#MeToo Movement

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Introduction

‘The MeToo Movement’ is a social movement and an International campaign started for the purpose of addressing the issues of “sexual harassment” and “sexual abuse”, wherein the public can communicate the accusations of sex crimes that are perpetrated by powerful and eminent men in the society. The phrase “MeToo” was adopted for the very first time in the year 2006, on a social media platform called ‘Myspace’. It was used by the social activist, ‘Tarana Burke’ who is also a survivor of sexual assault and harassment. Identical to the other social movements and empowerment campaigns based upon breaking silence and raising awareness, the aim of “MeToo” is to empower women, young and vulnerable specifically, by portraying their struggle as victims of sexual harassment. The “MeToo Movement” is an established body in order to bring a change in the society towards women who have been sexually abused or harassed. It has encouraged the victims to stand up for themselves and speak up about their struggle. The “MeToo Movement” came to be a recognized as a widespread movement back in the year 2017. Followed by the revelation of sexual abuse accusations on “Harvey Weinstein” in mid-October of the same year, the movement began spreading virally in the form of a hashtag that was “#MeToo” on the social media platform. ‘Alyssa Milano, the American actress’ tweeted, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”. She also mentioned about getting this idea from one of her friends. Posts from several other prominent American celebrities soon followed in response to the abovementioned tweet. “Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Judd, and Uma Thurman” were also among the ones to stand in support of the concern.  The outspread media coverage and increasing number of debates on sexual abuse led to high profile firings, along with backlash and criticisms.

The expression has spread in several other languages as well, apart from English. ‘Tarana Burke’ has lately cited it as “an international movement for justice for marginalized people in marginalized communities”. The affairs related to sexual harassment, violence, assault or abuse have become quite a commonplace, especially in a country like India where the crime rate against women rises every year. For instance, the crime rate registered against women in 2019 was 62.4% as compared to 58.8% in 2018[1].  The affair of sexual harassment is often downplayed in the society due to “bias in culture or gap of power”. Thus, “The #MeToo Movement” plays an important role in raising awareness about the issue along with restoring its victims, and above all, safeguarding their rights.

Role of Men

There have been a number of discussions regarding the role that men play in the #MeToo Movement. Reports show that one in every six men have been a victim of some kind of sexual abuse in the course of their lifetime. However, they were unable to speak or raise a voice against it. The founder of #MeToo Movement suggests men to call out and step up to raise a voice against bad behaviour or keep shut on it. Apart from this, some men have revealed their desire of maintaining a distance from the females. This was after the #MeToo Movement came into picture and earned great recognition. The reason stated for the same was that they did not have a clear idea of what actions are said to be indecent. In the initial phases of #MeToo Movement, several men feared conversing with their female colleagues as they were afraid of the negative consequences. 

The #MeToo Movement Timeline

  1. Tarana Burke (2006)

The phrase #MeToo was first used on the ‘Myspace’ social media platform by the social activist, Tarana Burke. This was done in order to encourage “empowerment through empathy among women of colour” who are victims of sexual abuse. As a teenager, Tarana Burke had been sexually assaulted. Her mother motivated her to help others to get through such a situation. She raised her daughter Kaia Burke as a single parent. Burke while producing the ‘MeToo’ documentary mentioned that she was influenced to use this phrase when she was unable to answer a 13 year old girl who was a victim of sexual abuse.

  • Ambra Gueterrez (2015)

A report was published by The New York Times wherein Weinstein was accused of inappropriately touching an Italian model, Ambra Gueterrez. An audio recording was retrieved by the New York City Police Department wherein, Weinstein admitted of having touched the girl without her consent. The progress of the investigation lead to Gueterrez being portrayed as an opportunistic woman. Several efforts were made in order to suppress the accusations put forward by Ambra Gueterrez. For instance, the Manhattan District Attorney refused to file charges against the accused citing that there was not sufficient evidence that could be brought up against him.

  • Anatasia Melnichenko (2016)

Anatasia Melnichenko, a Ukraianian journalist shared a post that took to the social media platforms in July of 2016 sharing her story of sexual assault. As a result of this, the people of Russia and Ukraine started uploading their personal stories of sexual harassment making use of the hashtag “#IAmNotAfraidToSpeak”.

  • Alyssa Milano (2017)

Actress Alyssa Milano, on the allegations put on Harvey Weinstein stated, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Further she also made use of the #MeToo phrase in her post. As a reply to this, Milano’s friend further tweeted, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.

Introduction to #MeToo Movement in India

The #MeToo Movement was introduced in India in the October of 2018. Motivated by the fight against sexual abuse and increased recognition given to the global ‘MeToo’ campaign, women across the spectrum came forward to share their personal stories of sexual abuse faced by them from men at powerful positions. It all started when actress and model Tanushree Dutta accused another actor Nana Patekar on grounds of committing sexual assault and harassment while shooting a film together. This was followed by a chain of posts by women sharing their stories from around the world. This included women directors, actors, models, artists and, politicians. There were a number of allegations which surpassed beginning from “unwanted attention in the office to sexual inneundos on film sets”. While some of these still fight to tackle these issues, others have managed to attain a clean chit from the concerned authorities.

The #MeToo rage was not a sudden rage blowing up instantly. It is the years and years of suppression and ill-treatment building up which finally blasted. Most of the names showing up in in the campaign did not appear to be a shocking revelation. This is due to the long existing ‘Whisper Networks’ passed among women involving names of male personalities who are known to be sexual assaulters. Therefore, in majority of the cases, the attitude of accused men was already familiar to the people working in and around him and yet, it was neither interrogated nor terminated.

