In the words of Ana Vasileva: “We are talking the talk and walking the walk”
Ana Vasileva is a women’s rights activist and a member of the feminist collective, Fight Like a Woman, living and working in Skopje, the former Yugoslav Republic (fYR) of Macedonia. She has also contributed to UN Women’s “Not only on March 8th” initiative, which makes a point that gender equality issues should not be in the limelight only once a year, on International Women’s Day, but should be publicly debated consistently. Together with other feminist activists, Vasileva recently kicked off a new social movement in fYR Macedonia against sexual harassment, under the hashtag #СегаКажувам (#ISpeakUpNow), inspired by the global #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns. Vasileva spoke to UN Women about her journey as a feminist activist.
In 2013, I became instantly famous—or should I say infamous—when I published a blog post about the rape culture in Macedonia. My post was inspired by a trending twitter hashtag #TheyCalledHer (#ЈаВикале) which was packed with sexism, and misogyny under the pretext of humour. After I wrote the blog, I became a target of online abuse and threats. They even started a hashtag with my name to insult me.
This did not stop me from continuing to speak out about violence against women, rape culture and the way they reflect on women and the society… How the culture of violence permeates in our pop culture, media, and in our writing.
I continued my activism, grounded by my belief in female solidarity and feminist practice. As part of the informal feminist collective, Fight Like a Woman, we took actions to shed light on gender inequalities in urban settings and organized online edit-a-thons. We mapped the streets named after distinguished women in the city with stencil graffiti to make women more visible; we placed feminist books in the hands of statues in the city centre; we spotlighted antifascist women fighters in World War 2; and we also organized street performances showing the invisible and unpaid domestic labour done by women.
Then came #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns. In Macedonia, the campaigns were met with a lot of resistance, sparked by the counter narrative that denounced the movement as a “hatred of men and sexuality”.
In the light of our country context, together with six other feminists, we came up with our own hashtag—#СегаКажувам (#ISpeakUpNow)—and kicked off a campaign against sexual harassment and violence against women on 16 January at noon.
The idea was to share some of our personal stories or stories from our friends about sexual harassment on social media in 100 words, mainly focusing on abuse from a position of power. The hashtag spread like wild fire, and by the end of the day many more women had joined in. It also drew the attention of the media in the region as it was the first campaign of its kind in the Balkans.
The campaign showed the magnitude and prevalence of sexual harassment, and also exposed the subtle ways in which this behaviour is normalized and internalized. 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.
Our movement too faced criticism. Most notably, some people criticized us for not revealing the names of the offenders. But our goal is not about punishing a few individuals, but to bring real change in people’s attitudes and the system so that there is no more social tolerance towards this violence.
This is just the beginning. There is a still long way to go before we achieve gender equality in the region and globally, but we are talking the talk, and walking the walk, one step at a time.”