The popular #MeToo movement spread in 2017 thanks to actress Alyssa Milano asking followers to tweet ‘me too’ if they’d ever been sexually assaulted or harassed. She did this to highlight the magnitude of the problem.
The movement began in 2006 by Tarana Burke, a social activist working with disadvantaged children in the US. #MeToo spread to the United Kingdom, fuelling accusations within Parliament, and highlighting the Oxfam staff sex-for-aid scandal. The movement also prompted many a woman’s march, and surfaced countless sexual harassment and rape stories.
The movement has spread from country to country, from continent to continent. Victims’ stories continue to surface everywhere. Women across the world are marching in solidarity, fighting for much deserved equal rights.
#MeToo exploded in the US, as hundreds of Hollywood celebrities spoke about their experiences with sexual abuse or misogyny. Before #MeToo, the entire industry collectively buried their heads in the sand – everyone knew, but no one told. It was Hollywood’s dirty big secret. Since then, the urge to speak out has spread like an outbreak. Well-known politicians, top executives, religious figures and many powerful people are being held accountable for their abusive actions.
Across the world, there have been several variations of the hashtag and the movement. Here are a few select movements inspired by #MeToo, highlighting significant shortcomings in gender-based violence prevention and laws to hold perpetrators accountable.
#MosqueMeToo tweeted by Egyptian-American activist Mona Elthawy highlighted sexual abuse experienced during the annual holy pilgrimage of Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Mona wrote about being harassed by others attending the pilgrimage, including by a Saudi policeman. Mona was groped while wearing a hijab, and wrote that it completely overshadowed what should have been a sacred experience. This spurred other women to speak out on social media about their own stories of harassment during Hajj or other holy events around the world. #AnaKaman #أنا_كمان (#MeToo in Arabic) spread across the Middle East and inspired the first case where an Egyptian woman took her accuser to court for sexual assault and actually won.
In Latin America, #NiUnaMas (‘not one more’ in Spanish) highlighted high rates of femicide across the continent. The 2016 Small Arms Survey gendered analysis on violent deaths, reports that among the top 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world, 14 are from Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2017, Peruvian beauty pageant contestants collectively shared statistics on gender-based violence issues within the country instead of reciting their measurements. Mexico City and UN Women collaborated on two joint campaigns to demonstrate the harassment women face on public transport. Both campaigns were used to target men and make them realise the discomfort women feel on a regular basis. Argentine actress Thelma Fardin spoke out publicly on Instagram about being raped on tour for a TV programme; the perpetrator was a popular actor who was 45 years old while she was just 16 at the time. Today, women across Latin America are still marching, because so many laws still need to change.
Sweden postponed awarding a Nobel Prize for literature in 2018 after French-Swedish photographer Jean-Claude Arnault was convicted of rape, as his wife is a member of the Swedish Academy.
Quebec’s #EtMaintenant took things further and introduced a follow-up hashtag, which translates to ‘And Now?’. The tag calls for identifying next steps now that the extent of sexual abuse is surfacing.
In China, #MeToo was quickly censored across the country’s social media platforms, so emojis of rice and bunnies emerged to replace it to avoid detection. #RiceBunny phonetically sounds like ‘me too’ in Mandarin.
#MeToo spread like wildfire across India when Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta spoke out publicly accusing well-known actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. This triggered an outpouring of public accusations against other famous faces in Indian media, including politicians, journalists and other high-profile men.
In Spain, several actresses spoke out against harassment in the Spanish film industry. The #MeToo movement aligned with a long-drawn out court case of a gang-rape a few years earlier, in which several men gang-raped a woman and filmed it. The perpetrators became known as ‘La Manada’, which translates to ‘the wolfpack’ in Spanish and caused an uproar across the country. The landmark case acquitted the men of rape, and instead convicted them of sexual abuse. Spanish law defines rape as involving violence, which they were unable to prove. Nationwide protests took place opposing the verdict, and the decision was overturned in 2019. All 5 men went to jail for at least 15 years, and the case identified serious faults in misogynistic interpretations of Spanish law.
In Ethiopia, several girls bravely spoke out one by one about being sexually assaulted by their teacher using the same ‘me too’ approach to share their stories.
The movement spread to patriarchal South Korea when Seo Ji-hyeon accused a senior government official of sexually harassing her many years earlier. Another woman, Lee Eun-eui, took Korean giant Samsung to court for harassment by a superior at work. She was shamed, ignored and her career suffered as a result. She eventually won her case and is now a practising lawyer who advocates for women suffering from sexual abuse and harassment. Several high-profile Korean celebrities and politicians have since gone to jail for sexual abuse crimes, which prompted the #WithYou hashtag to support those speaking out.
Northern Nigeria’s #ArewaMeToo, launched as a result of a deeply patriarchal and conservative culture where sexual abuse and coercive control over women is rampant. It’s often socially accepted that men are entitled to power over women’s bodies, and the issue is so stigmatised that women don’t dare speak out against it. #ArewaMeToo was created in response to a brutal story shared on Twitter. The tag encouraged boys and girls to start speaking out about their experiences of abuse, in a culture where such topics are taboo.
#HowIWillChange kicked off in Australia and men used it to speak out about their own behaviours which may have been misogynistic or hurtful to women. Many used it to recognise that they were complicit or silent when witness to others behaving badly. Many men also used the #MeToo (or #MenToo) tag to highlight that men too suffer from sexual abuse, and often it goes undiscussed or unnoticed.
The global scale of the #MeToo movement is staggering, but we cannot expect change to happen without uncovering the problem. While it’s grim to see that misogyny and gender-based violence (against all genders) and abuse are widespread globally, it’s not all bad news. Many of these movements have initiated conversations where there were no conversations before. Subjects which were too taboo to discuss are now topics of discussion. Women and men in favour of gender-equality are marching in the streets from Delhi to Cairo to Kano in Northern Nigeria. Patriarchal norms are being challenged and questioned for the first time ever in some countries. Gender stereotypes are being broken down. Survivors are speaking out. Perpetrators are starting to be held accountable for their actions.
Until women are truly equal to men, and not victimised or violated purely based on our gender, we’ll continue to march, to campaign for changes in laws, and continue to speak out.