What #MeToo changed for women around the world

Before #MeToo, rape was not something that could just be talked about. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

PARIS - The birth of #MeToo in the United States in October 2017 gave millions of women around the world a powerful rallying cry to denounce sexual violence. The movement led to an outpouring of survivors' accounts.

Before #MeToo, rape was "not something we could just talk about", said Ms Nazreen Ally, 43, manager of a security company, who lives in Durban, South Africa. She went public about being raped at 13.

"Many women opened up to me once I started talking about my story… I realised there were other women suffering as well, who were violated and abused, but they just didn't talk about it," Ms Ally said. "I started opening up more and more and showing women that they can do it too."

"I never thought one day I would tell my story and reveal my secret but reading several testimonies… encouraged me," said a 26-year-old Tunisian beautician, who was sexually assaulted as a child.

"It's as if something in me has been unlocked. It made me more determined to change my life, to be happy. I became stronger, and I no longer want to be a passive person who fears everything," she said on condition of anonymity.

Her parents fiercely opposed her filing a complaint, fearing she would be rejected "in a society that unfortunately is still very conservative".

"I decided to raise awareness, and I began with my parents, my sisters, my aunts, my cousins. I try to make them understand that to have a rape victim (in the family) is never something shameful," she said.

A 36-year-old American said that shortly after she began an internship with a congressman in Washington in the early 2000s, a staff member invited her to dinner.

She refused but maintained a friendship with the man, despite his "inappropriate comments".

"I would just shrug it off and make excuses," she said, declining to give her name.

"Fast forward and the #MeToo movement happens, then allegations come out against him," she said, adding it "really made me reassess my younger years".

"I still struggle with the way that women are treated in the city. I've heard men make comments about my appearance, my looks, even my weight," she said. "I got the sense that people still think they're above the law here or that they can still get away with things because they're in a position of power."

Ms Gabriela Ortiz, 26, an employee at a financial services company, was sexually assaulted by a friend of her partner, who was aware of what was happening, one evening in Mexico. Motivated by the avalanche of denunciations during the #MeToo movement, she filed a legal complaint.

"There are starting to be many complaints and I understood, even if it may sound cliched, that we are not alone," she said.

The movement also encouraged her to denounce her attackers on social media.

"I was a feminist in theory, but I did not dare apply" it in real life, said Ms Karine Zerbola, 49, manager of a bar in Annecy, a town in south-east France. She now remains steadfast to her convictions. For example, she no longer tolerates sexist jokes.

#MeToo "confirmed to me that the behaviour of some men in the past was disrespectful and it was not normal", she said.

"The movement also gave me confidence in my way of managing people in my company," she said. "I hire as many men as I do women, and everyone does the same work," she said. She also provides conflict management training to her employees. AFP

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