which the word "prude" is rarely heard.
Alia Marsha, Indonesia
I don’t know what it would take for Indonesia to take victims of sexual assault seriously. Back in August, the VICE Indonesia office reported on a 15-year-old girl who was sentenced to jail after aborting her near six-month pregnancy that resulted from rape by her older brother. The sentence was overturned by the High Court in Jambi, on the island of Sumatra, after the girl had spent a month in jail.
I’m one of four editors here and the only woman, but I didn’t dare read the piece for days after it was published. The pain was too deep; the anger was overwhelming. I was angry at the law, which was obviously not made for women’s interests. In Indonesia, abortion is only legal for medical reasons or in cases of rape, where victims are allowed to terminate the pregnancy only up to 40 days after conception. Meanwhile, most women only become aware of their pregnancy at five to six weeks on average. The case is a reminder of how things work here: girls and women can’t rely on men, even if they’re family, for their safety. And when things go awry, we can’t even rely on the law to protect us. This is why over 90 percent of rape victims in this country keep quiet.
The illegality of abortion in Indonesia is also made worse by the lack of sex education in our public schools. A recent report revealed that the use of "modern" contraceptives like condoms and IUDs are on major decline, while "traditional" ones like keeping track of one’s period cycle and drinking jamu—a traditional medicine made of bark, roots and leaves—are on the rise.
The issues here are so interconnected and everything is awful no matter how you look at it. Nobody deserves this kind of violence, and I can only hope that rape victims in this country find peace someday, because #MeToo.
Shrishti Malhotra, India
During a family holiday in November last year, our father asked my sister and I about the movement that was receiving extensive coverage in the news and whether things were really all that bad for women. He was left dumbfounded by my sister’s reply. For the first time in 15 years, she told him about how she got groped on a public bus at age eight. We sat and conversed with him about our experiences with everyday harassment for the very first time. That, for me, is the power of the #MeToo movement.
The Bollywood film industry’s refusal to side with former actress Tanushree Dutta after she recently spoke about the harassment she had faced and indeed spoken about ten years earlier shows that the movement might never kick off in our country the way it has in the US or other parts of the world. But what it has given—although to a select few of us Indians who have the privilege of accessing global discourse—is the ability to better articulate our experiences, to be able to draw strength from the experiences of those who have been in similar situations, to call out harassers and sexual predators, and to start more meaningful conversations around consent, sex, and sexuality, even if in a few spaces.
Aashna Sharma, India
In the past year I’ve lost count of the number of op-eds I read that asked, "Why hasn’t India had its #MeToo movement yet?". But the only thing I was confused about was what everyone else was so confused about.
Recently, actress Tanushree Datta came out with her own #MeToo story against revered icon Nana Patekar. She was met with such a fierce wave of skepticism that you’d think she was some kind of flat-earther and not, you know, a human being trying to cope with her trauma. Is it surprising then, that the #MeToo movement hasn’t quite taken off in India? Ours is a culture where victim-blaming is so deeply embedded that concern has become a tool of oppression. We’re told to be careful so alarmingly often that it’s almost a pleasantry at this point. As a woman, even stepping out of the house is an act of rebellion. To own your freedom is to insist that it is safe out there, to live in the adamancy that you can take care of yourself.
But saying #MeToo takes away this credibility. Saying #MeToo comes with the silent admittance that you were right, and I was wrong. I shouldn’t have stayed out so late, or worn that dress, or had that drink. It paves the way for even more policing, for further loss of autonomy. Your benevolent sexism can now simply take the form of benevolence. Is it surprising then, that here in India #MeToo is whispered assuringly amongst women, and not firmly, angrily on the streets, in police stations and in courts of law?
Laura Muriel, Spain
Sexual harassment of women is a constant in society. The same goes for Spain: the Weinstein scandal isn't an isolated case, but rather a social issue. The #MeToo movement arrived at our very homes and many women took the opportunity to report the sexist abuse of which we have been victims (often in silence until that point) in the streets, in our workplaces, and even within our families.
Spanish women live under the constant threat of sexual abuse, and #MeToo helped us realize we are not alone. Over the past year, the issue has been talked about and reported more often, and more people are calling for a more just society. Twenty-eighteen is the year of women.
The case of la Manada—five men who sexually assaulted a girl during the San Fermín festival and who ended up being acquitted by the jury—marked a turning point in the history of womankind's fight. On March 8, Spain became a global reference for calling a general strike against discrimination, sexual abuse, and violence, as well as massive protests in more than 100 cities. That filled us with pride. That day will go down in history as the day we were at the lead of the country we really wanted. A country where women are not killed by their partners, where there is equal pay, and where violence is no longer tolerated by the system.
Wana Udobang, Nigeria
When one of my previous employers once remarked that “your body is the kind of body a man will like to bury himself inside,” my response was a disconcerting giggle as I maintained a sizeable distance to avoid being groped for further illustration. I needed to not make the situation uncomfortable less I be labeled overly sensitive and avoid any future victimization.
Whether it is a childhood littered with molestation by older relatives or college professors threatening to deduct your grades for refusing their sexual advances, sexual assault and the constant threat to women's bodies have always been a steady part of our Nigerian normalcy.
