I have always looked up to her as a woman of courage, conviction and a great mentor who could speak wisdom into your life. Recently, I chanced upon her latest post, which had a simple two-word phrase “Me Too” written. Immediately, I also came across another similar post by a thirteen-year-old young girl. It was a catchphrase that I could see going viral on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, becoming powerful as a conversational starter or the whole conversation. And, that is when I started getting a sense on the enormity of the problem.
Stories of sexual misconduct by many powerful men have dominated the news cycles for years, but the outcry accompanying Harvey Weinstein seemed louder and more emotive – perhaps because the accusers included some of the famous Hollywood stars. Through this, I saw, the floodgates had opened to bring a subject to the surface that has to some extent been unattended for countless decades.
No doubt, hashtag activism has helped to set in motion to lead women’s rights and bring awareness about issues that are often under-reported by the traditional media. I remember in 2010, ‘Harassmap’ campaign was launched for not only raising awareness about sexual harassment but also to push Egyptian women to report such incidents through their social media accounts or texting a hotline.
Another example is the #bringbackourgirls campaign launched in 2014 after the abduction of more than 300 girls in Chibok, Nigeria. From supermodels to the then first lady of United States, all added their selfies to the mounting social media noise. Of course, I will not dispute the power of collective sentiment, at the same time, the kidnappings are on, girls are still missing, and many are still forced into sexual slavery.
While the ‘me too’ campaign was making waves in the social media, another incident of sexual violence in India academia was broken on the internet. Once again there was a debate on the information collected by a law student that accused several men in Indian and foreign universities of actions ranging from internet, emotional abuse to rape. Of course, Indian lawyers, activists and academician have expressed concern, professors are worried, but this document offers no proof to get people believe that that these women were harassed by men, particularly in the position of power.
One of the statistics indicated that conversations about feminism have increased by 300% over past few years. The hashtag ‘me too’ campaign, also saw more than 12 million people share their experiences of sexual abuse and harassment online. Interestingly, if the cause is supported by celebrities and high-profile, they spark the online movement. To what extent this online engagement translates into policy change or practical action remains unclear.
Undoubtedly, women’s voices are more heard than ever, thanks to the social media, still many of them need to get equal access to modern technologies. Studies say that globally women use social media more than men, many women, especially in the developing countries, still do not have access to technology due to infrastructure or biased social norms. In fact, some blogs and websites written by women are censored by governments. We need to find ways to encourage and empower women to facilitate public dialogue and bring systemic change. We need to have increased women participation in decision making at all levels. We need to understand the power of social media alone cannot lead to social change on its own, it must be complemented with offline advocacy and policy outcomes.
Certainly, social media has facilitated public dialogues and created a platform for awareness and change. It has also given voice to those who are otherwise voiceless. It has elevated their voice with a Facebook or Twitter account to become a national story. It has provided victims internet justice, but it is not enough to support the victim through the long path of trauma counseling.
This is a topic of relevance in the current environment and I would be happy to have your views. Can we propose ways to institute cultural changes that would reshape values and ideas?