Last week, the hashtag #MeToo erupted online. Millions of women shared their stories of abuse, harassment, assault, and degradation. It was an incendiary moment. The sheer volume of testimonials demonstrated to the world that while Harvey Weinstein's decades-long reign of terror may have been the spark that ignited the blaze, there has long existed a dense forest of abuse... ready to be set afire.
Sexual harassment and assault is not an issue restricted solely to Hollywood. It is a global problem. The ugly reality is that it is happening in every industry, every culture and every corner on earth. Wherever there are unequal power relations between men and women, assault and harassment are endemic. But now that we have both sustained media interest and high-profile survivors offering up their personal experiences and traumas we are left asking, now what?
The only thing more heartbreaking than reading this litany of abuses is the fear that even after such a polarizing moment, nothing will change.
We cannot let that happen.
We owe it, not only to all those who spoke up, but for the countless women and girls and other survivors whose stories have not been told, and who are still afraid and at risk. Globally, survivors have been sounding the alarm bell for decades, the challenge has been society has been unwilling or unable to hear it. The Weinstein story has made us aware that in Hollywood, whispered rumours and warnings led to women banding together to try and find their own protective measures. This is no doubt true the world over as well.
But this is not enough.
We must leverage this polarizing moment to do better. We owe that to our future generations, to the children and girls of today.
Here is how we ensure these sacrifices were not made in vain: we stop speaking only to women and girls. We stop treating this issue as a women's issue — it is a human rights issue. This abuse isn't being inflicted by some nebulous groups of villains. For every woman who is harassed or attacked, there is predator who has acted.
We must bring boys and men into the conversation, and not simply as allies. Men and boys must be more than that. They must be battling endemic sexism and gender-based violence right alongside women and girls, not benevolent observers cheering from the sidelines. They must have their own stake in the struggle, and not just because they have sisters or a mother.
Thankfully, we are starting to see this thinking gain momentum as men have begun tweeting #HowIWillChange in the wake of the #MeToo revelations, shifting the onus on men to share, reflect and reform. But, this move away from ally-ship to collective humanism has to occur at every level of society, and requires bravery and resilience.
I know this is the key to unlocking transformative change because this is the work that Plan International Canada engages in alongside communities around the world. Together we strive to uproot the systemic inequities that prevent gender equality from flourishing, emphasizing that we each have a role to play in abolishing harmful stereotypes and norms.
In this journey, men are equal partners of change with equal responsibility for change. Importantly, they are also equal beneficiaries of change, as they are too often locked in rigid feedback loops of toxic masculinities and violence.
When this work is done right, we've seen community elders — leaders of patriarchal systems where women are valued as less-than — reject traditional gender norms and advocate for girls' rights. We've seen young men living in some of the most chauvinistic cultures begin to question their identities and champion gender equality. We've seen boys and girls lobby governments together, working to abolish child marriage.
We have no excuse. This kind of change is possible, but it requires more than bringing down just one villain. We must bring down the system that insidiously and persistently whispers and sometimes screams that women and girls are not equal to men.
So now that we've said #MeToo, let's shout #WeMust so loudly that the glass ceiling shatters and the system breaks.