PARIS — #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have made the past year a crucial one for women’s rights. Or at least it has, from our Western, Oscar-Night point of view.
As the world celebrates its first International Women’s Day of what we can glibly call the “post-Weinstein” era of the feminist cause, a recent Reuters survey aims at finding out whether there is more to the much-discussed hashtags than a passing buzz. The conclusion of this study, led on five continents, and to which both women in the street and women’s rights experts participated, is that yes, a change appears to be coming — but not for everyone.
In countries like Kenya for instance, #MeToo is considered as “some sort of joke” that anyway fails at reaching the Internet-deprived rural parts of the country.
Speaking to Reuters for this survey, Mumbai consultant Archana Aravind Patney says that in India, sexual harassment conversations “have died down” since the 2012 protests over the gang rape and murder of a woman in a Delhi bus.
And indeed these movements have a much harder time gaining traction in countries where women are afraid to talk, and where problems like prostitution, child marriage and human trafficking are still rampant.
In India, sexual harassment conversations 'have died down.'
But even in India, things are moving forward, as Rashme Sehgal reports for website The Wire: In the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, victims of trafficking or child marriage are now working closely with legal authorities and the police to help put an end to the practices:
“How have these women managed to find the courage to challenge those very people who had been exploiting them for so long?
“Among the women who chose to describe her own personal journey was Rajeshwari from Kadiri in Andhra Pradesh, who has been engaged in sex work for the last two decades. A three-day workshop in 2015 by the Centre for Advocacy and Research was a turning point in her life. There she learned from a retired judge about different laws including Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Juvenile Justice Act. She was also given help learning how to cope with sexual violence and sexual harassment.
“‘We were given a crash course on different laws,’ Rajeshwari recalls. ‘We were also taught how to deal with cases of domestic violence and marital conflict, and in cases of trafficking and child marriage, we had to inform the district authorities by using the child helpline.’”
The workshop gave her enough confidence to start working closely with the police and district authorities. “Being a sex worker, I know the situation on the ground,” she explained. “When a young girl was sold by a trafficker in the Thane district of Maharashtra, the local police and some NGOs sought my help.”
Yes, women in the West finding their voice on Twitter, or at the Oscars, is good progress. A longtime sex worker being taught to protect herself from exploitation, and then helping others do the same — that is radical change.
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