The last few days have seen an upsurge of posts with the hashtag #MeToo. It started as a campaign to raise awareness and address sexual assault and harassment claims by women.
A Little Background Info
What many possibly do not know, the Me Too campaign was started by a social activist, Ms. Tarana Burke, in 2006. As a movement to help victims of sexual harassment and assault, especially among women of colour.
Around October this year, accusations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, a film producer in Hollywood, surfaced. Actress, Alyssa Milano, on social media, encouraged others to come out and share their experiences using the phrase, as an awareness campaign.
The phrase has since been adopted by other people in different countries the world over.
Matters Sexual Assault & Harassment; Female Perspective
The problem of sexual harassment has and still is, a challenge that we face as a society. In most cases, victims do not air out their cry for help for fear of being judged and the stigmatization that follows.
As a society, we are yet to reach the proper level of gender parity. Take the workplace; for instance, if a female colleague remarks about the misconduct of a male colleague and more so, if it is sexual, we are quick to find a reason to shift the blame to the female.
People start alluding to what the female -the victim in this case- could be doing to invite such acts. Maybe it’s how she dresses, or it could be the way she presents herself.
◊ Sponsor Manenos
In Kenya, specifically, the issue of “sponsors” has become the norm. It’s common for men in high positions on the corporate ladder, to prey on unsuspecting female employees. To the point where an older man making sexual advances to a young lady, isn’t a shocker.
“One unnerving evening, I was travelling upcountry and happened to sit next to an elderly guy. He appeared to be in his mid-forties or older.
Thanks to the heavens, this was going to be a quiet and uneventful 8-hour drive. There wouldn’t be a need for small talk. Moreover, it felt comforting to sit beside an older person for the rest of the journey through the night.
The worst that could happen would be the sudden jolts from sleep as the driver tried to manoeuvre the night traffic. Right?
A few hours into the ride, he fell asleep, much to my relief. Silence can become awkward, especially if you have to look over the person sited beside you to get a view of the window.
The night breeze was flowing in from the open windows, alright, and I had a light dress that covered a few inches below the knees. Due to the breeze, I had acquired the aid of a shawl to fight off some of the cold. It didn’t take long before, I could sense a weird warmth and perspiration on my thighs.
It couldn’t be that my legs had heated up that fast and in the cold of the night. Upon checking, I realized that this man had his palms on my legs. Perhaps he needed some leeway to stretch, and my legs offered as much comfort as an armrest.
Brushing off the unsolicited touching, I pushed his hand aside and moved further away from the space between our seats. A few seconds later, the sweaty palms would be perched on my thighs again, and this time in a firm grip. The guy appeared to be fast asleep, even though his hands were moving in an unwelcome direction.
Should I wake him? Is this something anyone would do unconsciously? Just grab the thigh of whoever sits next to you and “rub it”! We haven’t even exchanged one word. How did I find myself in this situation? Are the thoughts that plagued my mind.
Consternation and confusion kicked in. The only way I could make him stop without drawing the attention of the other passengers was to smack and shove it away. Alternatively, I could confront him and ensure everybody on the bus gets to know what was happening.
Option one it was. As if on cue, the man turns to his side, eyes closed and begun snoring loudly. Like nothing out of the ordinary had transpired.
The remainder of the journey, I was on high alert and couldn’t wait to get to my destination. In the shortest time possible.“
◊ Women as mere Objects
There have been several cases of men undressing or ripping the clothes of women in public. These actions fueled the #MyDressMyChoice protests.
It’s not long after the public outcry that a driver and tout of a city matatu were penalized through the courts, for such.
Sometimes, in the company of guys, one has to endure the awkward moments when they pride themselves in recounting their sexual conquests.
The gentlemen who seem to be the most chivalrous could be the loudest in the group.
At the back of your mind is always that constant reminder that you could be their topic of discussion when you aren’t present.
◊ Inequality at the workplace
There was an instance of a female colleague who was denied the opportunity to get practical experience in a reputable insurance firm in Kenya. The reason being, she was the “wrong” gender. What was astonishing is that it was a female staff who was given the responsibility to provide the company’s reasons for not accepting her.
Their actual words were, “We only have one position available that requires a male intern.”
Well, their reasons would be at least believable if the internship required intense physical labour. Turns out, the guy simply worked at a desk and on a computer, during the tenure of the training.
There’s still much to be done concerning the marginalization of women in society. On social media, it is common to find guys abusing a female for posting a contradictory opinion from theirs.
If we raise our male children to view women as lesser beings, how then do we expect them to act differently as adults?
As a society, we should champion gender equality. Give women the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
Let us support the fight against sexual harassment, encourage victims to stand up and give them a shoulder when they need it.
#MeToo could be the clarion call to many of the gender-related challenges that women continue facing.