Six activists who are using social media for change offline

Date: Friday, June 29, 2018

Originally published on https://medium.com/@UN_Women

Women activists show their support for the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement at the commemoration of International Women's Day. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Women activists show their support for the #TimesUp and #MeToo movement at the commemoration of International Women's Day. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

As women’s activism around #Metoo, #TimesUp #NiUnaMenos and other movements continue to build, social media is giving women a space to speak up and be heard. From politicians and lawmakers to farmers and small business owners, conversations on social media are connecting women around the world so they can support one another in the push for change.

On Social Media Day (30 June), we’re celebrating women who are leading the charge through social media. By harnessing the power of social media, these trailblazers are engaging women and men in tough conversations and raising awareness about gender equality and women’s rights.

Tarana Burke

Over a decade before the hashtag was trending, Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement. A survivor of sexual violence herself, Burke wanted to create a platform for girls with similar experiences to connect with one another in a safe space. Way before tweets sparked global conversations, she launched her campaign online on MySpace. The magnitude of participation revealed the hunger for solidarity among survivors, and so, the movement grew.

It wasn’t until renowned actress Alyssa Milano tweeted with #MeToo, asking sexual abuse victims to share their stories, that the campaign burst into the global spotlight.

After Milano’s tweet, the power of social media took over and people all around the world woke up to a deluge of disclosures and solidarity from women who had been silent about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. As more and more people started to use #MeToo to tell their stories, the hashtag became a tool not only to stand in solidarity with other survivors, but to demand an end to impunity.

“There has to be a shift in culture. What’s happening now, in this moment, it’s a beautiful thing, and it feels really good for people. And I think it’s necessary and needed. But beyond the feelings that we have, we have to have conversations about the systems that are in place that allow sexual violence to flourish.”

Emma Watson

Our Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson tapped into the power of social media to bring people together for women’s rights and gender equality with the #HeForShe campaign. This time the target audience was men.

“I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality—and to do that we need everyone to be involved,” she said at the launch of #HeForShe. “We want to try and galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. And we don’t just want to talk about it, but make sure it is tangible.”

After the campaign kicked off, thousands used #HeForShe to declare their commitment to end gender discrimination and to invite others to join the movement. The hashtag soon fired up a much-needed conversation around gender equality, meeting its audience in their own space and bringing the movement to their fingertips.

While the campaign was successful in reaching millions around the world, including plenty of world leaders and influencers, the women’s rights movement still needs more men to support gender equality. In today’s world, Emma Watson’s words from almost four years ago are still very much relevant.

“We are struggling for a uniting word but the good news is we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I am inviting you to step forward, to be seen to speak up, to be the "he" for "she". And to ask yourself if not me, who? If not now, when?”

Monica Ramirez

When Monica Ramirez reached out to the women of Hollywood who were speaking up against sexual harassment and abuse with #MeToo, she had the same idea as Tarana Burke: to use the loudest voices in service of the most marginalized, whose stories are often cast in the shadows.

As the co-founder and president of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, an organization that seeks to end the exploitation of farmworker women, Ramirez wrote an open letter of solidarity to the brave women in Hollywood who had come forward with their experiences. From the unlikeliest alliance, the #TimesUp movement was born, with a steadfast commitment to stand in unity to break the silence around sexual harassment, end gender discrimination and fight for gender equality.

“It’s the women themselves, on the ground, around the country, who have risen up and have clearly stated what they need to survive and thrive. They have inspired all of us, myself included as an activist, to gather all of our strengths and resources to help bring their voices forward.”

Dina Smailova

Dina Smailova. Photo: Almat Mukhamedjanov
Dina Smailova. Photo: Almat Mukhamedjanov

Dina Smailova kept her rape a secret for 25 years. She was 20 years old when she was raped by a group of classmates., Her mother told her she had shamed her family. She felt isolated and lost ties with many relatives and friends.

In 2016, Smailova broke her silence by telling her story in a Facebook post. Women immediately began commenting and sending her private messages about their own experiences with violence. The outpouring of stories from others made Dina realize how important it was to keep the conversation going.

“For the first time in Kazakhstan, we started talking openly about the issue, at the highest levels of the government and in the remote villages and towns, where we organized public awareness events,” Smailova said. “Our movement helped other survivors of sexual abuse break their silence, report the abuse and win their cases.”

Now, as one of the leading figures in ending sexual violence in Kazakhstan, Dina has supported and guided more than 200 women survivors of violence, and has been instrumental in winning sexual violence court cases.

“I want to help more women speak out and change the attitudes within our communities. We are not the ones to be shamed! Our attackers should be ashamed and prosecuted,” she said.

Ana Vasileva

Ana Vasileva. Photo: UN Women/Mirjana Nedava
Ana Vasileva. Photo: UN Women/Mirjana Nedava

In 2013, Ana Vasileva published a blog about rape culture in fYR Macedonia. She was spurred into action by a trending hashtag on Twitter at the time, #TheyCalledHer (#ЈаВикале), which was packed with sexism and misogyny under the pretext of humour. But the blog made Ana a target of online abuse. A women’s rights activist and a member of the feminist collective, Fight Like a Woman, Ana didn’t back down. Inspired by the global #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, Vasileva and other feminist activists kicked off a new social movement in fYR Macedonia against sexual harassment under the hashtag #СегаКажувам (#ISpeakUpNow).

Vasileva and six other activists shared their personal stories about sexual harassment, mainly focusing on abuse of power, and the trend spread like wildfire. By the end of the first day, many women had spoken up about their experiences using the hashtag, drawing attention from the regional media for being the first campaign of its kind in the region.

“The campaign showed the magnitude and prevalence of sexual harassment, and also exposed the subtle ways in which this behaviour is normalized and internalized,” Vasileva said. “By the end of the next day, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Interior along with the Prime Minister, had issued official support for our campaign.”

To Vasileva and her partners, the movement is about more than just punishing a few individual offenders. It’s about bringing real change in people’s attitudes and making sexual harassment an inexcusable offense.

You

People are speaking up for themselves like never before, resisting against gender discrimination and claiming their rights. We need to transform this momentum into action for a world where nobody would ever have to say #MeToo again.

It’s your turn. Use your social media platforms to say no more violence, no more discrimination, #TimeIsNow for gender equality.