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Action on words that went viral

YOU might have seen people posting #MeToo on their social media accounts lately. You may have even thought, “What’s the big deal if someone flirted a little or made a pass at a cute girl? Boys will be boys after all. It was just a ‘joke’. Besides, they probably brought it on themselves.”

This hashtag went viral last month to combat this very thinking. In the wake of accusations of sexual harassment and assault surrounding famous American movie producer Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood actor sparked a campaign based on the #MeToo campaign in order to let survivors know that they are not alone and draw attention to the magnitude of this problem.

Once the hashtag began trending globally, we’re happy to report that Kolkata’s police department quickly jumped on the bandwagon.

“We hear you” 

Showing their support they announced: “Kolkata Police have been perturbed by the number of people who have shared #MeToo. And we would like to reiterate our pledge and commitment by saying that we hear every single one of you. We are here to take your complaints every time you want to report a case of sexual harassment.”

Following Kolkata’s lead, the Mumbai police also encouraged victims to take legal action offline by reporting sexual abuse to them. Repurposing the hashtag, they shared a photo of two women talking, one saying: “I have complained to Mumbai Police”, to which the other replies, “Me too”.

What next?

While raising awareness is important, understanding the depth of the issue is more than just retweeting a message or reading a post about what someone has experienced. Sexual harassment is an issue around the world; however, it is unavoidable for many living in India. It is a form of gender violence and causes many people, especially women, to feel unsafe in public spaces.

India’s Supreme Court has plainly defined harassment as “any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication)” with a list of examples of such behaviour.

A recent study showed that nearly 40% of Indian women face sexual harassment in the workplace. Yet 70% never reported it, either because their company did not follow appropriate procedures due to a general unawareness of its illegality, or a lack of knowledge of how to pursue recourse.

Another form of sexual harassment happens on the street, also referred to as “eve-teasing”. It is inescapable and affects people’s lives more deeply than you imagine.

  • A shocking 79% of women living in cities throughout India have been subjected to harassment or violence in public.
  • More than four out of every 10 women experience it before they turn 19.
  • Of a group of women surveyed in Delhi, 40% said they had experienced it within the last year; 33% of whom reported that they no longer go out in public and 17% even quit their jobs to avoid it.

Initiating real change

Research shows that most harassers are men and boys. There are many well-meaning efforts that aim to stop harassment, but they typically focus on the victims rather than the harassers. Instead, we should educate our sons on the ill effects of this sort of behaviour, on appropriate versus inappropriate conduct, and how they can step in and defend victims when they witness harassment.

Kolkata Police have kicked off an initiative to address these issues just this past September with a programme called “Dear Boys” which educates teen boys on respecting women. If you are interested in how you can educate the men/boys in your life, you can visit this site for some ideas on how to address the issue.

You can also click here to learn more about NGOs working to empower women.

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