Silence Breaking

Abokali Jimomi

Time magazine named, “The Silence Breakers” as 2017 Person of the Year: the #MeToo movement and uncountable people who came forward to share their stories, breaking the silence speaking out against sexual harassment and abuse.

 

The Time said the story honours the “voices that launched a movement.” “The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe…. They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice.”

 

One face on the cover is actress Ashley Judd who was among the first to bring out allegations against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. After Judd, over 80 women came forward and accused Weinstein of sexual assault that span over a 30 year period in his powerful career as film producer in Hollywood. The cover also has a woman who is partially shown –without a face– to represent a woman who “doesn’t feel she can come forward without threatening her livelihood.”

 

After the Harvey Weinstein scandal exploded in October 2017, more names of high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct appeared in public. The incident triggered the hashtag #MeToo movement, which became a worldwide phenomenon prompting women and men around the world to open up about sexual harassment. The hashtag #MeToo popularized by Alyssa Milano, spread virally on social media trending in at least 85 countries enabling millions of women to share their stories.

 

With the exception of some countries, most people live in a technologically connected world allowing us to exchange thoughts and ideas in an instant. The influence of remarkable social media movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have reached us too connecting us to a wider group of people to empathize with each other, to find an outlet to help break our silence against sexual harassment, gender-based violence and social injustices.

 

In our own social media circles in Nagaland too many women embraced the #MeToo hashtag sharing stories showing that sexual assault and violence is very much prevalent in our houses, shops and offices. The act of joining the movement and speaking out is also an indication that sexual harassment should no longer remain a dark secret locked inside office cabinets or dark corners of the house.

 

Although men are also subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, women and girls are the majority affected by gender-based violence because of women’s subordinate status in the society. According to UNPA, “violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.”

 

For women to break the culture of silence and speak up and out against violence is perhaps one of the hardest obstacles. Most women would rather suffer. As for sexual violence against children, it’s hard to imagine the terror. The World Health Organization says that in India less than 1% of women report gender-based violence. It is also estimated that at least one in three women worldwide experience physical and sexual violence in her lifetime. Also, recent study reports that each year gender bias kills over 200,000 girls in India.

 

Even if we have reporting structures and systems in place, if a victim cannot use it, success is zero. For instance, a Naga village council cannot and should not decide that a perpetrator should pay Rupees 5000 for raping a minor girl (in this case, the girl happened to be a ‘Plain manu’) thus, closing the case for the peace and harmony of the village. Nothing is reported to the police and no other action is taken. What could be done?

 

It is crucial to enable women to come forward and break the silence, without which we cannot heal nor can we expose the perpetrators, and the terror persists. So, when someone writes or talks about her experience as a victim of sexual abuse, the courage is contagious, it lights the path for all trapped in the dungeon. We need courage and our silence needs breaking.

 

Abokali Jimomi is a freelance writer. For comments, contact at abokali.sumi@gmail.com