Why #MeToo spread around the world

The allegations of harassment made against a Hollywood mogul have sparked a global social media campaign denouncing sexual assault. Now the task is to turn this campaign toward peace and healing. 

European Parliament member Terry Reintke holds a placard with the hashtag "MeToo" during a debate to discuss preventive measures against sexual harassment and abuse in the EU at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Oct. 25.

One good predictor of a country becoming more peaceful, according to the 2017 Global Peace Index, is the degree to which its men acknowledge the rights of women. Security of the state, in other words, is statistically linked to the security of women.

This insight on peace and gender equality may help explain why the #MeToo campaign has exploded on social media around the world in the one month since the story broke of sexual harassment accusations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Millions of women now feel a new freedom and strength to share their stories of harassment or assault. Many are not only seeking peace for themselves but hoping to shift the conversation about violence against women.

In each country, of course, the words of the #MeToo hashtag are different. In Arabic it is #Ana_kaman. In Spanish, it is #YoTambien. The French hashtag is really a command for action: #BalanceTonPorc, or “squeal on your pig.”

Yet it is important to remember the origins of the #MeToo campaign. The phrase “me too” was made popular a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke in her work with victims of sexual harassment and assault. She sought a succinct way to express empathy with survivors and to ease their pain of disclosure. The healing process, she says, requires “empowerment through empathy.”

Making it easier for victims to talk about such violence without feeling shame also allows a society to deal with the perpetrators, either in seeking justice or even in healing them of gender bias. In fact, all types of violence against women, such as domestic abuse, need to be exposed in order to liberate more men from such attitudes and make society more peaceful. In a book titled “Sex and World Peace,” authors Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Capriolo, and Chad Emmett write:

 “Men who see women as beings to be subjugated will themselves continue to be subjugated. Men who see women as equal and valued partners are the only men who have a true chance to win their freedom and enjoy peace.”

Much of the #MeToo campaign around the world is an expression of anger at male aggressors. Yet below that anger may lie a hope for healing, both for the survivor and perhaps the perpetrator. Empathy toward a victim can go a long way to bring peace for both, and then bring a greater peace to a country.

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