The campaign ‘Me Too’ begun on social media by American actress Alyssa Milano has brought tens of thousands of women across the world together, describing their experiences of sexual harassment and ending the silence that continues to surround the problem. Milano’s campaign, using the hashtag ‘MeToo’, was begun after female actresses described sexual harassment by American producer Harvey Weinstein, harassment that had gone on for years without being reported or spoken of. Unlike previous campaigns, the MeToo hashtag flashing around the world has filled newsfeeds in Pakistan as well. Thousands of women are speaking out about their experiences – many for the first time. They include prominent media and film personalities as well as many hundreds of ordinary women who describe molestation, groping, verbal harassment and full-fledged sexual assault sometimes beginning when they were little more than toddlers. These incidents have been reported from within the so-called sanctity of homes as well as from public spaces. There has been an obvious impact with more and more women and young girls joining in what has become a cry of solidarity and a call for protest. Men too have demanded change – although in Pakistan the number is still limited.
The question is: what will happen in the aftermath of the MeToo hashtag blazing across cyberspace in our country and in others? New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro have emerged, unsurprisingly, as the two capitals of rape in the world. But it is also obvious the problem is a very widespread one at home. It is possible the campaign will simply die away like others before it. But there is at least an awareness among victims that they are not alone. Indeed, almost every woman in the country will testify to harassment of one kind or the other. The landmark Protection of Women Against Harassment Bill of 2010 was intended to spare women such trauma, and was signed amidst a chorus of protests from male legislators that it would be misused. Activists will testify that this rarely happens. However, it is also true the bill has been rarely used. Social stigma usually prevents women from speaking out. At least the Me Too campaign has set the ball rolling on a conversation we needed to initiate years back.