So, for many of us, the #MeToo movement didn’t bring up anything we didn’t already know. In a culture where bodily autonomy and women’s sexual agency can sometimes feel like a myth, navigating through the terrain of sexual assault for many has become something of a life skill. It isn’t difficult to find women minimizing their experiences as a way to cope with the looming PTSD.
Though the #MeToo movement expanded the conversation on consent and what constituted sexual assault, prompting many to speak up about their own experiences and sharing their stories, most of its impact was taking place online. In a world of rapidly changing daily hashtags, it didn't take too long before the discourse devolved into banter. And so a year later, the question now is what happens next? It seems that when it comes to accountability, Nigeria isn't quite there yet.
Noor Spanjer, the Netherlands
"Don’t you think it’s all just hype?" A well-known radio host asked me this when I was a guest on his program over a year ago, to talk about an alleged sexual assault case. The problem of sexual violence, which is so very prevalent, isn't really something you can write off as "a temporary trend," but his comment turned out to be the prelude to how many many Dutch media outlets reported on #MeToo stories last year.
There seems to be a lot of attention directed towards the side of the accused: are they really guilty? Is what they've done so bad? Is their career now killed? And what about the victims—aren't they just crybabies? Isn't it "the ways of the world," as a famous Dutch writer described it on the most-watched talkshow on Dutch television?
Victim-blaming has always been one of the biggest problems in the matter of sexual violence; with it, the perpetrator's behavior is denied, trivialized, or even justified. All of it is to avoid having to face the fact that—above all and on a daily basis—women are intimidated, assaulted, and raped. Instead of studying the actual problem (why is this happening so much?) or looking for solutions to a failing legal system, newspapers and talkshows talk about ruptured careers, false accusations, and whether we can speak of "trial by media."
But even if it's a matter of a "media lawsuit," after a victim tells her or his story, low sentences are distributed. The Dutch conductor who was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault two weeks ago by more than 20 women performed to a sold-out concert hall last weekend; Louis CK even recently reappeared on stage. Meanwhile, victims of sexual violence are often sentenced for life.
Julia Reis, Brazil
I can't believe there's still fascism and femicide in Brazil. Although the Constitution calls for security and equality regardless of your gender or occupation, Brazilian women don't feel safe. We don't feel 100 percent secure in saying what we want or protesting because our inspirations were killed because of that—like Marielle Franco, one of our main inspirations of struggle and resistance. She was shot dead for fighting for what she believed in: gender equality, LGBTQ visibility, and human rights.
We are denied the right to come and go as we please because of the sexual assault that we experience everyday. And it's getting worse. I live in a country where nearly five in every 100 thousand woman are killed each day. People don't teach boys to be respectful; they only reproduce sexism. You can see the result of that in the politics and social behavior of 2018, and in the consequences of our fight and resistance.
In dark moments—like when a sexist and misogynist politician is polling in first place in our upcoming presidential elections—we stand united against these ideologies. We're prepared and willing to protest in the streets because we're tired of being silenced. We want representation in Congress and equal salaries. We want the peace of returning home safely, and we want respect.
Brazilian women are tired of being harassed and disrespected. One way or another, all of these things bolster our search to find a better place in society through these movements. We're not alone in the fight against sexual assault and we stand together. #MeToo
Lylie Korzer, Quebec
"I'll believe it when I see it!" Well, now they have; now they know. The #MeToo movement brought a glimmer of hope; it inspired women to speak up and not feel alone (or at least, a bit less alone). #MeToo was everywhere, but it still felt like a small-scale victory. Social media platforms were flooded with denunciations, encouraging women to tell their stories, creating a lobby, uniting us. Hope is great, but what is hope when change doesn't follow? #MeToo was everywhere, but what happened to "walking the talk"? The movement was an empowering worldwide storm that took us by the hand and told us it was OK to speak up, and so some of us did. We screamed at the top of our lungs, me too. But we're still not even halfway to where we should be. For the hashtag's anniversary, I wish for it to become more than words. I wish for it to initiate real change.
Madalena Maltez, Portugal
In Portugal we pay close attention to everything foreign, probably because we're such a small country. The #MeToo movement was no exception. Our news stations broadcast all the horrifying stories, all Hollywood actresses' speeches on the matter, and how all of it was playing out in the US and other countries in Europe. Unfortunately, [Portuguese citizens] forgot to look within—to check in with our own country and Portuguese women, and reevaluate the situation on a local level.
Earlier this month, a 26-year-old woman was raped in a bar bathroom by the barman and the bouncer. They were found guilty in court and were sentenced to four years in prison. However, they received a suspended sentence—they won't have to go to jail for a single day. Because, according to the judge, even though it was proven that the victim was unconscious and that she was indeed sexually abused by these two men, a bar is a place of "mutual flirting" and the rape was not premeditated—to quote the court, it was "circumstantial". Also, the victim showed no signs of physical violence—except, of course, the "being raped while unconscious part"—and because the two men had no previous offenses, they were free to go.
No one protested for her, or at least not in a very significant way. We all complained, but talking about it isn't enough. Not anymore, not ever.
Talking about what's going on overseas or across the border is easy—but we desperately need to look within ourselves. #MeToo was important for us women to feel like our collective voice is louder. It was important for feminist movements in Portugal that were made stronger and braver after its creation. But on a deeper level where it's possible to make a difference, Portugal is still behind, too shy to change. People are still hiding under the tree of social shame.