In 2016, Latin America exploded about what would come to be known as femicide — the killings of women because they are women — and the campaign came with a visceral hashtag: #NiUnaMenos, or in English, “not one less.”
Perhaps the outcry against violence against women has been especially intense precisely because violence against women is so pervasive. It is so, infuriatingly, everyday.
Globally, according to the World Health Organization, 35 percent of women experience either physical or sexual violence at the hands of their intimate partner or sexual violence at the hands of someone else.
Sit on that for a second: 35 percent. One in three women.
Underlying that figure is women’s silence, as though we had all signed an invisible nondisclosure agreement at birth. Only occasionally, when acts of extreme violence shock us to the core, do we look up and instead of despairing, we speak. We tell our stories to each other. But then what happens?
Laws Got Changed. Behavior Takes Longer.
In Morocco, two years after Amina Filali’s suicide, the law that allowed her accused rapist to evade prosecution by marrying her was revoked. Lebanon and Jordan made similar moves this year.
Feminists in the Arab world celebrated, but cautiously. Changing law was the first step, they told me when I was reporting earlier this year from Lebanon. Changing behavior would be harder.
Women and girls would have to come forward to report rape. Their families would have to defend them, rather than force them to marry their abusers to absolve them of what’s regarded as a collective familial shame.
“These are cases that are not discussed in public,” is how Maya Ammar, a spokeswoman for Kafa, a group that works with survivors, put it. “They all happen in silence.”
Many Latin American countries had already passed a raft of laws against gender violence, including some against femicide, by the time a “harrowing succession” of killings in Argentina unleashed new outrage in 2015.
Protests spread to Peru the next year and, this November, prompted defiance in an unlikely arena: a beauty pageant.
One contestant, instead of announcing her bust and waist measurements, announced how many women had been killed in femicides in 2017 — 2,202, as my colleagues Nicholas Casey and Susan Abad reported.
“One woman spoke of children who die from sexual abuse,” the story continued. “Another said 70 percent of women had been victims of attacks on the streets of Peru.”
The Association for Women’s Rights in Development, an international feminist organization, credited #NiUnaMenos for what it called “tangible change” in several countries.
Legislators in Uruguay, for example, made femicide an aggravating circumstance to murder, potentially stiffening punishment for those convicted. Peru plans to establish a registry of gender violence convicts. And Argentina has been forced to figure out how to implement gender-violence laws long on the books.
Gabriela Wiener, a Peruvian writer, was bullish about the-not-so tangible changes, writing in our Opinion section that “from the moment women in Peru named the mistreatment we suffered in our community, as in a spell, we cast evil a bit away, so there would be not one fewer of us.”
Years Pass. Momentum Slows.
India is the country of my birth, and I was in Delhi five years ago when Jyoti Singh was assaulted on her way home from the movies on a cold December night.
She lived long enough to tell the awful story to the police. That emboldened thousands of survivors to file police reports after they had been assaulted. Rape laws were strengthened; police departments promised reform.
I wrote hopefully about this moment in my 2016 book, “The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young.” Indian women were refusing to stay silent. The country was being forced to listen. This was a moment.
It’s hard for me to be hopeful now.
Recently, Human Right Watch published a dispiriting report, detailing how the reforms that were promised (and made in some instances) remain meaningless for many.
Police are reluctant to initiate criminal investigations, particularly if the victim’s family is considered to be low on the caste ladder. Medical professionals continue to subject survivors to degrading examinations. Victims are shamed in court.
“The police beat me up, detained my father, and threatened to lock him up under false charges if I didn’t tell the magistrate that I had filed a false complaint of rape, so I did as they said,” one woman told Human Rights Watch.
It makes me wonder what will come of this #MeToo moment five years from now.
Some (More) Things to Read
Here are a few recent #MeToo dispatches from outside the United States:
In Sweden, news reports about misconduct by a well-known, left-wing columnist led to an outpouring of stories about national figures in arts and media. Jenny Nordberg, a Swedish author and columnist who helped break this open, wrote on our Op-Ed page that “this reckoning in a country that sees itself as best in class on gender equality has been particularly painful.”
Our Rome bureau chief says that Italy’s response to #MeToo has been more “meh.” In France, they have their own colorful hashtag, #BalanceTonPorc, or “Out Your Pig,” but several leading feminists told our bureau chief they are skeptical that the current outrage “will be enough to change behavior and attitudes that have resisted generations of efforts in France.”
Newsweek mapped use of the #MeToo hashtag here, and if you need a little uplift after all this, check out our collection of New York Times profiles: 11 Powerful Women We Met Around the World In 2017.
What Readers Are Saying
Here are some excerpts from our inbox. Please keep your thoughts, stories and feedback coming to firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you aren’t yet signed up to receive this newsletter by email, do so HERE.
I did see this sexual harassment here in Singapore, too. But that’s really hard to talk about, as here is not that friendly environment as in America or other western countries.
I think the culture played a big role here. If a woman talked about her sexual harassment, people may show their sympathy, but mostly, they considered this women as a bad example.
Freedom is hard in Asia, not only for women, but men. — Jinhao Guo
On Tuesday, the men charged in a gang rape where up to 20 men beat and raped a woman will get their sentence. Since they have already been released from jail we expect that they will not be convicted.
We read everywhere about what a feminist country Sweden is but the image cannot be applied to our lives. Our government calls itself feminist but never ever speaks about rape. — Camilla Lundgren
In Holland we’ve had our version of “me too’s” and frankly I am sick and tired of them. Only hours after Weinstein we had a similar scandal, a Dutch Weinstein, same show business producer, smaller than Weinstein of course, and gay.
Others followed, like in the USA. It’s starting to look like a witch hunt and of course what the Weinsteins etc. did was wrong, but I think this whole thing is getting out of proportion. — Mirla Meerschwam
This is a global problem. I live in Chile, I am 80 years old, and when I was 11, a doctor tried to rape me.
I felt dirty and couldn’t understand what I had done
Men in the streets feel free to comment on women’s physical attributes! As if we are public property or animals in the zoo. — Patricia Mendez
Finally, a Note about a Case Close to Home
The New York Times announced on Wednesday that Glenn Thrush, a White House correspondent, would not be fired but would be suspended without pay for two months, and removed from his prestigious beat, over behavior our executive editor described as offensive.
Here is the full statement from the editor, Dean Baquet, and here is the original article from Vox outlining allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Thrush.
Reaction was, unsurprisingly, wide-ranging. A Times reader named Dan, from Massachusetts, posted a comment to our article saying he was “glad for a sensible decision,” while Amy Siskind, president of the feminist advocacy group The New Agenda, wrote on Twitter that the “response makes a farce of all the fantastic reporting The Times has done on sexual harassment.”
Also on Twitter, a writer named David Klion was one of several who said The Times should have been more transparent about its investigation: “Would be nice if Baquet could say, specifically, *why* Thrush deserves to be punished but not fired, as well as what women working at NYT deserve, which seems like the more important question.”
Carolyn Ryan, an assistant managing editor who was involved in The Times’ decision, offered a bit more background and context on Friday in this post.
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