Just over two years ago, the #MeToo movement rose to prominence, causing many powerful men to fall from fame to infamy in the months that followed.
The events of the #MeToo movement in the U.S. were widely covered and many of its effects are well-known. In October 2017, two dozen women came forward with sexual harassment or assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Then, actress Alyssa Milano made a tweet, asking women to respond “me too” if they’d ever been sexually harassed or assaulted (although the phrase was first used by Tarana Burke in 2006). The phrase soon became a hashtag, and as it began to trend, a cultural reckoning arose.
In the days and months that followed, other countries successively followed with their own version of the #MeToo hashtag with, #BalanceTonPorc (#ExposeYourPig) in France to #QuellaVoltaChe (#TheTimeThat) in Italy and the direct translation, #YoTambien, in Latin America and Spain. And yet, none of these movements received nearly as much coverage as the one in the U.S.
Today, the prominence of the U.S.-based #MeToo movement has largely faded (although Weinstein will still go to criminal trial on charges of rape in January). But across the globe, other countries are just beginning to have their #MeToo moment.
In China, the #MeToo movement has been present since early 2018, but it has faced difficulty gaining traction due to government censorship that blocked feminist phrases on social media and deleted online petitions. Thus the prominent hashtag is #RiceBunny, not #MeToo. In Mandarin, #RiceBunny is pronounced “Mi Tu,” a homophone used to avoid censorship after the Chinese government removed social media posts containing #MeToo.
Government officials have warned activists against speaking out, saying that they could be seen as traitors colluding with foreigners if they persisted. And this October, #MeToo activist and journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin, who created a social media platform to report sexual harassment, was detained after she wrote about her participation in the Hong Kong protests. She has since been released.
While the movement has faced difficulties with censorship, their efforts have also led to policy gains. Last year, China’s Supreme People’s Court decided to include sexual harassment on the formal list of causes for civil litigation, and this October marked the first time someone in China was criminally punished for sexual harassment on public transportation.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the #MeToo movement belatedly came to force in June when a woman accused a prominent pastor of raping her as a teenager. While that pastor returned to his pulpit, and police informed the woman who accused him that she was under investigation for criminal conspiracy, this accusation has led to an increase in Nigerian women telling their own stories. However, these women still face increasing backlash in the form of attacks on their character and accusations of lying that, coupled with fears of shaming their families and scaring off potential husbands, has heightened the barriers faced by women who want to share their stories.
Like China, despite facing difficulties, the movement has experienced recent victories. Last month, a Nigerian journalist went undercover at the University of Lagos and captured hidden camera footage of professors soliciting sex in exchange for admissions and grades. That revelation generated outrage, causing the university to suspend four lecturers.
In both China and Nigeria, as well as in other #MeToo movements across the globe, activists have struggled to gain recognition. Even still, small victories are increasing women’s rights, showing that even amidst backlash and personal attacks, the cultural reckoning that began with the U.S.-based #MeToo movement lives on across the globe.
Thumbnail courtesy of Lauren Mitchell under a Creative Commons license