The Pixel Project is pleased to welcome a guest “16 For 16” article from our partner, Breakthrough – a global human rights organisation working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. Their cutting-edge multimedia campaigns, community mobilisation, agenda setting, and leadership training equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and take bold action for the dignity, equality, and justice of all.

This year, Breakthrough India shares a list of 16 things we can do to keep the momentum of the #MeToo movement going. 

The powerful #MeToo movement shook the foundation of the culture of silence and misogyny which surrounds sexual harassment and violence in many ways. Starting with Tarana Burke in 2008 – and blown wide open by the Harvey Weinstein case in 2015 – it spelled out a simple truth: that sexual harassment is pervasive at all levels of society.

It’s also started important conversations about accountability, the power imbalance throughout society, and about believing women. It’s brought together people to talk about consent and what it means in today’s world; and these conversations can’t and shouldn’t end here.

More importantly, we need to move beyond debates and discussions and start working on practical processes and policies to take this forward. It is time for a cultural shift – a shift towards building a culture of empathy, where we believe survivors.

For the past two years, since #MeToo’s explosion on the global stage, we have come to a new and burgeoning phase in the movement – with a fresh question in mind: What can we do to keep the momentum of the #MeToo movement going?

With that in mind, for this year’s 16 Days Of Activism, we present to everyone a 16-step plan for you to end violence against women (VAW) and create a culture of gender equality.

On An Individual Level

Recommended Action #1: Call out sexual harassment in the workplace when you see it.

Sexual harassment has always been surrounded by stigma, making it very difficult for survivors to lodge reports or make a complaint. A female complainant is always treated with suspicion, which adds additional social pressure to prove the harassment. Therefore, many survivors either remain silent or delay making a report, and in some cases can even be forced to withdraw their complaints. Creating a conducive space for female employees is the first and foremost step to counter this secondary victimisation.

Remember: if we remain silent about sexual harassment in the workplace, we are tacitly supporting the culture of abuse and misogyny. Building a safe space by standing up for each other makes it easier for the survivor to come out and to report the harassment will help balance the workplace power equation.

Recommended Action #2: Take the #MeToo movement beyond social media

It is essential that the spread of the #MeToo movement also reaches people who have limited access to the internet and technology. To this end, we can contribute by talking about the movement to people who are not present on social media platforms or simply don’t know about it. How? By reaching out to the women and girls in your life that don’t have access to social media or don’t know about the movement. Be a safe space for them where they can talk about sexual harassment without any fear.

Recommended Action #3: Men and boys – hold each other accountable

As the #MeToo movement gained momentum, more and more women have spoken up that they, or someone they know have been sexually harassed, abused and violated. Yet men have remained conspicuously silent or flat out denial – do men not know someone who HAS sexually harassed, abused and violated another person? If you are male, reason with your male peers and intervene when you see incidents of harassment and violence happening. The conversation around sexual harassment involves you as well – and it is time to hold your peers who harass, rape, and abuse women responsible for their actions. Unsure about where to begin? Here are 16 suggestions that you, as a man, can put into action.

Recommended Action #4: Talk to the men and boys you know

The conversations about sexual harassment with men and boys should not be limited to the approach of teaching men and boys to not be harassers and aggressors because we need to be aware that some men and boys can be and are survivors of sexual harassment as well. It will be difficult to get them to open up if the discourse around sexual harassment is directed at them, as opposed to including them.  It also has to be emphasised that surviving sexual harassment and empathy are not grounds to determine one’s masculine identity, irrespective of dictates laid down by normative hypermasculinity.

Recommended Action #5: Really listen to survivors

When someone shares their experience of sexual harassment publicly, we need to stop ourselves from jumping in and offering the way forward or even placing ourselves in a position of power and putting the accused on a public trial. We need to ask ourselves what the person who has shared the experience is looking for. The closure that the survivor sharing the experience is looking for has to be the central consideration directing how we respond.

Recommended Action #6: Change your default attitude to ‘Believe Women’

During the #MeToo movement, there was a global outcry over the norm of where, in cases of reporting, it is common practice to not believe women, on questioning their intentions or timings to come out, to insist that most rape cases are false and so on. We need to strive to do away with thinking like this – because it puts the onus on the women who are already victims, to constantly prove they were harassed. And we can begin with ourselves by examining our knee-jerk reactions to survivor stories and making a conscious effort to stop victim-blaming women.

On A Systemic Level

Recommended Action #7: Make organisations, companies and universities sign affidavits against sexual harassment, while they’re signing their employment contracts and anti-ragging affidavits.

Clauses regarding sexual harassment, bullying, other forms of abuse of power should be included in the employment contract or admission forms . Contracts should clearly lay out the plan of action by the institution against any form of misconduct. Any form of anti-harassment policies should be displayed clearly, laying out steps in easier communication formats and/or in multiple languages. This should be displayed not only indoors but also outdoors, in the purview of public to build larger public accountability in countering abuse of power. It is also important for every individual to be accountable for the conduct within the institutional space and be mindful of the consequences.

Recommended Action #8: Pressure legal processes to do better

If there is one thing that the #MeToo movement has shown us, it is that due process and legal mechanisms are consistently failing survivors/victims. Everyone, from the perpetrators to those who are meant to enforce legal mechanisms, should be held accountable; and this is where media portals can really help. There has to be pressure on ensuring existing processes, acts and laws which are in place are executed fairly.

