Deconstructing #MetoonepalBesides dismantling patriarchy, the movement is also about creating safe spaces for women
The belated wake of the #Metoo movement in Nepal or the lack of follow through makes one wonder why the movement is slow to take shape in this part of the world. Immediately ruling out the first and foremost possibility that that sexual harassment does not exist in our society my mind wonders to the other reasons that we as Nepali women are facing.
Creating safe spaces
Perhaps we are not ready yet and are not emotionally, physically, mentally and socially prepared to deal with this movement. Perhaps we do not feel safe enough to recount such horrrors, nor do we want to bear the social repercussions of being the victim of such an incident.
There is a fear that it may result in a strain in relationships, within a friend’s circle, within a family; we are scared of how it would upset the constructs of societal balance we live in. Inspite of the struggle we go through to come out with stories of sexual harassment, we fear that the complaints will get swept under the carpet. That the perpetrator is too powerful, and nothing will change. The possibilities, like the perpetrators, are innumerable.
A simple hashtag it may be, but deconstructing #Metoo in itself helps us realise the complexity it entails. Firstly, it requires an understanding of what is and what is not harassment. This beckons a certain level of awareness, which is not a privilege everybody has. Secondly, acknowledging the fact that one has been harassed has multiple layers of vulnerability. Already a victim to the harassment once, admitting it to oneself and to others entails reliving those moments again. Thirdly, deciding when and how to act can be tricky. The manner and time in which women have acted have had a substantial part to play in the credibility of their allegations. Whether the woman was inebriated, ‘inappropriately clothed’, had been at the wrong place, at the wrong time, or had consented on prior occasions, all these factors bear weight to the incident, although it ought not to. The fundamental flaw in our understanding of consent shapes these notions. From a legal point of view, I understand the presentation and weight of evidence.
However, the fact that these allegations have taken so long to come to light and take shape demonstrates that they are of a special nature that involves a social, moral and political momentum. Fourthly, #Metoo places too heavy an onus on the victim. In effect, it is upon the victim to name, shame and blame the perpetrator. This burden is onerous, tenebrous and one that the victims carry with themselves even after deciding to come out with the details. Fifthly, it often deals with instances that have legal recourse but larger moral repercussions.
Legally, sexual harassment is punishable at the workplace, under the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Elimination) Act, 2015. Furthermore, any misconduct outside the workplace may be criminilised under Section 224 of the Criminal Code. That is not enough though. What we fail to understand is that most women may not want to take legal actions against their perpetrators, and that is completely acceptable. However, it then leaves us with the loose grounds of morality. As a society, we have to take it upon ourselves that it is morally wrong to behave in such a way so as to intimidate, threaten or harass another person sexually or otherwise. We as a society do not stand with and stand by perpetrators of such acts. We express solidarity with and extend support to the survivors and believe their stories.
Beyond the aegis of legal redress, the victims deserve moral and social redress. These forms of redress may be in the form of an apology or pressure for the perpetrator to step down from a position of power. It should be something that appeases the victim. But it is important to understand that no act of redress redeems or justifies what has been done.
Irrespective of the shortcomings and complexities of the #Metoo movement, it has been monumental in calling out perpetrators of sexual nature and dismantling deeply entrenched patriarchy. It has empowered victims and given them support and redress which may not have been available earlier. #Metoo has helped create a safe space for women. It has helped women transcending boundaries of nationality, race, ethnicity, caste and creed, and shows that we are all on the same boat; that we are all victims. But also that we are also survivors and we will not remain silent. We will not tolerate any form of gender based harassment/violence anymore. And that is where #metoo transcends into the #timesup movement.
The #timesup movement is about society taking a stand that these acts are not acceptable. Photo Kathmandu as a festival for photographers, artists and curators has been exemplary in spearheading the #timesup movement and creating a safe space. The festival has initiated a “No Bullshit Code of Conduct” that subscribes to zero tolerance of such behaviour during and around the festival. The fact that this code is written and publicised shows that we have yet to imbibe this code of morality in us. Sadly it is not obvious to everybody yet.
Since #Metoonepal has been slow on its uptake shows that we as a society do not have that safe space for victims to speak up yet. Instead of putting this burden on the victims, as a society, should embrace the notion of #timesup for perpetrators. The time for men harassing women sexually or otherwise is up. The time for men taking advantage of women and expecting them to be silent spectators is up. And the time for such perpetrators to walk with their heads held high is up. The #timesup movement is about declaring that we have a safe space now. That women and other vulnerable minorities are safe; safe to think, speak and act without any inhibitions. This safe space is the building block of a liberated society, one that we should all aspire to achieve, one that we should dream of living in.
Yonzon is a lecturer at Kathmandu University School of Law.