Author: Yash Prakash Yadav, Bachelor of Law (LL.B.) from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University
“No woman should be told she can’t make decisions about her own body. When women’s rights are under attack, we fight back”
BY: – Kamala Harris
The above stated quote is by the first Vice President of the United States of America, it may have been influenced by her own understanding of the problems faced by females all over the world, but the ‘fight back’ part allow us to think of the most modern, worldwide, influencing movement, also called “trend” in the information age, famously known as #MeToo movement, with changes taking place as per local language and culture. In simple words, it is a social movement against the sexual abuses and sexual harassments where people publicize allegations of sex crimes.
Origin and logic
The phrase “MeToo” was first used by Tarana Burke, a very active social activist, in 2006, on the Myspace, to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who has been sexually abused. She was born in a very poor family and as a child she was raped and sexually assaulted. In an interview she told the story behind her use of the term “MeToo”.
Once a 13-year-old girl also shared her story with Tarana, who faced the same ordeal as Tarana faced herself as a child, but Tarana was not able to give any answer to that girl at that time and later she wished that she should have simply told her “Me Too”.
The concept behind this movement is to empower women through empathy, in particular young girls and women are working are most vulnerable to unwanted sexual abuse or advances. In 2017’s October, Alyssa Milano promoted using the phrase as a hashtag to help to reveal the extent of problems with sexual harassment and assault by showing how many people have experienced these events themselves.
The tactic here is to empower women through empathy and solidarity and give courage to speak by giving strength of numbers, which also gives a sense of safety, especially young and vulnerable women, by visibly showing how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace and public space. On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano stated on Twitter, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. After this many high-profile American celebrities showed support by following her advice such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lawrence, and Uma Thurman. Widespread media coverage particularly due to many names of Hollywood, led to high-profile cases and then the popularity of the movement crossed the borders and the movement international and multi-dimensional.
#MeToo: legal issues.
It is not the first time when a movement has led to a scenario where existing laws and institutional structures are being questioned. “MeToo” movement has made many countries re-think about their current laws which are concerned, in one way or the other, with the life of a women and especially to the laws which, in their implication, are forcing females to stay quiet and bear the shame and guilt for crimes committed by someone else against them. Burke speaks of the #MeToo bill, which would remove the condition that staffers of the federal government, in the United States of America, must wait for a few months, regarded as a “cooling off” period, before being allowed to file a complaint against a Congressperson. Such rules and regulations received a great amount of criticism all over the world when many of the accusations were made against politicians, both in power and out of power. How will a legislature filled with the accused be trusted with the responsibility of enacting laws which will govern the investigations and procedure to be followed to determine whether they are guilty of that said crime or not?
The objective of the movement is to give people the resources to have access to methods of recovering, and to raise voice for changes to laws and policies. Goals, such as, updating sexual harassment policies and training police personnel (and in that matter all concerned professions) to handle these matters with due diligence. Professionals who work with children must be made subject to background check. A senior advocate practicing at Supreme Court of India repeated the words of the founder of “MeToo” movement, that is, “sex education that teaches kids to report such behavior is the need of the hour and the legislature which forces unwilling child concerned institutions to educate the children about this is demand of the masses.
A priority of #MeToo movement is to make necessary changes in laws concerned with sexual harassment and assault, for example: –
- Making protocols that will allow victims of such crimes in all industries to file complaints without any fear of retaliation.
- Laws making it very difficult for publicly traded companies to hide or cover-up payments from their stockholders, which will allow the public to see if a company is treating any female employee just to force her to stay quiet.
- Make it illegal for employers to require new workers to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of employment.
Note, gender analysts, such as Anna North, have argued that #MeToo should be named and thus be referred to as a labor issues concerned movement due to the economic disadvantages faced when someone reports harassment. It has been suggested that laws and policies are required to deal with power imbalances in some workplaces, for example by: –
- Raising the tipped minimum wage.
- Using innovations like the “portable panic buttons” which has been made mandatory for hotel employees in Seattle, US.
Others have suggested that barriers to employment must be removed, like agreements that prevent an employee from talking about their employment publicly, like some employers make it necessary to sign non-disclosure agreements or taking disputes (including sexual harassment claims) to arbitration rather than to other more public venues of law and justice, such as court. It has been demanded by the movement that laws should be put in place to ban these types of mandatory agreements.
In India sexual harassment is known by the term “Eve Teasing”, this term has been described as misleading, tame, and diluting the seriousness of the crime. In India, a law which was concerned with justice for woman experiencing sexual harassment at workplace was first laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishakha and Ors vs state of Rajasthan. Many guidelines relating to the safety of a women at workplace had been mentioned and which ultimately resulted into formation of Sexual Harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2003. The Act lays down procedures for a complaint and investigation and a law to punish the accused, when found guilty, with jail time and monetary fine. Section 26 of the Act dealt with the penalty provision to any person or employer who found guilty of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Government also broadens up the 2013 Act by making mandatory provision that every employer of a company shall constitute an Internal Complaint Committee at each office or branch, where the number of employees is 10 or more than 10 members. This Committee helps a woman to file a complaint against the accused and ICC shall start inquiry within 90 days. Under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman, maximum punishment one year jail with fine) it is provided that a victim of such crime can approach court or report to police in case the ICC failed to inquire into the matter. ICC has the same authority as civil court in respect of summoning and examining any person on oath, requiring the discovery and production of documents. But as per the data of 2018, only 533 cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse have been filed. Therefore, it shows us that women in India are still unprotected and the efforts of law makers are not bearing the desired results. Legislation must also take into account the increasing number of false accusations against good men.
In India also the MeToo movement spread like wildfire and many high-profile cases came in the public eye, such as in India and many cases were reported to the police. Although no new law has been enacted as of now, the movement has set the tone for change.
MeToo has again made the world rethink about the social stigma that exists in our society between men and women. Workplace rules have made the world of corporate and other private institutions a place of inequality and discrimination for hard working females who have took the courage to step-up in the society and break the orthdox setup. A person who enjoys a place of higher authority in the management of a company or enjoys the trust of someone just due to the post he or she holds is under the obligation to support and protect those who are under his or her shade, but when he or she exploits the power or trust bestowed upon him or her than world becomes a mean place with no affection for authority or any other institution. Ignoring injustice is sometimes the same as contributing to it. Females have been treated unfairly for ages and even today many people try to objectify women. Misconceptions about consent have led to acts by men which have brought great mental stress and hardship for many women. It is time that we start understanding the simple fact that it’s Mother Nature not Father that bears our wait daily and provide for us and without whom none will exist, and all will cease to exist forever. Respect is a right and not a charity.