Vishakha and others v. State of Rajasthan and others, 1997[2]

The case rewinds back to the year 1992 wherein, a woman was “gang-raped by five men” due to the reason that she wanted to take a stand against an illegal act that was to take place at her workplace. The woman filed a case against the cruel incident that took place which is now known by the name Vishakha and others v. State of Rajasthan and others. It is regarded as the landmark case for any matter relating to sexual harassment.

Insights of the case

In the year 1985, Bhanwari Devi belonging to Bhanteri, Rajasthan employed herself in a Woman’s Development Programme (WDP) that was run by the Rajasthan Government. Being a part of this, she worked on several social and environmental issues that continue to be a stigma in the society. In 1987, Bhanwari Devi worked on the matter of “attempted rape” concerning a woman from the nearby village. She received full support of the village people in due course of taking up this issue. Later in 1992, Bhanwari Devi took up another issue relating to “ban on Child marriage”. However, it was a different scenario this time. Unlike the last time, the villagers refused to support Bhanwari and the campaign was “subjected to disapproval and ignorance”, though the villagers were acquainted to the fact of Child marriage being illegal. Ram Karan Gujjar, a man residing in the same village had arranged for a marriage of his minor daughter. Complying to her role as an activist, Bhanwari made an effort to convince the family to stop the marriage. However, all her efforts proved to be futile. On May 5,1992, the police officials went ahead and stopped the marriage. Regardless of this, the marriage ceremony was performed on the next day. It was later found out that the police officials were sent by Bhanwari Devi for the purpose of stopping the marriage. This resulted in the boycott of Bhanwari Devi’s family along with her loss of job. In retaliation to this, on September 22,1992, four men of the Gujjar family and an additional person Shravan Sharma charged Bhanwari’s husband and later gang-raped her. The police officials resisted filing a case against the accused and the medical examination was delayed by fifty-two hours without mentioning the commission of rape. Further, the accused managed to seek acquittal from the trial court with the assistance of the local MLA Dhanraj Meena. As a consequence of this, the organisations led by women activists came together in support of Bhanwari Devi and filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). It was lodged by a “women rights group known as Vishakha”. The main focus was laid on the enforcement of “Fundamental Rights of woman at Workplace under Articles 14[3],15[4],19(1)(g)[5], and 21[6] of the Indian Constitution”.

Judgement of the Case

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India addressed the issue of absence of law in order to protect and provide a safe environment for women at workplace. The apex court referred to Sections 354 and 354A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to address the issue at hand. The court was also in favour for framing a specific legislation to deal with such an issue. Taking reference from the “International Conventions (Beijing Statement of Principles on the independence of Judiciary in the LAWASIA region)”, the Hon’ble Supreme Court proceeded with the case. Further, the court also referred to the provisions of “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)”.

Constitutional Provisions to safeguard victims

  1. The Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013:  Also known as the POSH Act. This legislation was passed in the year 2013 in order to “prevent sexual harassment of women at workplace in India”. The primary aim of this Act was to “safeguard women along with redressal of sexual harassment complaints. Sexual Harassment comprises of any one or more of the following acts:

1. Physical contact and advances; or

2. A demand or request for sexual favours; or

3. Making sexually coloured remarks; or

4. Showing pornography; or

5. Any other unwelcome physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature”[7]

(CEDAW): The abovementioned legislation was adopted in the year 1979 when “sexual harassment at workplace” was just at its initial phases of emergence. Sexual harassment was interpreted to be a form of “violence” against women and was enshrined under “prevention of all forms of violence under the Convention”. The primary aim of the convention is: “(1) to prevent and prohibit discrimination (2) to ensure equality”[8]. The most successful and progressive feature of the Convention is that it gives an extended and elaborate meaning of the term “discrimination against women” as any sort of differentiation, “exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex”.

Conclusion and Recommendations

A number of transitions have occurred in the society starting from several state laws being framed to monetary compensation for the victims. The #MeToo Movement has received recognition on a large scale and has successfully turned into a global campaign. It has assisted in creating and spreading awareness regarding sexual violence. Not only this, the campaign has also enabled the victims to come forward and name the offenders. The #MeToo Movement has played a major role in exposing the men who have exploited their powers and position by sexually harassing women around them. This ultimately has led to the change in power dynamics between the two genders. The campaign has faced several problems and challenges alongside its great success and the recognition it received. The campaign provides the society with a reality check that even the most privileged women have not been able to escape the problem of sexual violence. Another major challenge faced is that there have been times wherein, the wrongly accused have dealt with severe collateral damages. Apart from this, one of the major drawbacks of the movement is that it has failed to address the issue of gender diversity at workplace. The drawbacks of the movement can be rectified and put in place if the policy makers and the civil society intricately examines the failure of women against male colleagues. Also, it is important to ensure a sense of fear in the minds of offenders. The education system and the socialisation process must be done in a way which teaches men to be more respectful and sensitive towards women. Ample number of workshops and sexual harassment awareness programmes must be organised. And lastly, equal punishment shall be granted to women for falsely accusing men of sexual harassment. 


[1] NATIONAL CRIME RECORDS BUREAU, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, REPORT ON CRIME IN INDIA (2019)

[2] Vishakha v. state of Rajasthan, 1997 6 SCC 241

[3]India Const. Art. 14- Equality before law

[4]India Const. Art. 15- Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth

[5]India Const. Art. 19(1)(g)- to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

[6]India Const. Art. 21- Right to life and personal liberty

[7] Section 2(n) of the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013

[8] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979

Author: Ananya Brajesh Anand, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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