This is where various media portals can take up sexual harassment cases and display how due process faltered and failed in these cases in a step-by-step manner. The #MeToo movement can be used as leverage to come up with a list of demands to ensure due process and the legal processes are more effective  – moving beyond laws and focusing on thorough implementation.

Recommended Action #9: Address the culture of silence in public and private spaces

Breaking the culture of silence starts at home. If we think of challenging sexual harassment at public (including workplaces) yet remain silent about the experiences of harassment at home, we are still supporting the culture of violence. Silence in domestic spaces reinforces the norm that harassment is shameful for the survivor. This silence doesn’t provide strength to the survivor but to the perpetrator to continue with the abuse, and forces the survivor to withdraw into the shell of fear and trauma that further establishes violence as a norm. It is very important take a stand against any form of violence at home, and stand by the survivor to break the culture of silence. It encourages others to not accept violence as the norm and it should be resisted; be it in the domestic space, public or workspace.

Recommended Action #10: Keep on conversing about consent

The conversation around consent has been raging for the last few years and this is a good thing. But as the #MeToo movement-triggered the Aziz Ansari incident shows, this conversation needs to move beyond the binary construct of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Consent needs to be a conversation between two or more participants and reducing it to the binary means that not only a lot of the nuance is lost but a lot of the onus falls on one of the partners (the one ‘consenting’ versus the one ‘asking’). Intimacy is rarely something as straightforward as the above duality: there is never just one person ‘consenting’ or just one person ‘asking’. It’s a conversation, an understanding of behaviours and a question of trust.

Recommended Action #11:  Revamp and sensitise reporting processes and spaces

One of the most annoying (yet oft repeated) questions during the #MeToo movement was, “Why didn’t she/he/they report it earlier? Why are they coming forward now?” And this answer remains unchanged: because it’s difficult. Because it’s traumatising. Because we have made it traumatising. And the very first thing we can do is to make it easier for survivors to report what has happened – by sensitising frontline reporting spaces. Reporting mechanisms need to become more survivor friendly – where the survivor is not challenged about what they’ve faced but treated with dignity and humanity and given every access to tools and next steps for them to take their complaint forward.

Recommended Action #12: Stop blaming women

Following the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment (especially at the workplace) became a topic of discussion. What followed hot on its heels was what could only be described as a form of backlash: workplaces began to declare that hiring women would now be difficult, that men should avoid women as much as they could. The idea was simple: no women, no harassment.

This line of thinking is not only ridiculous, but more importantly, it’s also dangerous. It puts the onus of avoiding sexual harassment squarely on women’s shoulders. It also shows a refusal to actually deal with the core  problem itself, and we need to confront this kind of thinking and show it for what it is: anti-women and misogynistic to the core.

Recommended Action #13: Reiterate that the perpetrator is frequently a known person 

The dominant narrative around sexual harassment has always painted a picture of the perpetrator being a stranger. We need to counter this myth and keep reiterating the fact that in most cases, the perpetrator is a known person – someone the survivor knows personally.

A lot of control is exercised on women’s and girls’ life choices and mobility giving the argument of how unsafe public spaces are. What is frequently missing is the fact that sexual harassment is not just something that happens in public spaces. The conversation needs to broaden and recognise that sexual harassment happens even at home or at schools, workplaces etc. and by people whom we know well. A lot of the narratives shared as a part of the #MeToo movement are testimony to this.

Recommended Action #14: Define how we treat perpetrators

The movement has used public disclosures as a strategy to seek accountability. This calls for us to also address questions which involve the accused including (but not limited to):

  • Once a person is accused, what do we expect from them?
  • What does being accountable look like in terms of actions on behalf of the accused?
  • Are we looking at a retributive form of justice or a rehabilitative form of justice?
  • If we understand processes like socialisation, what is the journey that we expect the accused to take under the #MeToo movement?

These are the difficult but necessary questions we must ask. We recognise that there are no simple answers for this, but in order to keep up the momentum of #MeToo, we must deal with this soul-searching as a society.

Recommended Action #15: Make sure the #MeToo movement is an inclusive space

The #MeToo movement has amplified the voices of women across the globe, but the time is long past that it reach all women. Women who don’t have easy access to social media, dalit (Untouchable) women, women living with disabilities, adivasi (Indigenous) women, queer women… the list goes on. The movement as it exists is a great first step, but it can’t stop there. There’s no single ‘woman’ the movement can speak for and it shouldn’t either.

Recommended Action #16: Acknowledge various gender identities

The #MeToo movement will never be inclusive if the discourse remains limited to men as perpetrators and women as victims. The latter does not take into account non-normative sexualities and multiple gender identities. Non-binary persons are vulnerable as well, that too in circumstances that dominant gender persons take for granted – eg. a trans and/or genderqueer person not being welcome in public transport local trains that have strict demarcated categories that state ‘Men’ and ‘Women’. The same applies for restrooms with these demarcations as well, and not to mention people’s hostility when the non-binary person enters these spaces. This is discriminatory in nature and constitutes sexual harassment as well.

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