Since the #MeToo movement catapulted into mainstream dialogue last October, it has proven a force to be reckoned with. It continues to make headlines, and as a result is propelling conversations around gender equality, sexual assault and gender relations forward in meaningful ways. But to achieve gender equality, we need to change more than just conversations — we need to change behaviours and beliefs.
With the movement at the half-year mark and International Women's Day around the corner, Plan International Canada decided to poll Canadians on how #MeToo has impacted their lives.
Of 3,000 respondents surveyed from across the country, one-third of men and women told us that social movements like #MeToo are impacting the way they think about male-female power relations.
This certainly signals progress.
And yet, it's only one-third. So what's our next move?
For all that it has accomplished, #MeToo has not inoculated women and girls from abuse or discrimination – far from it. Yes, a select few have been called to task for their behaviour and held accountable for their actions. But these small victories will not prevent similar injustices from happening again. Nor will they prevent the all-too predictable backlash (which has already begun) wherein men refuse to mentor women, take a meeting, or employ them entirely.
At the same time, Canada is enthusiastically projecting an image of inclusion to the world. Our leader is a self-described feminist. The federal government just introduced a gender responsive budget. And we are unapologetically championing gender equality globally through our feminist foreign assistance policy.
Likewise you'd be hard-pressed to find a business or corporation that doesn't champion gender equality in its official policies and guidelines.
And yet, if so many of us are still closed off to a transformative movement like #MeToo, how proud can we really be?
We have to start digging deeper. I would argue we need a feminist domestic assistance policy that helps to address harmful gender norms that often exclude women and girls from realizing their full potential.
Plan International Canada works to catalyze gender equality around the world. We strive to help communities identify the root causes of gender inequality to transform power relations.
Frankly I am not seeing the same work being done here at home in Canada. Globally, the women, men, girls, boys, and community leaders we partner with actively work to examine their own behaviors and beliefs in order to build a more equal world.
Can most people in Canada say they are doing the same?
In the Global North, we are too often guilty of viewing people in the Global South as "other," with lived experiences vastly removed and different from our own. I can't count the number of times I've had people remark, "of course gender inequality is a problem over there, but we pretty much have it figured out here."
The structural systems and biases that hold girls and women back in communities in the Global South are the same as the ones that hold us back here in Canada. They may take a different form, but they stem from the same unjust belief: that girls are worth less than boys. This valuation starts when girls are born and follows them into their adult lives. But it can be changed.
I've seen firsthand young men living in chauvinistic cultures begin to question their identities and champion gender equality. We've seen boys and girls lobby governments' together, working to abolish harmful practices like child marriage.
We have learned so many valuable lessons and innovative approaches from the people we work with, from the unstoppable girl advocates to grassroots women's rights organizers, to brave men willing to flout every gender norm.
It's time to bring these lessons, and this work, home.